Following a brief stint in the NHL during the 2017-18 season, could Haapala become penciled into Florida’s opening night lineup for the upcoming 2018-19 campaign?
The undersized winger, standing 5’9″ and weighing 165lbs, was a tremendous player in the Finnish Elite League. Before signing with the Florida Panthers as an undrafted free agent, Haapala played for Tappara for four consecutive years.
Henrik’s most memorable season in the Liiga came during the 2016-17 pro hockey campaign. In 51 regular season affairs for Tappara, Henrik Haapala produced an astonishing slash line of 15G, 45A, for 60Pts. Moreover, while participating in 16 playoff contests, Haapala produced 2G, 7A, and 9Pts, resulting in Tappara’s second straight championship.
Haapala’s phenomenal regular season earned himself the Veli-Pekka Ketola Trophy (awarded to the player who led the league in points). More importantly, Haapala’s impressive showing resulted in a contract agreement with the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers evidently saw raw potential in Haapala and quickly pounced on acquiring the dynamic, playmaking left winger. In addition, Henrik produced notably on the international stage, as well.
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Henrik helped Team Finland secure the gold medal in the 2014 WJC, recording 1G, 2A, and 3Pts in 7GP. Additionally, while participating in 6 games for the Team Finland’s Men’s Team during the 2017 IIHF tournament, the skilled winger amassed 2G, 1A, for 3Pts.
However, once arriving onto the scene in Florida, Haapala soon discovered the big leagues is a completely different animal. Henrik failed to land a spot on Florida’s opening night lineup in the 2017-18 season, becoming demoted to the Springfield Thunderbirds following the conclusion of the NHL preseason.
In 20 AHL games for the T-Birds, Henrik registered a respectable slash line of 3G, 5A, for a total of 8Pts. The adjustment period was undoubtedly challenging, but Haapala persevered and earned himself a big league call-up.
Haapala’s NHL stint with the Cats was undeniably underwhelming, but for Henrik Haapala, the experience was self-fulfilling and a learning curve. Haapala solely produced one point (assist), learning the NHL is more difficult and improvements towards his overall game were highly warranted.
Florida eventually reassigned Haapala back to Tappara, hoping the savvy winger could rediscover his game and gradually build confidence in himself.
The loan back home ultimately worked wonders for Haapala. In 5 regular season games for Tappara, Henrik accumulated 2G, 5A, and 7Pts, conveying Haapala possesses untapped potential and a high upside/ceiling, as well.
If Haapala improves defensively and polishes alternative areas of his game, then the Finnish winger could potentially secure a role on Florida’s bottom-six once opening night arrives. Ideally, Haapala must impress the Panthers’ management and coaching staff during training camp and preseason action, otherwise, Haapala may never appear in another NHL game in a Panthers uniform ever again.
In essence, Henrik Haapala could possibly become an NHL regular in the coming season, depending predominantly on whether the Panthers notice gradual improvement and steady consistency from the Finnish prospect.