With a team up against the salary cap, Vegas Golden Knight’s general manager Kelly McCrimmon had to get creative in the offseason to improve his team. The team’s biggest free agent acquisition not named Phil Kessel was Finnish forward Sakari Manninen, who was signed out of the KHL at league minimum.
“I’m just working hard and enjoying every day of life here,” Manninen said nonchalantly.
Manninen is in Group A of the Golden Knight’s training camp and is skating on a line with Gage Quinney and Sheldon Rempal. He’s stood out in camp as a slick, puck-hungry forward who finds the quiet areas of the ice. He’s battling for a roster spot along some Henderson Silver Knights callups.
“It’s super exciting. It’s fun to be here and in the organization meeting the new players. They have been so helpful with me… I like, feel at home, right away,” said Manninen.
A big thing working in his favor is his ability to play multiple positions. Manninen is currently playing center with Quinney and Rempal but says he is open to playing any forward position.
“We put him where we were told to put him from the European scouts. A lot of guys who are trying to make the team, it helps when you are versatile, can play wing, and can play center. That is just going to make you that more valuable,” said Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy.
Manninen is an accomplished hockey player internationally. He has three gold medals; one at the 2022 Olympic Games and two at the World Championships in 2019 and 2022.
The adjustment to North American ice is something he realizes is there but is not something he seems to be worried about. After all, he has played against current and former NHL players internationally.
“There is a difference; of course, it is a little faster. It’s a little different but not so big… Playing there (internationally), I have played against NHL players, a bunch of strong guys, and a bunch of good skaters,” added Manninen.
Manninen’s IIHF play pinned him up against a trio of Golden Knights during the 2022 World Championships. The Gold Medal game was between Finland and Canada, with Zach Whitecloud, Logan Thompson, and Nicolas Roy all representing the great white north.
With a powerplay goal, Manninen scored the overtime clinching golden goal for Team Finland on home ice at the 2022 World Championships. It’s something he can only describe as “awesome.”
“It’s kind of crazy that it went to overtime sudden death. Of course, we won, and it was the best thing in the world. But on the other side, for those guys its the opposite,” said Manninen.
Manninen says his skating is his biggest strength and that he can zip up and down the ice performing as a 200-foot player. During Saturday’s practices, he particularly looked good working with Reilly Smith on two-on-two drills.
“I found he was slippery and a pretty smart hockey player out there. My guess is that he has been playing hockey on the smaller side and having to navigate his way around bigger men,” said Cassidy on Manninen.
Last season in the KHL, Manninen scored 19 goals, 13 assists, and 32 points in 38 total games with Salavat Yulaev Ufa.
Manninen’s versatility, speed, and his 200-foot game will likely get him some games in the National Hockey League this year. He can provide Cassidy with a plug-in-and-play player and mix in and out of the lineup when needed. A swiss army knife, if you will.
The Golden Knight’s line combinations will surely change leading up to opening night. But the framework of the team’s roster has a slot open in the bottom-six. Manninen could fill it.
When asked about his expectations for the year, Manninen said the following.
“I don’t know. It’s just fun to be on the team, and I’m just enjoying working as hard as I can. I’m just focusing on my daily pace. We will see”