Image: Scott Wiggins
Image: Scott Wiggins

‘Elite playmaker’ Laakkonen extends Coventry Blaze tenure with new deal

The Coventry Blaze have re-signed “elite playmaker” Janne Laakkonen ahead of the 2021/22 season, with the Finn becoming the tenth player to pen a new deal with the Skydome Arena outfit.

The 39-year-old winger enjoyed a fruitful season with the Blaze in 2019/20, leading the league in assists (40) and scoring nine goals over 43 regular-season appearances.

“In Janne we get an elite playmaker,” Coventry Blaze head coach Danny Stewart said of Laakkonen’s return. “In 2019/20 he led the league in assists, and was a big reason for our powerplay being one of the best. He makes guys around him better and his experience is crucial with a younger team.”

Of Laakkonen’s leadership credentials, Stewart added: “He’s a big part of our group. He’s a true pro in how he takes care of himself, and he may be the best passer we have had here in my time with the Blaze. His ability is tough to replace, and we wanted to get him back on our side for the upcoming season.”

In addition to his 49 regular-season points from 2019/20, Laakkonen registered six assists and two goals in eight Challenge Cup games with the Blaze. The popular Finn was also voted into EIHL fans’ Second All-Star Team and later returned to take part in the Elite Series, where he contributed eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 14 appearances.

Laakkonen returns to Coventry with an impressive CV, having amassed over 550 games and almost 380 points in the Finnish Liiga with HPK and KalPa. After leaving his homeland in 2013/14, Laakkonen has enjoyed standout seasons in Sweden, Kazakhstan, Belarus, France, and Poland.

In 2016/17, the 5’9” winger guided Neman Grodno to the Belarussian Championship by registering 55 points in 52 appearances. Two years later, Laakkonen led point-scoring over two rounds of the IIHF Continental Cup with Polish outfit GKS Katowice.


Analysis:

Cast your mind back to Coventry’s sensational post-Christmas form in 2019/20. You’ll probably remember two things: Luke Ferrara’s goal-scoring purple patch and C.J. Motte’s incredible start to life in the Elite League.

With the Blaze performing so strongly, it was easy to ignore Janne Laakkonen’s impact on the side – which is just ridiculous. He was outlandishly impressive in the offensive zone.

The Finn was integral to Danny Stewart’s system, providing the creative spark that facilitated Ferrara’s league-leading scoring record. As the head coach notes, Laakkonen’s puck-handling and is passing superb.

Are there question marks hanging over Laakkonen’s return? Well, age is always a factor: the Kuopio native turns 40 in April.

However, Laakkonen’s performances during the Elite Series suggest that he has plenty in the attack. And with a full pre-season under his belt, the Finn will be back to his best next term.


Blaze Signings So Far:

C.J. Motte – 29-year-old goalie, USA

Jordan Hedley – 24-year-old goalie, GBR

David Clements – 26-year-old defenceman, GBR

Justin Hamonic – 27-year-old defenceman, CAN

Dillon Eichstadt – 27-year-old defenceman, USA

Ross Venus – 27-year-old forward, GBR

Alex Forbes – 25-year-old forward/defenceman, GBR

Luke Ferrara – 28-year-old forward, GBR

Johnny Curran – 26-year-old forward, CAN

Janne Laakkonen – 39-year-old forward, FIN

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