Here’s my preview for the upcoming NHL Draft which will be held in Buffalo from June 24-25. This is the result of following the 1997 and 1998 age-groups over the past few seasons. One thing I try to emphasize is the players’ progress during this past season.
Also, since people already have a lot of information about the trio of Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujärvi and Olli Juolevi, I’m focusing more on the other prospects around Finnish leagues that have a good chance to be drafted this year.
- Henrik Borgström
A highly skilled center with creative moves with the puck, Borgström is an extremely intriguing prospect. He can really create scoring chances out of nothing or slow the game down as he did in the U20 league. He’ll take pucks to the net and has a quick wrist shot, too. He’s not overly physical or strong at face-offs at this point, but has a ton of potential with his size and offensive skills. Borgström will move to University of Denver for the next season. Draft projection: second or third round.
- Janne Kuokkanen
Kuokkanen is an excellent center. There’s a lot to like about his hockey sense and offensive ability. He has above-average puck handling skills, hardly ever seems to panic with the puck and is able to create time for his linemates before moving the puck forward. He’s a dependable player defensively and is committed to play in the defensive zone. Still, he’ll need to get stronger and improve his physical game in the corners. Draft projection: third round.
- Otto Koivula
Koivula could be a very good player at the pro level. He has soft hands for a 6-4 forward. His vision is really good and he can drive to the net both with and without the puck. His accurate shot can also be seen as an asset. However, his skating and speed will definitely have to get better. He’s lacking agility and acceleration at the moment. He put up 58 points for Ilves U20, plus finished second in scoring in playoff with 5-7-12 line. Koivula could be a great value pick in the fourth or fifth round.
- Kasper Björkqvist
This is what I wrote about Björkqvist for Overtheboards.net in April. He committed to play for Providence College and had plenty of interest from other NCAA teams as well.
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.
- Markus Nurmi
Nurmi is a big 6-4 right wing who utilizes his size very well with the puck. He’s really strong down low and along the boards in the offensive zone because of his ability to protect the puck. He can beat goalies with a quick wrist shot and is also a fairly good passer. He’s only decently mobile (acceleration, first steps could improve), but I do believe that if he can add lower-body strength in the future, his skating will get much better. Nurmi was one of the few bright spots for TPS U20 this past season in my viewings. I consider him a possible mid-round pick in the draft
- Eetu Tuulola
Tuulola’s point production really dropped in the U20 league, but on the other hand he was solid at U18 World Championship tournament. He’s a big 6-3 right wing who likes to be involved in battles and he’s very effective along the boards. For me, it’s unclear how much offensive potential he has, however. He’s not a very creative player with the puck – you won’t see a lot of flashy plays from him. His skating is somewhat heavy and still needs a lot of work. I think he’ll be drafted in the fifth or sixth round.
- Joona Koppanen
I wrote the following about Koppanen about one month ago. Here’s the whole post.
Koppanen shows impressive awareness, attention to detail and positioning without the puck. He applies pressure on the puck carrier, not being afraid to play some physical game. However, he also anticipates oncoming plays really well and almost always has his stick in the right position. He’s a tremendous penalty-killer and very good at face-offs.
Koppanen has good balance on his skates, decent agility and quickness for his size. I don’t think his skating is an issue at all. He doesn’t constantly stand out with his puck handling or shot. But he does make smart and quick decisions with the puck, which certainly bodes well for the pro game.
I think he’s worth drafting in the late rounds of the draft this June. Koppanen could be a nice value pick for a team looking for a smart, defensively strong center with fairly good offensive upside.
- Juha Jääskä
An interesting prospect that can play both wing and center, Jääskä was a great playmaker especially in the U16 and U18 leagues. He’s a smooth skater with nice edge work and quickness, allowing to reach top speed quickly. He has quick hands and good on-ice vision; decision making in the offensive zone could use some work at times though. Jääskä is a competitive player with pretty good tools. Some team might take a chance on him in the late rounds as I think he’s bound for a big season in the U20 league.
- Top Draft Eligible Finnish Goalies:
- Veini Vehviläinen (JYP, Liiga)
- Karolus Kaarlehto (TPS U20)
- Niilo Halonen (Jokerit U20)