Senators Sign Nikolas Matinpalo: Player Profile, Stylistic Breakdown and Fit in Ottawa

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While Sens fans await news of the franchise’s next owner, Pierre Dorion is busy watching the World Championship in Finland/Latvia.

Dorion continues to perform the duties of general manager despite owning some insecurity about his future.

“I’ll let those people (the new owners) decide my fate. But I know this team is heading in the right direction for multiple years to come.” – Pierre Dorion, April 17th

The Senators signed their second European free agent of the month on Thursday. Nikolas Matinpalo agreed to a one-year, entry-level contract with the club.

Matinpalo, 24, is a right-shot defenseman who has spent five years in Finland’s top league: the LIIGA. He is a 6’3″, 207 lbs defender who prioritizes defensive reliability.

“I would define myself as a basic defender. The most important thing for me in games is to take care of my own end first and only then look at the attacking end. My strengths are my grappling and skating.” – Nikolas Matinpalo

Matinpalo is coming off of his best pro season. He scored 7 goals and 16 points through 51 games, which ranked second among Ässät defenders. His +2 rating also ranked second. Matinpalo averaged 18:15 per game while his 51.9 Corsi For percentage led the team. It was the first season in which he averaged more than 15:00 per game.

“Nikolas’ signing represents a good depth addition for us on defense. He took a big step this past season in improving his overall game in a short period of time. He has size, reach and an active stick. He’s also a very good puck mover who competes and plays with urgency, which has helped him become a reliable defender.”  – Pierre Dorion

A breakout season earned Matinpalo his first chance to represent Finland on the International stage. He earned 1 goal and 3 points through 8 games at the World Championship, where he served as part of the tournament’s best defense corps.

Matinpalo was relatively unknown prior to this season. This story details his challenging journey, which includes the fact that he wasn’t initially expected to receive a LIIGA contract. His career has revolved around hard work and determination. By all accounts, it sounds like those around him very much appreciate his effort.

Matinpalo brings a stay-at-home style of play to Ottawa. His size pairs with smooth skating abilities to create an ideal bottom pairing defender. His size, skating and gap control immediately stood out upon viewing him at the World Championship. He also owns a booming shot.

Although a rounded game must be developed, Matinpalo’s defensive reliability should be a valued asset for the Senators organization.

It’s always difficult to project where European free agents fit into an NHL team’s plan. Matinpalo forecasts as someone who could earn a role on Ottawa’s third pairing, but the translation of his game has yet to be seen. He has never played on the smaller ice surface and is only now facing players of the NHL level.

At the very least, Matinpalo is another competitor. The Senators have owned an ‘earn it’ mentality under this regime. No role is handed out free; every player is expected to battle for their minutes.

The third pairing is currently open for competition. Matinpalo will compete with the likes of Erik Brännström, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson, Max Guenette and Tyler Kleven during training camp. He is likely to receive a fair shot at the role while pushing those around him to be better.

Signing Matinpalo provides Ottawa with more flexibility. Injuries remain a concern for them- especially on defense- which makes depth a necessity. Even if he fails to make the team out of camp, Matinpalo will serve as a recall option for a club who holds high expectations.

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