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Finnish Prospects: 2016, 2017 and 2018 NHL Drafts

2016 NHL Draft – Prospects in the Finnish leagues

98 F Patrik Laine (Tappara, Liiga) – An exceptional goal-scorer with outstanding shot selection and skilled 1-on-1 moves, Laine is the real deal. Very unpredictable with the puck and has improved his skating drastically this season, particularly agility and edge work in my opinion. Excellent size and physical tools as well, very decisive with the puck on his stick. I think he’ll be the first Finn taken in the draft.

98 F Jesse Puljujärvi (Kärpät, Liiga) – Puljujärvi has very good speed for such a big guy and he plays a quite complete game. His shot is also high-end, but I think Laine is an even better scorer. Has picked up his game pretty considerably since the World Juniors. Is also a pretty good stickhandler and passer, but I think Laine has a higher ceiling and could definitely play in the NHL next season.

98 F Janne Kuokkanen (Kärpät U20) – Kuokkanen is an effective center with a good skill level and understanding of the game. He makes smart plays with the puck and attacks well through middle of the ice. Quick wrist shot and can finish off his chances. Good effort level without the puck, plus plays a proactive game. I think third round is a possibility for him. He’ll need to add some additional muscle in the coming years, though.

98 F Otto Koivula (Ilves U20) – Koivula is a very big forward at 6’4, 200 lbs with very interesting tools. He handles the puck well – able to make crisp passes showing great on-ice vision. Likes to attack to the net, plays pretty physically, reliable defensively. A good finisher who posted 58 points in the U20 league. A major knock at this point is his skating and speed which need plenty of work, but I like his upside and offensive ability.

97 F Henrik Borgström (HIFK U20) – University of Denver commit already showed a high skill level last season at U18’s but impressed even more this season for HIFK U20. A tall, lanky center who’s best assets are his vision, passing and wrist shot – he can really rip it with quick wristers. Will need to work on his skating, faceoffs ability and defensive game to become a complete player, but I consider him a potential 3rd round pick thanks to his skills and potential.

97 F Kasper Björkqvist (Blues U20) – Another prospect who’s reportedly likely to play in the NCAA next season, Björkqvist is a powerful two-way forward. An extremely versatile player who’s able to adapt to various roles, Björkqvist is a strong skater with the speed required for college hockey. Not always extremely flashy but has a presence in the offensive zone and wins battles along the boards. Had 28 goals and 38 assists for Blues U20, plus was part of the gold-winning Team Finland at World Juniors. I consider him a good option in the mid-rounds of the draft.

98 F Markus Nurmi (TPS U20) – Nurmi is a 6’3 winger who will need to add some more muscle into his frame. However, he impressed me a few times this season. He already knows how to use his size and reach, with and without the puck. Shows flashes of skill and has a pretty quick release. Lacks some agility; however, once he adds some strength, I think his skating will improve. Could be a good late round pick as I think he projects well for the pro game.

98 F Juha Jääskä (HIFK U20) – Jääskä is a smooth skating, quick forward who can play both center and wing. He showed lots of promise at the start of the season but couldn’t always perform as consistently as I would have liked to see. He has fine passing skills and works hard, but needs to work on decision making, plus he isn’t the biggest of forwards at 5’10. He’s likely to be a late-round pick, if drafted at all, but I think there’s some pretty good long-term potential here.

98 F Joona Koppanen (Ilves U20) – Koppanen is a center with very good size at 6’5 and good hockey sense to go along with it. He shows solid positioning and awareness on the ice, managing the center lane extremely well. Has good length and uses his stick properly defensively. His offensive upside may not be the greatest among the top Finnish forwards, but he actually skates rather well for his size and has decent hands. Much like Jääskä, if Koppanen is drafted I think it will happen in last two rounds.

Other prospects for the 2016 draft: F Otto Mäkinen (Tappara U20), F Eetu Tuulola (HPK U20), G Niilo Halonen (Jokerit U20), G Karolus Kaarlehto (TPS U20, re-entry)

2017 NHL Draft 

Next year’s draft looks to be a pretty good one for Finland at this point in time. However, there are no prospects at the level of Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujärvi. Still, left wing Kristian Vesalainen (Frölunda) and defenseman Urho Vaakanainen (Blues) have already played respectably well at men’s level. Vesalainen has the size, skills and work ethic that NHL teams seek for, while Vaakanainen is a very smooth defenseman with good hockey sense.. Vesalainen, Vaakanainen and WHL defenseman Juuso Välimäki could be drafted in the first three rounds of 2017 draft.

Other notable Finnish prospects for the draft are goalies Lassi Lehtinen (Lukko U18) and 6’4 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (HPK U20), plus skilled defensemen Henri Jokiharju and Miro Heiskanen. Both Jokiharju and Heiskanen could play for Finland at U18 World Championships. Both are smallish but make up for it with superb mobility and offensive skills.  I wrote a scouting report about Heiskanen in February.

Early Look at Prospects Eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft 

00 F Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Ässät U20) – 6’0 center plays with a high pace, good offensive instincts, very solid at both ends and competes. The Top Finn for the draft by a clear margin – first or second round is possible for Kotkaniemi.

00 F Jesse Moilanen (Jokerit U18) – Improved as the season went on, a sharp passer and sees the ice well; needs to get bigger and stronger.

00 D Santeri Salmela (KooKoo U18) – Poised 6’0 defenseman makes a nice first pass and has showed upside at both ends; decent skater.

00 D Samuel Kemppainen (Kärpät U16) – A really intriguing defenseman with above-average puck skills, smarts – very calculated in possession.

00 F Rasmus Kupari (KooKoo U18) – Center is big and skates pretty well, shows flashes of skill, would like to see more consistency from him.

