Jani Lajunen, a seventh-round draft pick by Nashville Predators in 2008, signed a three-year, entry-level contract, the team announced Wednesday.
He became the third member of the Predators’ seven-member 2008 draft class to sign with the team. The other two were first-rounders Colin Wilson and Chet Pickard.
In an interview published on the Predators’ website last month, assistant general manager Paul Fenton said: “He’s right on pace with where he wants to be. … We think he can be a solid, responsible third-line center in our organization; similar to a Marcel Goc-type of player.”
Lajunen becomes only the third seventh-round pick in franchise history (there have been 14 total) to be signed. Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist are the others.
Hornqvist (230th overall in 2005) led the team in goals (30) and shared the lead in points (51) this past season, his first full NHL campaign.
Erat (191st overall in 1999) entered 2008-09 second all-time in goals, assists and points for the Predators. He had 21 goals, the second-highest total of his career, in 2009-10
Lajunen, a 19-year-old center, recently completed his first full season in the Finnish Elite League. He had 15 points (six goals, nine assists) and a plus-4 rating (tied for team-high) in 46 games for Espoo. He also played for Finland at the World Junior Championships, where he had six points (one goal, five assists).
“He’s a younger guy playing in the Finnish Elite League, so they’ve primarily used him in a fourth line role … similar to how most NHL teams break-in younger players,” Fenton said. “But he has shown tremendous upside.”
The Predators have now signed six draft picks – one each from 2006, 07 and 08 and three from 2009 – in the past seven weeks. The first five all were North American-based players.
“(Lajunen) could definitely come and contribute in Milwaukee next year if he wanted to,” Fenton said. “But a lot of guys are hesitant to make the jump over until they’re really sure they can make an impact.”