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Matthews a Lindsay finalist, Leafs ink two Finns

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While the Maple Leafs returned from Tampa on Friday, there was some significant player news.

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Auston Matthews was named a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award, significant because a Leaf has never been the NHL players’ choice for their MVP prize since it was inaugurated in 1971.

Matthews made the cut with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Nashville defenceman Roman Josi. Matthews and McDavid are already up for the Hart Trophy as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, with the scribes picking Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin as their third finalist.

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Ted Kennedy was the last Leaf Hart winner in 1955 and defenceman Babe Pratt the only other in 1944.

The players had the same tough choices as the writers in a very competitive field, topped by McDavid leading the league with 123 points and Matthews notching 60 goals to win consecutive Rocket Richard Trophies. All three Lindsay finalists had career years and helped their teams in the standings.

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Also Friday morning, the Leafs got two highly-rated Finnish draft picks on future three-year Entry-level contracts.

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Forward Roni Hirvonen and defenceman Topi Niemela, chosen 59th and 64th respectively in 2020 behind first-rounder Rodion Amirov, will have average annual values of $856,666 US on their deals.

The 20-year-old Hirvonen had 26 points in 46 games with HIFK in the Finnish Elite League, amid several stints with their national team program the past few years. He had six points in seven games at the 2021 world junior tournament.

Niemela, also 20, had 32 points in 48 games with the Karpat club, leading their defensemen in goals and points and was also a bronze medalist in the ’21 junior event. Both he and Hirvonen were also on Team Finland in the ’22 WJC tournament that was postponed due to COVID-19.

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