00 F Niklas Nordgren (HIFK U18) – A smaller, skilled right wing who makes sharp plays in transition, possesses also a quick, hard shot.

 

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Jokerit U20 Scouting Notes: Moilanen, Nyman and Almari

RW Sami Moilanen – Jokerit U20

Height/Weight: 5’9, 174 lbs

Regular Season Stats: 38 GP, 21-14-35, 20 PIMs

2017 NHL Draft Eligible

Scouting Notes: Moilanen is a smaller, highly energetic forward who certainly plays bigger than his size. He works hard on the fore check and isn’t afraid of throwing his weight around in the corners. He’s certainly been involved in my every viewing of him this season. Moilanen is a strong skater with very good acceleration. He keeps his feet moving and he’s got the skills to handle the puck at high speed. However, he lacks some creativity at times in 1-on-1 situations. He has good instincts in the offensive zone and is able to find open space, but he’s not always the best finisher. He does have a good, quick wrist shot, but given the chances that he had in some games, he could have had even more goals. He played regularly on penalty-killing this season where he showed an ability to get into shooting lanes.

**

LW Linus Nyman – Jokerit U20

Height/Weight: 5’9, 143 lbs

Regular Season Stats: 43 GP, 13-23-36, 12 PIMs

2017 NHL Draft Eligible

Scouting Notes: Nyman is a skilled, instinctive left wing who had an impressive first U20 season. Has above-average puck skills and silky smooth hands that make him often dangerous offensively. A good passer, he always has his head up, allowing him to make smart decisions and see openings. Nyman is more of a playmaker than a scorer; however, with his skill level he can create scoring chances for himself too. He could work on finishing going forward, but there’s some potential for him to become a good goal-scorer at the next level. He’s got nice speed and a clean stride. However, at this point Nyman is not physically a strong player and loses too many battles. He can get out-muscled by stronger players due to considerable lack of strength. This makes him ineffective in many situations.

**

RD Niclas Almari – Jokerit U20

Height/Weight: 6’2, 172 lbs

Regular Season Stats: 27 GP, 2-5-7, 10 PIMs

2016 NHL Draft Eligible

Scouting Notes: Almari left Blues juniors for Jokerit U20 during this season. The 6’2 defenseman has showed solid improvement from last season’s viewings, particularly in his puck management. Almari often prefers to make the simple first pass rather than carry the puck up the ice. He’s got some poise with the puck and his long-range passes are often accurate. However, he still needs to get rid of some iffy passes in the defensive zone. Almari gets shots to the net pretty effectively, though some more velocity would make him more dangerous at the point. He’s a pretty good skater for his size, with the agility and backwards skating to keep with the forwards in the U20 league. Solid stick positioning, but I’d like to see more aggressiveness from him in the defensive zone as he can be a bit passive at times.

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Finnish 2001 National Team Candidates Review

The 44 candidates for the next Finnish U16 national team (2001 age group) were announced two days ago. I wasn’t able to go to the Pohjola camp, which was the main event for the age group this season, so these evaluations are based on the games I have seen in the U18, U16 and U15 leagues.

Forwards

6’0 Mikko Petman (SaiPa) has a heavy shot with quick release and uses his size well to protect the puck – there’s a lot to like about his constantly improving game. Anton Lundell is part of the strong HIFK U16 team, a responsible center with good offensive instincts and effectiveness without the puck as well. Antti Saarela has been the number one center for Lukko U16 and he’s the brother of Carolina Hurricanes prospect Aleksi Saarela. Henri Nikkanen (JYP) is another center that is among the best forwards on his U16 team.

Among wingers, Leevi Aaltonen (KalPa) is already producing great numbers in the U16 league. I haven’t seen him this season, but he will likely be one of the leaders on the national team. Veeti Miettinen (Blues) might be small, but he skates well, thinks the game at a high level and can score goals. Patrik Puistola (Tappara) was named the best player at the Pohjola camp after scoring eight goals and although he hasn’t completely stood out in my viewings of Tappara U16, he’s a player to watch for the next few seasons.

Aapo Kaskinen (TPS) is one prospect with projectable skills – a versatile, skilled offensive player who makes accurate passes and can shoot the puck with good accuracy. 5’10 Rasmus Lahnaviik (Jokerit) has an intriguing skill set and is already strong on the puck. Leevi Teissala (TPS) is a smaller forward with great hands and puck poise in the offensive zone – he makes constantly smart plays and is quick. 5’11 Kaapo Kakko (TPS) makes a lot of instinctive plays and could be one of the top forwards on the national team. A smart player with good passing skills, Kakko has played at an impressive level both in the U16 and U15 league. Markus Oden (KooKoo) is a quick, effective skater with fairly good puck skills and scoring touch.

Defensemen

There are a few defensemen with noteworthy upside, two of them playing for Kärpät U16. Aapo Holtinkoski is a smooth, skilled puck-moving defenseman who can jump into the offense and also has the skating and hockey sense to defend well in his own zone. Holtinkoski has also played a couple of games for the U18 team and didn’t look out of place at all. Kalle Loponen is a right-handed defenseman who already plays a pretty sound two-way game. He moves the puck well in transition and makes effective plays in the defensive zone.

Onni Korkka (Lukko), Iivari Räsänen (Tappara), Mikko Kokkonen (Jukurit) and Manu Räty (KooKoo) are some defensemen with good size who have a good chance to make the first national team in my opinion. Santeri Hatakka (Jokerit) is steady at both ends of the rink and competes well, while 6’2 Antti Vehviläinen (KalPa) is a pretty good skater for his size who projects to be more of a defensive defenseman. Oskari Oksanen (TPS) is a solid skater with good vision, puck skills and athleticism to build on. Blues defenseman Joona Haarti has had regularly ice-time on the U16 team.

