17 Players to watch in the Finnish U20 league

Photo courtesy: Leijonat.fi
Photo courtesy: Leijonat.fi

Here is my first preview for the upcoming season which includes 17 players to watch in the Finnish U20 league. I haven’t been able to get rosters for KalPa and Kärpät so therefore there aren’t any players included from those teams.

98 D Eetu Pylkkänen (Blues U20) – Pylkkänen played for the Finnish team at recent Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament. He’s got decent size at 5’11, 194 pounds and plays particularly well offensively. Makes crisp passes and has a really heavy shot from the point. Played most of the last season at U18’s and is looking to play regularly for the U20 team.

99 D Urho Vaakanainen (Blues U20) – Vaakanainen is a skilled defenseman who had 12 points in U20 league last season. Has impressive vision and makes accurate passes from back end. He’s solid at the point where he uses his poise and ability to unleash shots that constantly go to the net. He’s also a smooth skater with solid four-way mobility.

97 F Kasper Björkqvist (Blues U20) – Björkqvist is a sturdy built forward who impressed me in every viewing last season. He’s an honest, tough forward who contributes in many ways and makes the little plays. He goes to the net and has decent puck skills. He scored 19 goals for Blues U20 last season and could hit the 20 goal mark this season.

96 D Miro Karjalainen (HIFK U20) – Dallas Stars took the big 6’5 defenseman in the 2014 Draft. He had injury problems last season which limited his season to only 13 games. He plays a physical, aggressive style of hockey. Needs to work on his skating, particularly agility. Has a heavy slap shot which could be useful for HIFK on power play this season.

99 D Miro Heiskanen (HIFK U20) – Here’s what I wrote about Heiskanen earlier in the summer:

Defenseman with great skill level, vision and skating…played as an underager for HIFK U18 and scored 20 points…able to escape from the defensive zone by skating with the puck…very smooth in turning pivots, allowing him to come back to his defensive position…effortless skater, able to gain a lot of speed with the puck…puck handling is very smooth all the time…loves to carry the puck into the offensive zone and does so incredibly well…able to throw good low shots from the point, but wouldn’t consider his shot above-average…shows smarts in his defensive game by being in the right position…effective stick positioning without the puck, able to break up a lot of plays…will likely never be a physical force in the corners or in front of the net, though he’s growing and will likely add more strength…

98 F Juha Jääskä (HIFK U20) – Jääskä scored two goals at Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup and had an extremely solid last season for HIFK U18. Has improved his skating over the past years, he’s quick and smooth on his skates with nice edge work. Plays a smart game away from the puck and also has the skills to score points. A smart player with solid passing skills.

98 F Eetu Tuulola (HPK U18) – I haven’t really seen Tuulola as much as I’d like to, but from what I’ve seen, he has some offensive skills and an effective shot with a quick release. Physically solid and strong on his skates, but could add some more agility and speed. It will be interesting to see how he does in his draft year.

97 D Ville Järvinen (Ilves U20) – Much like Karjalainen, Järvinen also had injuries this past season, only playing 10 games at U20/U18’s. He’s a big 6’4 defenseman who’s solid in the defensive zone, but he can also move the puck a little bit. He will definitely receive a lot of ice-time on Ilves U20 defense this year.

99 F Linus Nyman (Jokerit U20) – Nyman was many times solid with Jokerit U18 last season but has really impressed over the summer. He’s a skilled player who makes heady passes and handles the puck confidently. He’s more of a passer than scorer, even though he also has a solid wrist shot. He competes away from the puck and plays well at both ends of the rink.

98 F Jerry Turkulainen (JYP U20) – During the past two seasons I have been very impressed with Turkulainen. He has yet to play in U20 league and he’s not very big but I’m sure he will make an impact sooner or later. His best asset is his skating as he can really fly on the ice. He’s got nice vision, moves the puck with sharp passes and knows how to score from the slot. He can be surprisingly physical at times, too.

97 F Valtteri Lipiäinen (SaiPa U20) – Lipiäinen had 22 points for SaiPa U20 last year and has been really effective during pre-season. He had four assists against Pelicans and another four-point game against HIFK. Lipiäinen is a skilled right-handed winger with offensive timing and puck poise which should lead to a very solid season.

99 G Niklavs Rauza (Sport U20) – Rauza played for KooKoo U18 last season and I was able to see him a few times. He might be 6’3 so he’s got already pro size. He’s calm and composed with strong post-to-post movement. Doesn’t make unnecessary movements and knows how to challenges shooters while staying in the right position.

98 D Martin Bodak (Tappara U20) – Bodak is a newcomer to Tappara U20, coming from Slovakia U18 team which competes in the second highest league in Slovakia. Bodak also played at Ivan Hlinka this August and posted five points while Slovakia finished last in the tournament.

99 D Henri Jokiharju (Tappara U20) – Jokiharju was definitely one of the top defensemen, if not the best in U18 league. He’s incredibly smooth with the puck, makes excellent outlet passes and can slow the game down. An above-average skater with smooth lateral agility and quickness, Jokiharju should have no trouble to adjust to the speed of U20 league. He’ll likely already put respectable point totals, especially if plays regularly at the point on power play.

99 D Eemeli Räsänen (Ässät U20) – Räsänen already has some experience from U20’s as he played for Jokipojat at the end of last season. He’s an imposing defenseman at 6’5 and he knows how to use his size fairly effectively. As one might expect, he has a heavy shot with above-average velocity. Räsänen isn’t the most agile defenseman on his skates and could improve his backwards skating.

97 F Arttu Ruotsalainen (Ässät U20) – Ruotsalainen was one of the key forwards when Kärpät U18 won the U18 league last season. Now he has moved on to Ässät, where the speedy playmaker should play on the top two lines. His vision is impressive and he can make plays at high speed. Quick hands and controls the puck well on the half wall and on power play.

99 F Aleksi Halme (Ässät U20) – Here’s what I wrote about the new Ässät U20 forward Halme at Over The Boards in February:

A November birthdate (2018 draft-eligible), Halme is a fairly small winger at 5’7, but his skill level really stands out. He has solid puck handling skills and a great shot which he gets off in a hurry. He’s agile on his skates and possesses excellent acceleration. Halme has been effective at the U16 level and hasn’t looked out of place in the U18 league either.

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