Two days before Winnipeg Jets players report for medicals Wednesday for the opening of Main Training Camp, the hockey club and Sami Niku are parting ways.
As a result of this move, the Jets will take Niku’s US$725,000 off the books, which will get them just under the salary cap ceiling of US$81.5 Million once they tap into Bryan Little’s $US5.29 Million in LTIR funds.
Even before the trade acquisitions of Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt this past off-season, Niku had slipped further down the Winnipeg depth chart on defense, passed by the likes of Logan Stanley, Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg.
During the 2017-18 season, the Finnish blueliner scored 16 goals and added 38 assists for 54 points in 76 games with the Manitoba Moose. Niku appeared to be on the verge of stardom after being named the American Hockey League Defenseman of the Year. He was being hailed as a prized but unexpected prospect in the Jets organization after being selected in the seventh round of the 2015 NHL entry draft.
Niku was also named an AHL First Team All Star. The cherry on top of that magical season came on the night of April 3 at the Bell Centre in Montreal when the 6″1′, 176 pound rearguard scored on Carey Price in his NHL debut to help the Jets win 5-4 in overtime.
Niku would score one goal and three assists for four points in 30 games for the Jets the following season in 2018-19, but his career stalled after that.
Niku was involved in a motor vehicle accident, along with teammate Kristian Vesalainen, on day one of training camp in the fall of 2019 and wasn’t able to take advantage of a mass exodus on the Winnipeg blueline that saw Jacob Trouba traded, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot leave as free agents and Dustin Byfuglien unexpectedly retire.
Niku struggled through a couple of other physical ailments that season and had five assists in 17 NHL games. Last season, he played the first three games before losing his job on the blueline to Stanley. He also played in three consecutive games in late February and early March — and then spent the remainder of the year on the taxi squad.
Niku is the second player in the Winnipeg organization this month to mutually agree to be placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of contract termination.
Forward Joona Luoto chose the same route just before the start of Pro Mini Camp last Thursday after informing the team he wanted to play closer to his home in Finland.