Finnish center Valtteri Filppula was drafted 95th overall in the third round of the 2002 NHL draft by the Detroit Red Wings. In his draft year, he was playing for Jokerit's U20 juniors team. He would continue to play in juniors for another season before making it into the Finnish Liiga with Jokerit full time for the next two years. After the 2004-05 NHL lockout ended, Filppula made his way across the Atlantic to play for the Red Wings... Well, play for their minor league affiliates.
Detroit has had a reputation for a long time of not playing young players. It's remarkable that Dylan Larkin, a 19 year old, is playing full time for the Wings and doing so at a high level. The normal progression is to pay your dues in the minor leagues before you make the NHL club, and that was what Filppula had to do. Always a playmaker, he was nearly a point- per-game player for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL in his rookie season. Filp also made his NHL debut playing 6:35 over two games in December, 2005 and follow it with two more games in April, 2006 getting 11:37 and 12:05 respectively. Those four games would be the start of a long and so far successful career for the Finn.
Filppula followed his rookie AHL season with a rookie season in the NHL that saw him only put up 17 points in 73 games. Seasonal progression saw steady improvement, culminating in a career-high 66 points (23 goals, 43 assists) in 81 games in 2011-12 for Detroit. He also had his name etched on the Stanley Cup in 2007-08.
After a rough lockout shortened 2012-13 season, Filppula signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning as an unrestricted free agent on a five year, $25 million contract.
While Filppula's play has sometimes come under scrutiny from fans, he's proven himself as a stalwart, defensive center even though his point totals have been descending since his first season with the Lightning. Over 216 regular season games, he's had 44 goals and 89 assists for 133 points. During the playoffs with Tampa Bay he's added another 4 goals, 11 assists and 15 points over 30 games.
Barring a trade, Filppula is set to play for the Lightning for another two seasons after this one. While he likely won't reach 1,000 games with the Lightning, he is assured to do that in his NHL career and get the silver stick.
Now that that's all out of the way, let's have a few fun facts about Filppula!
- Born in Vantaa, Finland on March 20th, 1984.
- He shares his birthday with me (but I'm the younger one).
- Has an older brother, Ilari. Ilari played one year in North America for Grand Rapids in 2010-11 before returning to Europe.
- Ilari currently plays for MODO Hockey of the SHL. Incidentally, Victor Hedman's older brother Oscar also plays for MODO Hockey.
- Filppula has only missed the playoffs in one professional season; 2003-04 with Jokerit.
- Is the oldest player on the Lightning
- Nicknamed Filthy Mitts by some fans due to his unbelievable hands.
- Since joining the Lightning, has had the most shootout goals with 6 and is 2nd for power play points with 45.
- Has never gotten a Major, Misconduct or Game Misconduct penalty in his NHL career, regular season or playoffs.