A Climb to the Top: A Look at Stars Prospect Antti Miettinen

By Geoffrey Ussery

Back in 2000, the Dallas Stars selected with the 224th overall pick in the seventh round of the 2000 Entry Draft a 19 year old left wing who had played 39 games with HPK in the SM-Liiga, amassing 2 goals and 1 assist. As with most seventh round selections, no one thought much of the pick at the time. From the draft, Miettinen was pegged as just another in the Stars vast collection of average-seeming two-way forward prospects.

But starting in the 2000-2001 SM-Liiga season, Miettinen’s role for his club, HPK, become steadily more and more important. His numbers began to rise and, considering that he was a still developing 20 year old, were quite respectable. During the 2000-2001 campaign, he produced 13 goals and 11 assists in 55 games — an awe inspiring 8-fold increase in points over the previous year with 16 more games played. In that season, he was chosen to serve on Finland’s team competing at the Baltica Cup. In three games there, he potted a goal and an assist. Despite the nice improvement by Miettinen, he was still largely unknown among Stars fans. His numbers playing in far-away Finland were not yet impressive enough to overshadow his late selection the year before.

But in 2001-2002, Miettinen went from a virtual unknown in the Stars system to a top prospect with a terrific breakout year. In his first 9 games of the year, Miettinen was blazing hot as he compiled 8 goals and 10 assists. Antti then appeared to cool down a bit only posting 3 goals and 11 assists in his next 17 games. Still, one of his line mates, Tommi Santala, was injured during this stretch of time and did not return, likely throwing his line into disarray and adversely impacting his production. Over the last 30 games he played, Miettinen amassed 8 goals and 16 assists, giving him a total of 19 goals and 37 assists for 56 points in his 56 game season. He also finished the season with an amazing +32 plus-minus rating. In the postseason, Miettinen posted 2 goals and 4 assists in 8 games, compiling an impressive +7 without a minus as well. He also competed for Finland in three international competitions: the Baltica Cup, the Karjala Cup, and the IIHF World Championships. He was held off the sheet in his three games at the Baltica Cup, yielded 2 goals and an assist at the Karjala Cup, and teamed with Stars prospect Niko Kapanen to tally 2 goals and 4 assists in 9 games at the World Championships. At the beginning of the season, few Stars fans knew about Miettinen, but almost all of them know about him now. His outstanding year brought him to the forefront of Stars prospects, even ahead of recent first rounders Steve Ott and Jason Bacashihua in some minds. Even Finnish Stars forward Jere Lehtinen was surprised to see Miettinen performing so well in the SM-Liiga this year. More mind boggling is his potential upside considering his rise from 3 points to 24 points to 56 points over three short years. Has he reached his peak, or will he continue to improve?

Miettinen is an interesting and unusual package. He is a strong, balanced skater without a ton of explosiveness, much like current Star Jere Lehtinen. Able to sneak past opposing defensemen with his flexible skating style, Miettinen can make quick turns and is very agile. Miettinen has exceptional vision of the ice and possesses the ability to thread the needle with his outstanding passing. Combined, his vision and mobility allow him to carry the puck over the blueline with efficiency. From his off-wing position, the left wing, Miettinen can unleash a quick, accurate snap shot. Unfortunately, Miettinen does not use slap shots very often, so whether that is a strength or weakness is hard to tell. The offensive package is not all there is to Miettinen, however. Miettinen, much like but not to the degree of Jere Lehtinen, is an outstanding positional player when needed in defensive coverage. Despite not being a large player, Miettinen will go into the corners and dirty areas of the ice, finishing checks and occasionally throwing big open-ice hits. As a versatile player, Miettinen can switch to play center from his usual LW position if needed. Though he has a lot going for him, Miettinen’s game might need to be altered a bit for him to be successful in North America. Like many young players, he needs to put some more muscle on his frame so that he will be a more effective player. As well, Miettinen needs to develop a stronger net drive to make him more of a threat offensively rather than holding on to the puck for too long on the perimeter.

Given the Stars’ drive to become a quicker, more physical, transition team, Miettinen may be the perfect player to help fill the Stars roster from within. His usual combination of attributes could help him develop into a more offensive minded Jere Lehtinen with a slightly weaker defensive game and a more twisted offensive style than Lehtinen’s straightforward play. It is unknown at this time whether Miettinen will make the trip across the ocean for training camp this year or not. Should he choose to make the voyage, Miettinen may well earn himself a spot at camp depending on how active the Stars are in the free agent market. If he does come and cannot make the Stars’ roster, he will likely be one of the top line players with the Grizzlies at the start of their season.

It’s amazing to think that Miettinen has risen from such obscurity to being one of the top young players in the Stars’ farm system. If Miettinen does indeed to turn out similar to Jere Lehtinen, he will be an amazing steal and core player for the Stars for years to come. Yet, despite all the promise, he could very well be another Finnish star who cannot adapt to the North American game, like former Star Juha Lind. Time will tell, but here’s to hoping Miettinen’s star shines bright.