Florida Panthers: Henrik Haapala should play in the AHL to start the season

On June 1st, the Florida Panthers signed Henrik Haapala, a forward from the Finnish League. GM Dale Tallon thinks very highly of the 23-year-old. However, I believe that he needs a few games in the AHL to accustom to the American game.

With the Panthers getting rid of several veterans, the message is sent to the core of Barkov, Huberdeau, Ekblad and Trocheck. The message is “It’s your team now”. When the Panthers signed Haapala, Dale Tallon has talked about playing a kid who hasn’t played in the NHL at all yet on the second line. This isn’t a good idea yet.

Being put on the second line right away puts a lot of pressure on the youngster. In 51 regular season games last year, Henrik put up 60 points which resulted in 1.18 points per game in the Finnish Liiga.

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In 16 playoff games, he recorded 9 points which is 0.56 points per game. Don’t get me wrong, half a point per game in the playoffs is decent but the difference between his regular season and postseason scoring rate last year was a bit concerning.

He also has to get used to the North American game. In Europe, the ice is bigger (wider) and you aren’t allowed in the crease. Haapala will need to adjust his game accordingly, in order to thrive in the NHL. The problem with the crease rule is that it takes away a lot of aggressiveness. For example, goals are easier scored in Europe by skill and snipes. There aren’t many “garbage” goals happening in Europe.

In the NHL, you see plenty of goals being scored with loose pucks hanging around the slot/crease. Rebounds, tap-ins, and scrambles all occur the majority of the time. The AHL can help Haapala adjust his game accordingly. After a little bit of time down there, he should be ready for the NHL. I wouldn’t count Henrik out for the long term, but giving him the opportunity in the AHL first, may prove to benefit him.