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.