The Toronto Maple Leafs announced today the signing of left-shot Finnish defenseman, Teemu Kivihalme, to a one-year entry-level contract.
Kivihalme, who turns 24 in a few weeks, was originally selected by the Nashville Predators in the fifth round (140th overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft. He was born and raised in the United States but is a dual citizen — his father has been an assistant coach and a head coach in the USHL and other leagues, as well as being a regional scout for the Regina Pats for a time.
He has experience playing high-level hockey on North American ice, having played at Colorado College (NCAA) for three seasons before joining Karpat of the Liiga (Finnish Elite League).
Kivihalme has a nice mix of tools: a quick skater with good three-step acceleration, a hard point shot, and good vision on the ice. He is not huge at 6’0 and 185 pounds, but he plays a very competitive game — he frequently initiates body contact in his own zone to help change possession, puts in a good second and third effort on lost puck battles, and reads plays well at the level he has been competing at.
Kivihalme put together a big playoff this year for Karpat and may have been the best defenceman in the league according to some observers.
“Kivihalme had nine goals and 30 points in 60 games this season but it’s important to notice that 23 of those points were scored at even strength, and the league leader among defensemen had 24. Kivihalme played about 19 minutes per game which included about a minute and a half of both power play and penalty kill time. He didn’t get to pad his stats on the power play all that much. In the playoffs, Kivihalme took his game to another level and was arguably the top defenseman in the league. His ice time increased to over 22 minutes per game, and he scored four goals and nine points in 16 games. None of his points were scored on the power play but he did have three shorthanded points.” – Jokke Nevalainen
“Kivihalme is a very competitive player and gritty player for sure. He does not have the big size, but is not afraid to mix it up. He plays all-out in pursuit of the puck and shows he is most elusive in the offensive zone.” – Russ Bitely
“Kivihalme’s all-around skill set and abilities project him as an excellent long-term developmental defenseman. Not flashy, but all around effective in all phases. He plays with a high compete level and physicality you expect from much bigger defenders. Four direction mobility guy who shows as much aggression on dee as he does jump in transition. He is a good shooter, too. Has excellent speed and mobility and closes gaps very well. Solid in his end, where he will work the wall hard. Has a good wide frame with room to fill it in. His smooth skating combined with good stick-handling and passing ability provide him with the tools to work the transition.” – Bill Placzek
Kivihalme will join a crowded left side of the Maple Leafs defense corps, behind Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, potentially Jake Gardiner, Travis Dermott, and Calle Rosen, while Rasmus Sandin could be in the close to “NHL ready but will be held back to dominate the AHL” category by next Fall. Of that group, Dermott has shown the aptitude to play his off-side. There is also the potential return of Ron Hainsey, who had a good year last season, even given his elevated status on the team with a dearth of right-side help.
Kivihalme joins Justin Brazeau, Joe Duszack, Ilya Mikheyev, Trevor Moore, Nikita Zaitsev, Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Miro Aaltonen, Par Lindholm, and Igor Ozighanov as recent free agent signings for the Maple Leafs organization, who continue to be one of the most attractive destinations for FAs in the last 4-5 seasons. As with yesterday’s addition of Mikheyev, Jim Paliafito continues to put in work overseas as one of the key drivers in acquiring this player, as well as Kyle Dubas and Mike Babcock.
As with the Ilya Mikheyev signing yesterday, Kivihalme can be sent down to the Toronto Marlies and does not require waivers. If he were a right-shot defenceman, he would have a better chance of making the big team right out of camp, but with the depth in front of him, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t at least start the season on the Marlies to get acclimatized to the organization, leagues, players, and city/country before he plays on the Maple Leafs, but that’s up to him and how he performs in training camp. Calle Rosen has a nice offensive toolkit, but he will have troubles earning trust in the defensive zone from an NHL coach with some of his weak board play when at a standstill. His position on the Leafs is far from certain because of that and his lack of special teams contributions at the NHL level. A lot can and will change, but it can be assumed at this time that Kivihalme and Rosen will be battling it out over the last spot on the blue line.
Teemu Kivihalme Statistics
|Finland U17 (all)||International-Jr||1||0||0||0||4||||
|Burnsville High “C”||USHS-MN||25||9||21||30||22|||||Playoffs||3||0||1||1||2|
Reports from Finland said that Teemu Kivihalme was the best defenceman in SM-liiga playoffs. A bit surprised he didn't get selected to Finland's WC team.
— Sami Hoffrén (@shoffren) May 7, 2019
Teemu Kivihalme was the 2nd best free agent defenseman in my books, and the Leafs have now signed him. I'll start working on his profile next. https://t.co/NHTIyr8Heu
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) May 7, 2019