The Anaheim Ducks sent seven of their players to Sochi this week to play hockey for their home countries in the Olympics. And it’s the least known player of the bunch, defenseman Sami Vatanen, that might just be the one to break out on the world’s largest stage. Also known to his legions of fans in Anaheim as “the Vatman,” Vatanen will play alongside Ducks teammate Teemu Selanne representing Finland; the Finnish begin play on Thursday against Austria.
With defenseman Cam Fowler having the breakout season he has long since earned on the Ducks’ blue line, it’s easy to see how Vatanen’s presence this year can go overlooked. Fowler has indeed had an incredible year, but Vatanen hasn’t held back either.
A fourth round draft pick by Anaheim in 2009, Vatanen made his NHL debut with the Ducks in the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, scoring his first goal against legendary net minder Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
This year Vatanen’s play in Anaheim has been one of the lesser recognized keys to the Ducks’ success. At just 5-foot-10, Vatanen isn’t necessarily the blue liner running people over to guard the net, but he is the player making quick transitions from defense to offense when the opportunity presents himself with 14 points on the season thus far, including six goals. Even better, he isn’t afraid to get into a scrap or two along the way.
Although the Finnish team is certainly an underdog to make it to the podium during these Olympic games, competitors beware of the power of the Vatman. His capability to strike when least expected is what will make him truly valuable on Finland’s blue line. And with the level of play Anaheim fans know Vatanen to be capable of, the world stage might finally bring a bit of credit and name recognition in a direction that is well deserved.