As far as goalies are concerned, I have only seen Matti Fingerroos this season. He was consistent and made some nice saves in each and every game for HIFK U16 at the start of the season. Erkki Raerinne (KalPa), Juuso Ojala (Kärpät) and Juuso Estemaa (TuTo) are the three other candidates for the national team. Raerinne was named the best goalie of the Pohjola camp.

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NTDP 2016 Camp Invites (’00)

The NTDP released their 2016 class of invites for tryout camp this month in Plymouth, and there were not many surprises. What has emerged as one of the deepest, most intriguing American birthyears in a while was proven strong at the Youth Olympic Games last month where they took Gold. This roster includes the entirety of that team. Looking at a state-by-state view, it’s a dominant showing for Minnesota, with 12, and the rest of the hockey-‘M’ states also saw a lot of their best players selected.

Forwards

This is a forward group that includes a lot of size, offensive talent (of all shapes/heights), speed, and power in their games. It has a little bit of everything. At center for the camp is the highest concentration of upside at one position, and it’s not a coincidence that all 8 have commitments to major programs before the puck drops in Plymouth.

BU’s Jake Wise likely leads the group, but with Oliver Wahlstrom (Harvard) and Jake Pivonka (ND) flagging right behind and fellow Terrier recruit Jack DeBoer improving each year, those four can go up against any four centers around right now. Add two bright stars from Minnesota in Grand Rapids’ Gavin Hain (North Dakota) and Luverne’s Jaxon Nelson (Minnesota) to go with 6’4 Skipjacks forward Pat Giles (BC) and Honeybaked’s Jon Gruden (Miami), it’s clear there are going to be some tough calls. For Wise, Hain and DeBoer, this month included a chance to take a championship in their high school competitions (MA, MN, Prep respectively).

At wing (for the camp at least), the skill level is pretty high with Tyler Weiss (BU), TJ Walsh (BC), Blake McLaughlin (MN), Joel Farabee (BU), Max Ellis, Trevor Janicke (ND) and recent Michigan recruit Calen Kiefiuk. The others are generally a bit bigger, including Penn State’s Jake Goldowski at 6’4 and Notre Dame’s growing Jack Perbix, listed at 6’0. Erik Middendorf, Curtis Hall, Ryan O’Reilly (UNO), Jack Randl and Blade Jenkins round out the rest of a forward group where everyone can threaten to score and a number can create at a high level. Hall has already tendered with Youngstown, which could be a rough go for the Phantoms if he chooses to do what former Y’town-tender Jake Tortora did last year, and decide to accept an offer from the NTDP after tendering.

Defense

On defense, the stellar group that went to Norway gets a boost in Mission U16 defender Bode Wilde (Harvard), who will be a key OHL Draft look, alongside a number of the players invited to camp. Fellow tall, aggressive defenseman Mattias Samuelsson brings an edge and heavy shot to go with immense athletic ability. Unlike the forward group, a number of the better defenders invited are uncommitted to-date, including Ty Emberson, an explosive athlete with a unique ceiling at 5’11. The Wisconsin native led his HS team in scoring this winter despite playing on the blue. Minnesota’s K’Andre Miller, Mississauga’s DJ King, and TPH’s Ben Schultheis each bring hulking frames and raw athletic upside – each will certainly have schools and junior scouts evaluating over the months to come.

There are also some smaller talents at D, most glaringly 5’6 Brandon Tabakin, a recent Yale recruit who has a great sense for the game and quickness overall. Kimball Union’s Jordan Harris is listed at 5’9 but plays a strong game in all three zones. He’ll have an opportunity to try for a prep championship this coming weekend. Harris, along with fellow-invite TJ Walsh at forward, was named top at his position for his age at our OTB Teal Invite last summer. The rest of the defensive group includes a number of very notable committed prospects, including Minnesota recruit Ben Brinkman, a three-sport athlete from Edina with a very projectable frame and skillset around the puck.

Stand-out BC recruit Adam Samuelsson, already at 6’5, is going to be given long looks unless he really does not perform to his ability. Already having highlighted more players than can make the team on ‘D’, this defensive group is going to competent to say the least. Christian Krygier, Spencer Stastney (Notre Dame), Jacob Semik (Michigan), Jace Foskey, Will MacKinnon and Slava Demin are each pretty intriguing invites as well and could contest for spots. Semik in particular – another early Michigan commit – has shown his talent consistently in all three zones, can skate really well and alongside Honeybaked teammate Will MacKinnon and Caesars U16’s Christian Krygier, was a part of USA’s Gold Medal winning outfit in Norway.

Goalies

For goalies it is an interesting year. There doesn’t seem like an early super high achiever in this group, but there is potential. Less than a year ago, Keegan Karki was turning heads in 15 camp in New York and he showed up again on this roster for obvious reasons. He’s a competent, huge goalie at 6’4 who can make some very eye-grabbing stops. With a year of starting under his belt at St. Cloud Cathedral, as far as raw potential goes, the NTDP may not be able to look past. Fellow invitees Drew DeRidder (OJG U16) and Todd Scott (Omaha U16) are below the 6’0 threshold but are more than capable of achieving stand-out performances; the two were the battery USAH sent to Norway and won Gold. The other two are goaltenders from high school hockey, Isaiah Saville from West Anchorage and Ryan Ullan from Hibbing. Saville was at 15s in NY this summer and showed well, whereas Ullan wasn’t, but the 6’1 stopper had a great season statistically in Minnesota HS and garnered an invite.

