While Finland has produced quite a few NHL players, not many of them have suited up for the Habs. Nonetheless, there have been a few that have stood out amongst the crowd and earned your votes as Montreal’s all-time Finnish line.
Saku Koivu (99.5% of votes): This one was rather obvious. Koivu was a first-round pick of the Habs back in 1993 and spent 13 years with the Canadiens. His career started off quite strong and he looked like he’d be the elite offensive threat they had been seeking but recurring knee issues put an end to that. Along the way, he was named the first European captain of the franchise, a role he wound up holding for a decade to tie Jean Beliveau for the longest tenure in team history. In his third season as captain, Koivu was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma but he came back late in the season and tied for the team lead in scoring in the playoffs. While he never got back to the point per game status he was at early on in his career, he was still a fixture on Montreal’s top line until he wasn’t offered a contract following the 2008-09 campaign. He then spent five years in Anaheim before calling it a career in 2014. Koivu ranks tenth all-time in points for the Habs while his 450 assists are good for seventh-best.
Canadiens Stats: 792 GP, 191 goals, 450 assists, 641 points, -10 rating, 623 PIMS, 1,553 shots
Joel Armia (83.3% of votes): Armia’s tenure with the Habs has been rather short and full of injuries but he has still made his mark. The ‘prize’ for taking on and buying out Steve Mason’s contract from Winnipeg, Armia hasn’t really lived up to his draft billing offensively but he has carved out a role as a very effective defensive player that has shown signs of improvement at the offensive end with the Habs. He has been a useful middle-six forward but injuries have limited him in both seasons since being acquired. Armia has one year left on his deal before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Canadiens Stats: 115 GP, 29 goals, 24 assists, 53 points, +2 rating, 42 PIMS, 291 shots
Artturi Lehkonen (76.6% of votes): Lehkonen has been rather consistent over his four seasons with the Habs at the offensive end. There are times where he’s quite strong on the attack and others where he can’t hit a wide-open net and that has been the case in each of his four seasons. Defensively, however, he has been much more consistent and has been a key factor in that regard. At this point, it may be safer to just accept that he’ll be a 25-30 point player most years while providing a steadying presence away from the puck. That’s still a pretty good return for a late second-round pick.
Canadiens Stats: 291 GP, 54 goals, 53 assists, 107 points, even rating, 84 PIMS, 638 shots
Just Missed The Cut: Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Jyrki Lumme (90.5% of votes): Lumme’s tenure with the Habs was relatively short but he showed some promise as he made it into the NHL in his first season in North America, splitting time between Montreal and AHL Sherbrooke before becoming a full-timer in year number two. However, that’s when his time with the Habs came to an end as he was moved to Vancouver for a second-round pick (that turned into Craig Darby). Lumme’s best years came with the Canucks where he spent parts of nine seasons there before bouncing around with Phoenix and Toronto at the end of his career. Despite the low games played total with the Habs, he is the longest-tenured Finnish blueliner in that regard in franchise history.
Canadiens Stats: 75 GP, 2 goals, 22 assists, 24 points, +20 rating, 51 PIMS, 97 shots
Janne Niinimaa (68.0% of votes): There was a time where Niinimaa was a very good blueliner. At the beginning of his career with Philadelphia and Edmonton, he was a consistent point producer that could log big minutes. That was not the version that Montreal acquired. The one the Habs got in exchange for Mike Ribeiro in a move that was made for off-ice reasons more than improving the team on the ice was one at the twilight of his career. He struggled on the third pairing and saw his ice time dip under 15 minutes a game after averaging nearly 24 minutes a night over most of his career. The Habs let Niinimaa walk as a free agent after just a half-season with the team. He split the next six years between Switzerland and Sweden before retiring in 2013.
Canadiens Stats: 41 GP, 0 goals, 3 assists, 3 points, -13 rating, 6 PIMS, 29 shots
Just Missed The Cut: Marko Kiprusoff
Antti Niemi: He gets the spot by default as the lone Finnish netminder to suit up for the Habs. His tenure got off to a rocky start after being claimed off waivers in 2017 from Florida (who claimed him from Pittsburgh not even a month earlier). It looked as if his tenure with the Habs would be short-lived but in the second half of the 2017-18 campaign, he played a bit more like the goalie in Chicago, San Jose, and Dallas. His .929 SV% after being claimed was better than any other SV% mark in his NHL career. That was enough to earn him another deal but this time, the results weren’t anywhere near as good. After a rough 2018-19 campaign, he went back home and signed in Helsinki of the KHL where he served as the backup this season where his numbers weren’t much better.
Canadiens Stats: 36 GP, 15-11-6 record, 3.10 GAA, .909 SV%, 1 SO
Be sure to check back Monday for our next poll which will focus on Montreal’s players from the Czech Republic.