The Florida Panthers have signed Henrik Haapala to a two-year entry-level contract. This past season, the 23-year-old forward led the Finnish Liiga in scoring with 60 points in 51 games. In 16 playoff games, he added two goals and seven assists en route to win the championship with Tappara for the second consecutive season. Haapala was a strong candidate to play for Finland at the World Championship tournament, however, he suffered concussion in the Liiga finals.
Haapala is a highly skilled forward who can play both wings. Thanks to his great hands, he can handle the puck well both at top speed and in the corners and tight spaces. He has excellent speed, displaying quick bursts of acceleration to pull away from opponents and gain separation. He is definitely more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer, thanks to his ability to set up teammates with some dazzling plays. His vision is high end. Despite his smaller stature at only 5’9, he is sturdy on his skates and tough to knock off the puck. He does not shy away from the physical side of the game and brings a great overall effort.
One issue I have with Haapala is the fact that he has been injury prone. As an example, Haapala played in only 25 regular season games for Tappara in the 2014-15 Liiga regular season. However, I consider him a very interesting add to the Panthers’ prospect pool. Although I don’t see him earning a full-time NHL spot next season yet, Haapala has the capability to make a career in the NHL. As noted by Miika Arponen in March, his last season was extremely strong.