As far as players not on the list, it’s easy enough to say some names that could have earned a spot, but it’s much harder when one tries to pick who they would take a place away from. Not every player is going to dominate camp, but across-the-board there is plenty of upside so a lot of good players didn’t get invites. A couple that come to mind are UConn recruits Drew Elser and Mac Wiseman, Toronto Marlies forward Akil Thomas, Wisconsin recruit Brady Smith, and Princeton recruit Doug Connor.

There are plenty of uncommitted skaters who could have been interesting picks as well, such as Wayzata’s Colin Schmidt, Selects’ Conner Hutchison, Trinity-Pawling’s Joey Musa, Kevin Wall and Cade Murnan-Mechor from Buffalo, big defender Aidan Fulp from IL, Ethan Frisch from MN, Bobby Burns from Michigan.. the list goes on.

From a philosophical stand-point, picking this team has to be a challenge. Some will prefer players get picked that could literally be Olympic-team players someday and evidently show that potential. Others will think it should be ‘project’ type players with an unclear upside and that the NTDP should be developing more of those players rather than the top-end ones. Others may have entirely different, but valid, views. With such a hard group of players to pick, it seems like they’ve done a nice job of picking a bit of everything for the camp. At the end of the day, this is just one camp at one point in time when invites went out and while it is bigger than most camps, anyone who did not get an invite shouldn’t sweat it too much. There will be teams and opportunities all around hockey for many of the players who didn’t get invited and those could very well turn out to be the better paths if they too are taken with commitment and perseverance.

Below is a sortable chart with the heights we have. You can also sort by commitment, which should show that the more things change in college hockey, the more they stay the same. BU, Michigan, Notre Dame, North Dakota – many of the usual suspects are well-represented by their recruits here, and likely will be well-represented on the final team.

 



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Finnish U18 League Notes

Standings as of February 25, 2016

BSM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Player Notes

  • Blues will very likely finish first as they are currently leading the league by 14 points. A competitive, well-coached team, they don’t have as many high-end individuals as last year, but there’s regardless interesting talent. 99 Oliver Kinnunen and 98 Ottoville Leppänen are smaller, skilled forwards who have been consistently productive. Estonian 99 center Robert Arrak already impressed in the U16 league last season and has nine points in his last 10 games, while Aarne Talvitie is a solid center who’s competitive and makes good plays defensively. 99 right-handed defenseman Bernard Isiguzo moves the puck pretty well from back end and can play the point on power play.
  • Kärpät have eight games remaining on the regular season, five of them being home games. They have good depth at forward and actually beat Blues 6-1 in late January. Big, sharp shooting winger Aatu Luusuaniemi has been effective lately. 00 Czech winger Zdenek Sedlak has been playing really well since being called up from the U16 team. He’s tall, has a heavy shot and does a good job of maintaining puck possession in the offensive zone. The former HC Zlin U16 forward is a top forward in the making. 99 Juho Korhonen is a defenseman who’s smooth on his skates, makes a nice first pass and smart reads offensively.
  • JYP has won nine of the past ten games, so the team has really been playing at a high level since January. Generally, JYP is a hard-working team that skates well and doesn’t allow a whole lot of goals. 98 forward Samuli Ratinen has 11 goals and 17 points in his last ten games. 99 center Tommi Niskanen and 98 Konsta Keteli are two other forwards to keep an eye on, while 2000 defenseman Anttoni Honka, brother of Dallas Stars prospect Julius Honka, has already received good amount of ice-time.
  • TPS has a few prospects who could play regularly in the U20 league within the next two seasons. The line of 00 Matias Maccelli, 99 Santeri Virtanen and 99 Lauri Pajuniemi has two clever, skilled puck possession wingers in Maccelli and Pajuniemi, while Virtanen balances the game of the line nicely. Maccelli won’t eligible for the NHL Draft until 2019. 98 forward Mark Viitanen is physically strong and has pretty good puck skills, shot to go along with it. He has clearly taken on a bigger role offensively this season.
  • KalPa is a team with many offensively strong players. 99 left wing Aleksi Klemetti has stood out in many games thanks to his superb quickness and decision making with the puck. 99 forward Tuomas Ahtonen is the captain of the team who plays with an edge and can chip in offensively at times. 99 defenseman Saku Vesterinen has good vision, makes smart passes and has generally showed great development this season while also playing for the Finnish U17 national team. Another 99 defenseman Joona Riekkinen has a heavy point shot, patience with the puck and awareness in the defensive zone.
  • HIFK is currently leading the second highest level of Finnish U18 hockey. The team that finishes first will be promoted to the playoff. HIFK has a very solid offense which has been lately led by 00 Niklas Nordgren, 99 Teemu Engberg and 98 Juho Koivusaari. Engberg is an elusive attacker who displays plenty of confidence as well as quickness, both with and without the puck. A second-year U18 player, Koivusaari plays an intensive style of hockey, plus has a heavy shot and decent puck skills. Quick, athletic 98 goalie Anton Ignatius has been very impressive in recent viewings and has allowed just nine goals in his past six games.
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Prospect Reports from U20 Tournament in Espoo, Finland

Here are player reports from Finnish U20 league tournament which had 10 teams participating. I took in the action on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Espoo. There were a few solid first time NHL Draft eligible prospects who showed promise in my viewings, as well as some older players and even one 15-year-old forward.

98 F Markus Nurmi – TPS U20

Nurmi is a big 6’3 right wing who made his debut in the Finnish Elite League just a few days before the tournament. He has very good puck protection skills that allow him to gain offensive zone time. He made several good plays against Ilves on the second day, including one goal in which he showed nice offensive rhythm to start the attack and an accurate shot to finish. Handles the puck quite well for a big forward, showed confidence in attacks and tight spaces. His skating is adequate at this point, I thought he could in particular improve his speed and balance. Definitely has some intriguing tools.

