SUNRISE, Fla. – Juho Lammikko has earned every inch on his long road to the NHL.
A third-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, the 22-year-old center is just 22 games into his career with the Florida Panthers, a journey that was jumpstarted when a spot opened up after the team lost veteran fourth-line center Derek MacKenzie to injury during the season opener on Oct. 6.
That said, Lammikko worked hard to put himself in the position to fill MacKenzie’s role in the bottom-six. He was the last player sent home from this summer’s training camp after a solid showing in the preseason and is gaining a firmer grasp on the position with each new game.
“He’s done a great job for us,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “I like his story. Coming out of junior, he went down [to the AHL], he paid his dues and he learned how to be a pro. He got himself into better shape than we’ve asked him to really concentrate on the off-ice conditioning.
“He did that. He’s not a guy that went down there, got a lot of fanfare and was scoring a ton of goals. He played exactly in the minors how he was going to play up here. He took pride in the penalty kill, pride in the faceoff circle, pride in how he plays defense away from the puck. That’s why he’s in the NHL.”
A nearly point-per-game player with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs back in 2015-16, Lammikko scored 22 goals to go along with 55 points in 59 games during his final junior season. But after arriving to Florida’s AHL affiliate the following season, he knew his game would have to change.
In 108 minor-league contests, the 6-foot-2, 207-pound forward focused on improving his all-around game, most notably on the defensive side of the puck. In the pros, he realized he was never going to be asked to score 20-plus goals, so he had to showcase his value in other areas.
“It really helped, of course,” Lammikko, a native of Noormarkku, Finland, said of his time in the minors. “It’s a really tough league when you go there from juniors. It helped me a lot. You grow up there as a player a lot. It was a really important two years.”
Since arriving to the Panthers, the Finnish forward has played a very similar game to the one he spent two seasons crafting in the AHL. He’s been primarily deployed as the team’s fourth-line center while also seeing time on the penalty kill, where he’s currently averaging 1:41 of ice time.
Having earned Boughner’s trust, he also seems to have a knack for finding his way onto the ice in key defensive moments, such as the final minutes of games when the team is holding a lead.
“They’re hard minutes,” Panthers winger Troy Brouwer said of Lammikko’s workload. “They’re minutes the team needs. They’re not always the most fun minutes, blocking shots and those kinds of things. But for a young guy like that to settle in and be really embracive of that role, he’s done a great job. It’s good to see.”
Brouwer said that Lammikko’s commitment to playing sound defense has been so impressive that he’s actually had to encourage him to “maybe not be so dependent on being responsible defensively sometimes and maybe taking a little chance offensively” at points this season.
After registering a career-high eight goals and 28 points with AHL Springfield in 2017-18, Lammikko gave some credence to Brouwer’s statement on Nov. 19, when he gave fans a glimpse of some of that offensive talent lying underneath his defensive front with a rookie franchise-record four-assist performance during Florida’s 7-5 win in Ottawa.
“All those assists were primary assists, and they were great plays as well,” Brouwer said of Lammikko, who, despite his assists, is still searching for his first NHL goal. “He’s got it in him.”
In the absence of injured center Vincent Trocheck, who is out indefinitely after fracturing his right ankle in the first period of that breakout game against the Senators, Lammikko has seen his role increase in the past few games, especially on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle.
Seeing the third-most minutes on the penalty kill among Panthers forwards, Lammikko has been on the ice for just three goals against during 37:13 of ice time when his team is down a man this season. In five games since Trocheck’s injury, he’s been averaging 2:09 per game on the kill.
Looking ahead, Lammikko will likely continue to play major minutes for the Panthers.
“He came in and was playing big minutes right off the bat with Mack out, taking draws and stuff like that,” said Panthers forward Colton Sceviour, who often teams up with Lammikko on the penalty kill. “He’s been huge. He’s always looking to learn, always asking questions. You can see it out there that he’s getting more and more confidence each time.”