An under-the-radar 2020 71st overall Entry Draft selection, Senators fans will finally get a peek at the 19-year old Finn who’s slated to appear in at least one of the team’s games versus a Montreal Canadiens rookie squad this coming Saturday at the Canadian Tire Centre or Monday in Montreal.
Not much is known about Merilainen other than viewing his progression at July’s Summer Showcase in Plymouth, Michigan where he was a standout over four games played.
Merilainen’s performance put him in line to become Finland’s number one netminder at the 2022 World Junior tournament.
A possible diamond in the rough, the Oulu resident was first scouted by Senators director of European Scouting Mikko Ruutu while playing for his hometown Karpat junior club. Merilainen recorded save percentages of .942 and .908 splitting time with the organization’s U18 and U20 squads during his Draft-eligible campaign.
At the 2020 Entry Draft, Senators chief amateur scout Trent Mann said, “He’s a little bit like (Roby) Jarventie, if it (the Draft) was in June, he probably wouldn’t have picked as high as did now. He benefited from his play the summer and the start of the season. Just from information from our scouting staff, we like his upside. he’s in a good program over there.”
The lean six-foot-two, 178-pound netminder followed up with an impressive 2020-2021 regular season, appearing in 22 regular season games, setting a high in save percentage, recording a .934 mark on a team that included a pair 2021 second-round selections in Carolina Hurricanes Ville Koivunen and Islanders Aatu Raty.
Merilainen’s stellar play led him to be recalled by Karpat’s SM-Liiga pro club. However, he dressed for four games but did not get into game duty.
Still eligible to play junior hockey. Merilainen made the decision to shift to North America this season in order to get acclimated to a more robust style of the game.
The Kingston Frontenacs have received a commitment from 18-year-old Finnish goaltender Leevi Meriläinen.
Meriläinen was selected by Kingston during the 2021 CHL Import Draft. He is a prospect of the @Senators.
— Kingston Frontenacs (@KingstonFronts) July 26, 2021
Merilainen was selected by the Ontario League’s Kingston Frontenacs in the summer’s Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. The Frontenacs general manager Kory Cooper served as the Belleville Senators goalie coach for three seasons from 2017-20.
Signed to an entry-level contract with Senators on June 14, Merilainen already has an instant fan in Troy Mann. The Belleville Senators head coach spoke via a Zoom call Wednesday on the benefits of the goaltender’s arrival to North America and being in close proximity to the organization’s American League affiliate.
“Any of these young players that come from Europe, there’s always an adjustment. From the language barrier; to the size of ice – to meeting new teammates – you know in his case – having a new goalie coach. I think the situation for him is excellent. The fact that we are 45 minutes away, (Belleville goalie coach) Justin Peters will be able to get down there to spend some time. Obviously, his priority is the two goaltenders in Belleville, but at the same time as an organization, we couldn’t ask for anything better for Merilainen. He’s been impressive, has a tremendous work ethic, speaks our language very, very well. But there will always be some type of adjustment, specifically from playing the puck and when scoring chances are coming at you – a little bit quicker.”
Merilainen, himself echoed the words of Mann during his media availability, recognizing the need to make adjustments, also knowing Peters will be close by.
“I think it’s (rookie camp) been fine. I like the smaller rink here. I think it’s going good so far. I will be getting a lot more games here. I’ll be close to Ottawa and they will get to see me play more. I feel the puck gets to the net a lot faster and the game is a lot faster here. Of course, there’s a little bit of an adjustment, but I don’t think it’s an issue.”