98 F Juha Jääskä – HIFK U20

Jääskä had a rough game against Ilves, taking two penalties for holding and just not being able to play his best hockey. However, the 6’0 center improved greatly in the third game against SaiPa. Jääskä made several high-end passes and eventually finished the game with two assists. Strong at face-offs and solid on penalty-killing, he showed lots of versatility while having a presence in the offensive zone. He was quite strong on the forecheck. Jääskä is an agile, technically sound skater who plays with high pace. I think he has a chance to be drafted this year in late rounds, he has developed into a pretty complete player since I first saw him in the U16 league.

98 F Joona Koppanen – Ilves U20

Koppanen scored only once during the weekend, but the 6’5 forward showed potential of a very good shutdown center. Displayed really good awareness of his position – managed the center line well and made strong defensive plays using his long reach. Aggressive on the puck carrier and capable of throwing his weight around. Skates fairly effectively for his size, has good balance and decent agility. Mostly didn’t handle the puck for too long but played rather simple, north-south hockey.

00 F Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Ässät U20

The youngest prospect at the tournament, Kotkaniemi didn’t receive a ton of ice-time but nevertheless had some good moments. He was able to get his name on score sheet with one goal and two assists. I really liked his ability to make himself available to defensemen for passes. His passes were regularly on the tape and he was noticeably strong in his decision making. Not an explosive skater, even though pretty mobile and technically smooth with good edge work. Gap control was solid for a winger. Kotkaniemi showed very good hockey sense, work ethic and overall game for his age.

 

Notes on a few other prospects:

98 F Otto Koivula (Ilves) was slightly inconsistent, but he has great size, above-average offensive skills and solid net drive; skating could improve… 96 D Tomi Hiekkavirta (HIFK) is smallish but active offensively, able to rush the puck up the ice and unleash decent shots from the point… 99 F Linus Nyman (Jokerit) was very good in the only game I saw from Jokerit – the skilled, smooth skating left wing showed creativity in attacks… 96 F Mika Huhtasalo (Ässät) showed puck skills, strong speed and had good chemistry with above-mentioned Kotkaniemi… 97 F Julius Mattila (Ilves) is a speedy, skilled center with talent and also some tenacity, plus the late 97 won most of his face-offs… 97 Ville Järvinen (Ilves) is an imposing 6’4 defenseman with excellent physical tools and can move the puck decently well… 97 F Henrik Borgström (HIFK) made some nice plays in the offensive zone by using his quick hands, above-average vision and puck protection skills… 98 F Janne Hämäläinen (HIFK) scored a pair of goals with quick wrist shots and played a gritty game for his size (5’9)…

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Prospect Notes from 2016 World Juniors

97 G Adam Huska (NY Rangers, 2015) – Slovakia

Huska carried plenty of workload in the goal for Slovakia and performed extremely well by making timely saves to keep his team in some of the games. Showed terrific reflexes and lots of competitiveness in the crease, as well as very good quickness to make some terrific secondary saves. At times he had trouble with his rebound control; however, it’s fair to say that Huska was the best player on the Slovakian team.

98 D Olli Juolevi (2016 NHL Draft Eligible) – Finland

Juolevi has already broken the record for most points by a 17-year-old defenseman at the World Juniors, having nine assists through five games. He’s such a strong two-way defenseman that impacts the game in multiple ways. Really excels in the transition game because of his ability to find an opening and move the puck forward. He’s involved offensively and runs the power play with poise, passes are constantly tape-to-tape. Excellent skater with above-average speed and balance. Good stick and gap control. Having seen Juolevi quite a bit last season, his strong tournament is definitely not a surprise, he’s a defenseman that does so many things at a high level. Plays for London of the OHL.

98 F Patrik Laine (2016 NHL Draft Eligible) – Finland

Laine has improved his skating drastically this season, his stride looks more clean and his first steps are much better than last season. Has built excellent chemistry with two other standout forwards Sebastian Aho and Jesse Puljujärvi. Laine’s shot is absolutely deadly, especially wrist shot as he can put a ton of velocity on it. He’s physically strong, very tough to knock off the puck. Laine has some deft hands as well, exhibits plenty of confidence with the puck.

97 F Auston Matthews (2016 NHL Draft Eligible) – USA

Matthews has been improving throughout the tournament and scored three goals in the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic. One of the hardest working players on the ice with high compete level. Has excellent hands in tight, processes the game quickly. Powerful skater who gets around very easily, especially for his age. Displays confident shooting abilities. Very responsible defensively, doesn’t take any shortcuts and brings consistently a strong effort. Plays for Zurich in the Swiss NLA.

98 F Jesse Puljujärvi (2016 NHL Draft Eligible) – Finland

Puljujärvi has had an outstanding tournament. He’s an extremely dynamic player with above-average skating in straight line. He’s got excellent speed when entering the offensive zone and attacks straight-forward to the net. Makes others around him better, plays a very complete game. Dangerous shooter with excellent accuracy, currently having 29.41 shooting percentage. Puljujärvi has been slightly ineffective in the Finnish Elite League this season but I think he’s making a strong case for the first overall pick with his playing at the World Juniors.

Some other prospects who have been notable at the tournament:

98 F Alexander Nylander – The Swedish forward has all kinds of skill and has looked like a TOP-10 prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft, if not TOP-5.

96 G Linus Söderström – Fourth round pick of the New York Islanders has been stellar for Sweden, made 46 saves against Team USA in the second game.

97 D Zach Werenski – The entire defense has been good for Team USA, though Werenski is clearly the leader and provides an offensive element from the back end.

