The IIHF World Championships (yes--the WC...a lot happened in Flames land and we had to put some things on hold) are typically seen as a lesser international tournament in the eyes of many hockey fans, if only for the fact that many of the best stars of the NHL game don't participate because of nagging injuries, personal reasons (see Bob Nicholson of Hockey Canada rip into the players who refused their invite) or a little thing called the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, despite the lack of NHL talent in comparison to say the Olympic games, the World Championship provides a fine display of talent from 16 different countries, and is the perfect stage for heroes to rise up.
This is exactly what Finnish Gold Medalist, Jarkko Immonen has done: the little known AK Bars (KHL) Center and former Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick has risen from obscurity to the spotlight by leading all scorers in goals(9) and points (12). This was not the deepest tournament, but it did have NHL calibre scoring threats like John Tavares, Jason Spezza, and Alexander Ovechkin: and all of them failed in comparison to the Rantasalmi native.
The 29 year-old Immonen was a very late round pick in 2002: 254th overall, and considering his offensive output of 2 total assists in 44 games with Assat in the SM-l, it was a bit of a surprise he even warranted a pick. Then General Manager, the always intriguing Pat Quinn, saw Immonen's strong defensive game and perhaps that little spark the enticed a gamble. Quinn's successor Ferguson did not see that same value in the young Finn, and just a year after taking the helm he traded the prospect to the Rangers as part of the Brian Leetch deal.
Immonen did nothing but score for the Rangers organization. In his first year with the Wolfpack, his first in the AHL he had 30 goals and 70 points in 74 games which was good for 23rd in the league-- an impressive feat for a rookie. It's even more impressive when you consider fellow Finn, Valterri Filppula, had the same total. He'd follow that up with a brief cup of coffee with the Rangers scoring twice in 6 games. After an injury plagued season in 2006-07, Immonen packed his things and went back to the SM-Liiga (at the time the second strongest European league) for two more point per game seasons.
Recently, Immonen became a member of the Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, with a 2-year contract in 2009-- and while he didn't light things up (registering 39 and 38 point campaigns) he was leaned upon for his defensive prowess. Now as a Free agent, coming off of this great tournament Immonen will garner some NHL attention-- the first since 2005.
As a skilled 2 way-player with some of the best in-close hands in the world, this is the type of out of the box player the Calgary Flames should pursue on the free agent market: a relatively low risk signing that has the potential to pay decent dividends. Don't misunderstand the hype-- Immonen isn't a "game changer", but he is a very servicable player that fits well with the Calgary Flames style of play, and with the Finnish connection within the organization this could be a very natural fit for both sides; the Flames are fairly deep down the middle, and with Backlund continuing to make strides, Immonen would have a hard time breaking in as a center at first glimpse. But after a season of injuries and some questions concerning defensive liability, adding someone of Immonen's ilk wouldn't be the worst of things, especially when you can just as easily play multiple centers on a line like the San Jose Sharks are doing with all three of their scoring lines (their "third line" actually features 3 centers).
Last year's big overseas signing saw the New York Rangers thinking outside the box in going after the Norwegian Hobbit Wizard, Mats Zuccarello, who had a tepid first year in the NHL scoring 23 points in 42 games-- but struggled in the big games of the later season and playoffs (where he'd mostly become a healthy scratch)--and while once again it wasn't a move that drastically changed the outlook for the Blueshirts, it was a very shrewd move that brought in a skilled player for cheap-- something that in this cap world should be looked at quite positively.
It took a while for Jarkko Immonen to finally be found by NHL fans after years of obscurity, but after one big tournament this year, and an impressive Olympics last year, this once forgotten NHL draft pick is going to garner some attention from NHL teams and will have a chance of actually contributing to the bottom line-- it will be interesting to see if the Flames go after Immonen or a player of that magnitude from Europe to try and bolster the roster, but two things are for certain, the Flames have to get better and Immonen has been found.