Petri Kontiola is a 29-year-old Finnish centerman who spent the last five seasons playing in the KHL, where his trajectory toward a return to the NHL began in 2009.
With his early years spent in Tappara of the Finnish SM-liiga, Kontiola was drafted in the 2004 NHL entry draft (196th overall) by the Chicago Blackhawks. After making his NHL debut in 2007-08, he simply wasn’t good enough to stick around. Regardless of his strong AHL numbers (130 points in 147 AHL games), he couldn’t gain traction in his first time in North America; after the centerman was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in 2009 with James Wisniewski for Samuel Pahlsson, Logan Stephenson and a conditional pick, he spent all of his time with the Iowa Chops, the Ducks’ AHL affiliate at the time.
It was in Russia that Kontiola found a next level and developed into the player he is today. Gaining confidence after his first semi-productive KHL year with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Kontiola turned into one of the most important players on that team the following season. His steady climb continued with Traktor Chelyabinsk, where he moved at the start of the 2010-11 season after 108 games and 70 KHL points for Metallurg. With Kontiola on the roster, Traktor enjoyed their most successful KHL spell to date, reaching the Gagarin Cup Finals in 2012-13 before losing out to Dynamo Moscow. The Finnish-born center scored the most points (19) and ended up as the top scorer of the playoffs with 10 goals in 25 games.
In fact, during his KHL career, Kontiola was always productive in the playoffs and gained quite a reputation for playing well in the post season. His all time KHL playoff points-per-game stands at 0.60, having scored 17 goals and 40 points in 67 Gagarin Cup playoff games. In 2012-13, he was also pretty dominant in international tournament play, once again scoring the most points (16) and becoming the WC top scorer with 8 goals. While this past season wasn’t as productive, he still topped the scoring charts with 15 goals and 22 assists on a disappointing 2013-14 edition of the Chelyabinsk team that missed the playoffs despite featuring Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andrei Kostitsyn, Jan Buils, and Stanislav Chistov, all familiar names to the North America hockey audience. All in all, he should be coming to Toronto on a high note, after his five points in six games helped Finland to the bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics. There, he also ranked third among Finnish forwards in ice time.
Petri is listed at 6’0″ and 207 lbs, but the weight seems a little bit generous. Still, he’s hard to knock off the puck and has really good hands in tight. Kontiola possesses good puckhandling ability and can drive the puck up ice. His passing is top notch; he’s a creative on-ice presence with good vision and can find open ice with ease, which is one of the assets that should help him readjust to the North American game. Kontiola has deceptive speed, a good “change of gears,” and has become a much more dangerous goalscorer in recent years. He still thinks pass first, which was one of the knocks on him earlier in his career, but has found more use for his quality shot, quick release and very good patience in front of the net, made evident by his increased goals total. Like most Finnish players, he’s been well coached and somewhat defensively responsible, although he has never really been made to embrace a checking role on account of his offensive skillset. In the end, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Leafs decide to use him as a winger.
Maybe Kontiola’s name winds up but a fleeting memory for Leafs fans in a year’s time, but given the skillset, the KHL success, the stellar international play and possible (still relatively untested) chemistry with newly re-signed Leaf favorite Leo Komarov, signing him to a 1-year, $1-million flyer wasn’t a difficult decision by Leafs brass.