97 F Michael Spacek – The Jets prospect had 19 shots in the tournament, consistently had a positive impact in the three games I saw from Czechs.

96 F Pius Suter – Undrafted Swiss forward scored three goals in their last game against Belarus, is a strong skater. Has a chance to be drafted next June.

97 F Denis Malgin – The Panthers prospect is small but a nice playmaker. Not overly fast but smart and strong on his skates. Scored nine points for the Swiss team.

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Thoughts from Day 1 of the 2016 World Juniors

Here are some of my thoughts on the first day of the World Juniors. I was covering Group B games Switzerland – Sweden and USA – Canada at the Helsinki Ice Hall. Sweden beat Switzerland 8-3 and the Swiss were really undisciplined. William Nylander and Adrian Kempe were injured in the game but fortunately at least Kempe appears to be fine and is expected to play against the USA. USA took a 4-2 win over Canada with two goals late in the third period scored by Louis Belpedio and Auston Matthews.

  • Dmytro Timashov played extremely well for Sweden. He scored two power play goals and the first one was an accurate shot after he kept the play alive in the offensive zone. Alexander Nylander was around the puck a lot and showed very good awareness on the ice. He finished the game with three primary assists. Also, defenseman Adam Ollas Mattsson played very physically and moved the puck with pretty good passes.
  • There were not many players that stood out from the Swiss team. Undrafted forward Tino Kessler did score two goals and also had a breakaway in the early moments of the game. Denis Malgin made a terrific move after entering the offensive zone and eventually Kessler scored on the rebound in the first period. Kessler showed great moves in his second goal on a shorthanded breakaway. Kessler did accidentally tip in Ollas Mattsson’s centering pass late in third period. I thought Kessler and Malgin were the best Swiss forwards. Malgin, a Florida Panthers draft pick, is a center with quickness, vision and solid compete level.
  • Louis Belpedio and Will Borgen played really well on the second pairing for Team USA. Both were rock solid defensively and moved the puck with sound decision making. Belpedio also scored the game-winning goal after the shot got deflected by Canadian defenseman Joe Hicketts. Other than this play, Hicketts was steady, particularly in the defensive zone. The USA forwards who stood out to me most were Auston Matthews, who improved as the game went on, as well as Matthew Tkachuk and Brock BoeserDylan Strome was constantly noticeable and dangerous for Canada and scored the tying goal with a quick wrister in the third period. Ottawa Senators prospect Thomas Chabot moved the puck well on the defense, while forward Mitch Marner started to generate more offense in the third period.
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Player reports from the Finnish U18 league

Here is a look at the Finnish U18 league with reports on players who have impressed at this point of the season. Many of the top players have already been mentioned in previous articles, so I decided to include some ‘new’ names who have emerged the more I’ve watched the U18 level.

99 F Teemu Engberg – HIFK U18

Possesses very good acceleration and quickness. Engberg can handle the puck at high speed and is able to cut to the net after entering the offensive zone. Displays great hands and puck handling ability, plus has started to shoot the puck more. Could be more aggressive and improve his positioning without the puck to become a more complete player. One of my personal favorites at the U18’s with a lot of potential.

99 F Joel Kerkkänen – HIFK U18

Played on the wing last season but has now been playing regularly at center. Kerkkänen is a responsible two-way player who contributes in multiple ways. Makes calculated and smart decisions in the offensive zone. Has made a few very good passes in the final third resulting in goals. He’s more of a set-up man than goal-scorer. Provides puck support all over the ice. Doesn’t posses high-end speed but has a fairly efficient stride considering his 6’0 frame.

99 F Lauri Kulmala – HIFK U18

Tall, fairly skilled left wing could be a very solid prospect with some polishing to his game. Skating has clearly improved since the first viewings of the season, particularly acceleration, turns and stops. Kulmala has some vision and smarts, shows flashes of skill. Could use his 6’2 frame to his advantage more regularly. Scored twice in shootout in one regular season game against Lukko.

00 F Jesse Moilanen – Jokerit U18

A 5’7 forward who can play both wing and center, Moilanen has picked up his game after some adjustment to the U18 league. His quickness allows him to maintain puck possession in the offensive zone as he keeps his feet moving and makes smart decisions. Makes crisp passes that advance the play and is dangerous below the hash marks. He has consistently been the most noticeable player on Jokerit U18 second line and has also received ice-time on penalty killing, so the 2000 is already playing key minutes.

98 F Ville-Valtteri Mustonen – Jokerit U18

Mustonen has been productive on the first line, playing mostly with Jesse Ylönen and Oliver Kiljunen. Plays in all situations and competes hard, plays a gritty game. Drives to the net both with and without the puck and has some finishing touch. The captain of Jokerit U18 is not a flashy player, but he’s fairly quick and plays consistently from game to game. Projects to be a strong U20 player going forward.

98 D Tobias Winberg – Jokerit U18

Winberg is one of the most consistent and reliable defensemen I’ve seen in the league this season. He has good size and reach and looks taller than he’s listed at (6’0). He’s consistent in his own zone and makes a solid first pass showing strong vision. He skates well laterally and does a good job on keeping opponents on the outside. Winberg is extremely effective and can be counted on in key situations. His offensive skills aren’t high-end but he did score two nice goals against KalPa, so it’s possible that there will be some interesting development.

99 F Aleksi Klemetti – KalPa U18

A smaller 5’7 forward, Klemetti showed great separation speed and acceleration in the U16 league last season, simply skating around defensemen through the wing and driving to the net. He has continued to produce and develop at U18’s this season. Has quick hands and passes the puck really well in all three zones. Considering the amount of chances he creates with his speed, he’s also a pretty good finisher. Some additional strength would help him to thrive at the next level.

