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2024 Stanley Cup Final

Florida Panthers Defenseman Niko Mikkola ‘Built For’ the Playoffs



Florida panthers
Florida Panthers defenseman Niko Mikkola, pictured here in January against Anaheim, has helped solidify the Florida blueline. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Niko Mikkola was made for playoff hockey, one reason the Florida Panthers went after him last summer.

The towering, 6-foot-5 defenseman brings an added sense of size, physicality and unlikely speed to the Florida Panthers blue line and certainly helped Florida make the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive year.

And he is enjoying every bit of it.

“Playoff hockey is in my wheelhouse,” Mikkola said. “I like to play hard, I like to get hit, I like to give a hit. It’s been amazing.”

Mikkola packs a punch every time he is on the ice — his 49 hits are fourth among defensemen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs — but he is versatile in the defensive end.

He is quick on his gaps and his long reach combined with his excellent stick checking ability makes him a headache for opposing forwards to get past.

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“He’s built for this,” Gus Forsling said. “He’s a big body, he can really hit, but he even has a really good stick on the puck, too. He does it all for us.”

The thing about Mikkola is that this is the style of game he plays all year — not just when things get rougher and tighter.

He prides himself on finishing checks and playing hard and he usually has a smile on his face while he is doing it.

“Playoffs is such a different game for almost everybody, and then there’s a handful of guys in your locker room that it’s almost no different,” coach Paul Maurice said.

“If you’ve watched Niko’s game all year, it’s no different. The physicality was there, which is part of the reason why we loved him so much is that in February or November, when there’s no physicality game, it’s ‘Here comes Niko Mikkola’ and he’s closing his gap, he’s finishing his check and you love him.

“Then you get into the playoffs and everybody’s doing it, so maybe you don’t notice his game as much except you’re right in the briar patch with hi. He loves it. It’s what he’s great at, so he’s been fantastic for us.”

That style of play is what Maurice preaches during the regular season, and Mikkola put in the work day in and day out to perfect it.

“Our style is like playoff hockey,” Mikkola told FHN just before the start of the postseason. “We battle on every puck, we skate hard and we forecheck.”

And the positive energy he has is important to the Panthers.

Mikkola was brought in to replace the ever-physical, yet joyous emotional leader Radko Gudas when he left the team in free agency for the Anaheim Ducks last year.

The physicality was hard enough to replace, but his infectious personally — Maurice often said that his big, lumberjack-esche beard was laughing nearly at all times — was going to be even tougher.

But when Mikkola is in the middle of the fracas, he, too, is laughing, he’s chirping and he is keeping things positive in his own way.

“He’s having fun doing this,” Maurice said. “When it’s physical, intense and edgy, he still comes to the bench yelling something in Finnish, which nobody’s really sure which nobody’s really sure of except the other Finnish guys who are laughing over there, so there’s something good there. He’s encouraging somebody or he’s barking, but he’s coming back with some juice and some energy and he’s just a really fun guy to have on your team.”

For More FHN Coverage of the Florida Panthers:

Florida Leads Best-of-7 Series 1-0
  • When: Monday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • National TV: ABC
  • Streaming: ESPN+/Hulu
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Series Schedule, All Games 8 p.m. on ABC — Game 1: @Florida 3, Edmonton 0; Game 2: Edmonton at Florida, Monday; Game 3: Florida at Edmonton, Thursday; Game 4:Florida at Edmonton, Saturday June 15; Game 5*: Edmonton at Florida, Tuesday June 18; Game 6*: Florida at Edmonton, Friday June 21; Game 7*: Edmonton at Florida, Monday June 24. (*) – If Necessary
  • How They Got Here — Florida: d. Tampa Bay 4-1, Boston 4-2, New York Rangers 4-2; Edmonton: d. Los Angeles 4-1, Vancouver 4-3, Dallas 4-2.
  • This Season (Florida Won 2-0) — At Florida: Panthers 5, Oilers 3 (Nov. 20). At Edmonton: Panthers 5, Oilers 2 (Dec. 17).
  • Last Season: Edmonton Won 2-0
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Oilers lead 23-16-0, 3 ties
  • Postseason History: First Meeting

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