When Antti Suomela signed with the San Jose Sharks last summer, General Manager Doug Wilson stated that there were “a number of teams” who were interested in signing Suomela. While that number swayed in other reports, Suomela’s agent, Markus Lehto, had the best idea of the actual number, telling The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz that “half the league” wanted Suomela’s signature.
Despite the nearly league-wide interest in him, the 25-year-old Finland native decided to sign with the Sharks in the end, and got off to a hot start to his first NHL season. In his first six games in teal, he already had two assists, and scored a beauty of a first NHL goal against the Carolina Hurricanes.
However, he started to cool off after a hot November, and was eventually re-assigned to the Sharks’ AHL team, the San Jose Barracuda, in December to work on the defensive aspect of his game. In the AHL, it took time to get the offensive side of his game going like he had with the Sharks at first. He finished the AHL season with six goals and 14 assists, eight of which were primary assists.
While he was with the ‘Cuda, Suomela was deployed at times on the penalty kill, clearly as a way for him to improve his defensive game. While on the kill, he was mainly playing with Alexander True, Nick DeSimone and Keaton Middleton.
Suomela (40) and True (70) killing penalties for Barracuda pic.twitter.com/OGSAtSLoWs— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) February 16, 2019
Suomela finished his first NHL season with three goals and five assists in 27 games played, while logging a total ice time of 300 minutes. He created 14.51 expected goals while only taking 40 shots on goal and had 1.2 primary points per 60 minutes.
Career Summary (via HockeyViz)
Suomela started his first professional season on the Sharks’ fourth line, but got some time on the third before being sent down to the AHL. Dobber Sports’ line combination tool tells us that Suomela most commonly played with his Finnish compatriot, Joonas Donskoi, and Evander Kane, amassing 103 minutes of ice time altogether. Although he spent less time on the ice with them, the most effective line was with Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, albeit having played only 73 minutes. Together, the trio had a 59.41 percent Corsi for, which was one of the highest of the many Sharks line combinations that season.
At the beginning of the season, Suomela was producing nearly two primary points per hour, but that production began to decline as he drifted in and out of the lineup before being sent down to the Barracuda.
RAPM Chart (via Evolving Hockey)
The main reason Suomela was sent down to the Barracuda was to work on his defensive play, which was a glaring downside of his game. Evolving Hockey’s RAPM chart shows that Suomela’s defensive expected goals and Corsi against were close to one point below the standard deviation.
Doug Wilson Jr., the Sharks’ Director of Scouting, said that Suomela would be on the same track as Marcus Sorensen was in 2016-17. Here’s a comparison of the two Scandinavians’ rookie seasons in North America:
As I had guessed, Sorensen’s rookie season was indeed similar to Suomela’s. Sorensen wasn’t exactly solid defensively, much like Suomela, but was better at limiting expected goals against. Sorensen also created more expected goals than he actually scored, which is another similarity to Suomela’s rookie year in the NHL.
In a wild game against the Nashville Predators, Filip Forsberg tried to pass the puck to Ryan Hartman, but the puck bounced off of the sideboards, which provided an excellent opportunity for Suomela to cash in, sending a snap-shot past Jusse Saros to give the Sharks a 3-0 lead.
What comes next?
Suomela is only 25 years old, so when his contract expires, he will become a restricted free agent. However, it seems that Suomela has no intentions of leaving San Jose, judging by his Instagram post that was uploaded shortly after the season ended.
Suomela knew full and well about the possibility of him bouncing around between the AHL and the NHL, but this didn’t stop him from signing with the Sharks. In fact, he viewed it as an added bonus, because of the proximity of the Barracuda to the Sharks, which, of course, is right down the hallway from the Sharks locker room.
Suomela mentioned that one of the reasons why he chose #SJSharks this summer, when he was a free agent, was proximity of AHL team to NHL. It's good for his development: "This is a great organization. Other NHL teams, the AHL team is so far away."— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) February 17, 2019
Evolving Hockey projects Suomela to ink a two-year contract with a cap hit of $980,571 per year. The Sharks wouldn’t get any compensation if they didn’t match an offer sheet, as Suomela’s current AAV (average annual value) of $1,350,000 is just under the minimum AAV needed to net a draft pick in return.
Offer sheet compensation has been set for 2019/20— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) May 3, 2019
$1,395,053 or below: None
$4,227,438-$6,341,152: 1st, 3rd
$6,341,153-$8,454,871: 1st, 2nd, 3rd
2 1sts , 2nd, 3rd
$10,568,590+: 4 1sts
An unnamed scout for a NHL team sees a third-line role in Suomela’s future with the Sharks when asked by our own Sheng Peng about his ceiling in the NHL.
Given that both Suomela and the Sharks organization have mutual interest in returning, it would not be a surprise at all to see him sign a new contract and be back in teal this October. The only question is whether he would start his second season in North America with the Sharks or the Barracuda.