99 F Oskari Levänen – KooKoo U18

Levänen already played last season in the U18 league as a 15-year-old, posting 27 points in 35 games. He’s been the best forward for KooKoo in the games I’ve been able to see this season. He’s creative and crafty in the offensive zone along with good lateral quickness. He often attempts to put the puck to the net, rather than just cycle the game down low. His four goals this season aren’t exactly mind-boggling, but he’s been active offensively in my viewings.

99 F Ville Heikkala – Kärpät U18

A late 99 who has been a top forward for Kärpät U18 this season, Heikkala is an intelligent center with skill. He’s only 5’5 but he’s always in the right position and in the middle of the action. He’s not afraid to go into corners for puck battles. He is an excellent passer and also very good on the cycle game. Skates very well with the puck and shows a high compete level without it.

99 D Juho Korhonen – Kärpät U18

One of the best puck-moving defensemen in the 1999 age-group in Finland. Korhonen is very good in the transition game, moving the puck with accurate passes. He’s poised with the puck and doesn’t force plays. He has a good first pivot, speed and moves smoothly laterally. Defensively, he displays solid anticipation and positioning, taking away time and space from the opponents before moving the puck quickly forward.

99 D Valtteri Meisaari – Kärpät U18

Meisaari is a big 6’1 defenseman with potential to become a solid player at both ends of the rink. He makes simple, yet effective plays in the defensive zone and has good awareness on the ice. He also possesses a pretty heavy point shot and he’s a good, mobile skater. Could work on his puck skills a little bit, but I really like his steady game.

98 F Jesse Leppikoski – Lukko U18

Leppikoski is a quick skater with offensive skill. Handles the puck well at high speed and is able to make things happen in the offensive zone. Has a deceptive shot with a quick release. Brings decent positioning and anticipation without the puck. Another prospect who has performed well for Lukko is 98 Erkki Laiho. He’s a strong, honest two-way forward who can shoot the puck and has a strong work ethic.

98 F Mark Viitanen – TPS U18

Viitanen has very good size and uses his frame effectively to protect the puck. He’s not the most skilled forward but his work rate is strong, making him consistently involved in the play. Some additional agility and speed would be nice to see, even though he’s a pretty strong skater in straight line. Has an accurate, heavy shot, utilizes his reach and strength to get into scoring areas. Projects to be more of a complementary winger going forward.

As for the goalies, there are a few who have impressed thus far at the U18’s. 99 Lassi Lehtinen (Lukko) has quick reflexes and glove hand along with strong lateral quickness and post to post movement. Another 99 that has been very solid is 6’0 Eetu Mäkiniemi (Jokerit), who’s athletic with some good long-term potential. Niilo Halonen (Jokerit) has played ten games and is the top 98 goalie in the league. He’s quick, calm in the crease and is capable of making athletic saves. Two other 98’s to keep an eye on are Anton Ignatius (HIFK) and Daniel Ketonen (TPS).

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Henrik Borgström – A Hidden Gem for the 2016 NHL Draft

HIFK U20 center Henrik Borgström might be the most underrated Finnish prospect for the 2016 NHL draft. He was passed over in last year’s draft after playing only U18 hockey, though he was one of the top prospects on that HIFK team that reached the finals. A 1997 birthyear, he’s currently playing for the U20 team and has been an impact player on the first line. He has currently 25 points in 15 games, including nine points over the last three games.

Borgström has been a very notable player in each of the six games I have seen from HIFK U20 this season. He’s an entertaining player to watch because he can slow the game down and will make plays that no one could anticipate. Borgström can dangle with the puck even when there are two or three players around him. Has great hands and playmaking skills –  makes timid, heady passes in the final third. Also, he has a good wrist shot with a quick release. It’s difficult to defend against him because he can and will also shoot the puck. He’s a quick thinker and anticipates a lot of plays.

An area where he could improve is his physical game. He isn’t a particularly physical player but relies more on his stick and positioning. At times Borgström tries to do too much which can result in some mistakes, but in general he’s efficient and his skill level is much higher than many other U20 players. He’s a good skater as he gets where he needs to, plus his separation speed is impressive. He’s tall but could add some more muscle over the next years, meaning that he could become even more dominant.

At the moment I believe Borgström has a chance to be drafted in the late rounds of 2016 NHL Draft. I prefer him over some first-time Finnish draft eligibles as I think he is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

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Notes on Undrafted Finnish Prospects, November 2015

Here are notes on undrafted Finnish prospects who have been impressive in recent viewings. As the season goes on, more players will be added as there are some good 1999 and 2000’s with only limited viewings thus far.

99 RW Lauri Pajuniemi – TPS U18

I wrote the following piece about Pajuniemi in September: A 99 right-handed winger with evident upside, Pajuniemi protects the puck well and is versatile. He can not only make quick one-touch passes, but also keep the puck on his stick to gain extra time in the offensive zone. Makes crisp passes, uses the point on power play at the right times. Has grown to 5’10 but that hasn’t affected his strong skating much. Pajuniemi is leading the U18 league in scoring with 15 points (including 13 assists) after six games.

Much hasn’t changed as Pajuniemi leads the U18’s in scoring with 41 points 17 games, eight points more than the next player. His poise with the puck and ability to find open space are very impressive. Really looking like a prospect who will make a smooth transition to the U20 league.

99 RW Aatu Luusuaniemi – Kärpät U18

A good-sized winger with some skill and versatility. Still isn’t the greatest or fastest skater, but has been improving on that. Has a dangerous, heavy shot that he’s not afraid to use. Good stick and displays solid defensive awareness. Willing to play physically and works hard along the boards. Luusuaniemi has 22 points in 16 games for Kärpät U16.

99 LW Kristian Vesalainen – Frölunda U20

Made his pro debut in Frölunda as a 16-year-old. Has excellent size and strength, plus has improved as a playmaker. Plays a straight-forward game, often gets the inside position. He’s strong in puck battles and uses his size effectively along the boards. Has a quick wrist shot and is a strong skater with a long stride and good lateral agility. Had 4-4-8 stats line at World U17 Challenge.

00 C Rasmus Kupari – KooKoo U16

Kupari is a versatile 5’11 center who may not stand out because of flashy offensive skills, but he plays well on both sides of the puck. He’s very solid at face-offs and won’t forget his defensive duties as he’s good on PK as well. Could improve his speed and acceleration to be even more effective. Had one goal and assist in two games against Germany U16 in October.

00 D Jasper Rannisto – HIFK U16

Rannisto has good size and strength at 6’1, 183 lbs, but he’s actually a mobile defenseman with strong footwork and overall mobility. Able to unleash heavy, quick shots from the point. Brings a physical element in the defensive zone and also makes good decisions with the puck. Will be eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft due to October birthdate.

00 RW Samuel Salonen – Jokerit U16

An intriguing prospect with already some very good size (6’3, 190 lbs) and projectable skills. Salonen has a very good, quick release on his wrist shot, and with his good puck skills he can be an assignment for defensemen in the U16 league. An accurate passer with decent skating, he plays a heavy game. Had 21 points in eight qualification games.

00 D Leevi Karjalainen – Jokerit U16

Karjalainen had 11 points in 10 qualification games, most by a Jokerit U16 defenseman. He’s a 5’10 defenseman who can do little bit of everything. He’s a good to above-average skater with nice lateral agility and quickness in all directions. Has displayed strong gap control and a quick stick. Offensively, he can move the puck with crisp long passes and he makes sure he gets pucks to the net.

00 D Niko Antila – Ilves U16

Having seen the defenseman three times this season, Antila has picked his game up lately.  He’s a smaller defenseman at 5’8, but he’s a really good skater with speed and agility. He can use his skating to carry the puck into offensive zone, but he also gets back to his defensive position quickly. Has good hands and moves the puck well.

01 G Matti Fingerroos – HIFK U16

It’s very early on and I haven’t seen all the top 2001 teams yet, but Fingerroos is certainly looking like a goaltender with a lot of potential. Played last season for KJT before moving to HIFK for this season. Has very good reflexes, strong lateral movement and competes very well in the crease. He’s been pretty consistent in my viewings. Has been the number one goalie on HIFK U16 as an underager.

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Five Finnish Prospects to Watch in the World U17 Hockey Challenge

Here is a look at some Finnish prospects who will be playing at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge this year. Eeli Tolvanen (Sioux City, USHL) isn’t included as I haven’t had a chance to see him play this season. Also, I already highlighted forward Kristian Vesalainen in this article.

99 D Miro Heiskanen – HIFK U20

Heiskanen is a defenseman with excellent skating and hockey sense. His lateral agility and edge work are top notch. He handles the puck comfortably and hardly ever makes a bad decision or turns the puck over. He makes long tape-to-tape passes and will also rush the puck up the ice if there’s an opportunity. Heiskanen has an active stick defensively and reads the developing play smartly, anticipating plays and not getting caught out of position.

99 D Urho Vaakanainen – Blues U20

Vaakanainen is a prospect who has been on the radar for many years. He has good puck skills and works well at the point. He does a pretty good job on getting pucks to the net, even from bad angles. Vaakanainen has good size at 6’1, 185 lbs but hasn’t grown much over the last few years, so other prospects have started to catch him up physically. I’ve also been a little bit concerned about his decision making at times, however, his potential remains high and he should be a top defenseman in the tournament.

99 D Henri Jokiharju – Tappara U20

A former standout defenseman with Jokerit U16 and U18 teams, Jokiharju decided to move to Tappara U20. He’s been playing well over 20 minutes lately and has eight points in 16 games. What stands out to me is his passing and hockey sense. He sees passing lanes exceptionally well and can control the pace of the game when he has the puck. Jokiharju is a quick and agile skater with very good lateral mobility. He doesn’t have the ideal size but he’s smart and plays the game the right way.

99 G Lassi Lehtinen – Lukko U18

In my opinion, Lehtinen is the top Finnish goaltender prospect in his age-group at the moment. He’s a very consistent goalie who tracks pucks very well through traffic and displays good rebound control. He has the lateral agility and reflexes to make game-changing saves if required. Lehtinen has already three shutouts this season and is a big reason for Lukko being second in the Finnish U18 league.

99 LW Teemu Engberg – HIFK U18

Engberg is a skilled left wing with some pretty high upside. He has very good hands and can dangle with the puck at high speed. He’s a good, smooth skater with the ability to change directions quickly. He’s creative in one-on-one situations and has showed willingness to drive to the net. However, I think Engberg could use his linemates more effectively at times and also play with more of an edge when he does not have the puck.

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Kristian Vesalainen to make his debut in SHL

Frölunda Indians announced yesterday that Finnish forward Kristian Vesalainen has been called up from the U20 team and will make his debut with the men’s team against Karlskrona. He will start as the 13th forward.

A 1999 birth-year, Vesalainen was also drafted by Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL Futures Draft this year. He’s currently leading the Frölunda U20 team in scoring with five goals and 14 points in 14 games.

He’s a big 6’3 left wing but a very good skater for his size and age. His smooth and efficient stride allows him to generate plenty of speed with the puck. He can drive the net and has good patience with the puck. He’s also capable of making accurate passes showing strong vision. Vesalainen also has the physical tools and is strong in puck battles. He has the potential to be selected in the first rounds of the 2017 NHL Draft.

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