The new 2016-2017 season will begin on Wednesday, with Blues Akatemia playing against Blues in Espoo. Here is my preview in which I have included 11 teams and some players to watch from each of them. There are five more teams that I will write more of as the season progresses – HPK, K-Laser, Sport, TPS and Ässät.
Veeti Miettinen is a very strong and agile skater who can create offense in more ways than one. The forward has pretty good hockey sense, finishing ability and he’s strong for his size. He’ll be one of the top players on Blues U18. Lenni Killinen, a sharp shooting winger with size and skill, was very impressive in the preseason. Forward Miro Uunimäki also scored a few goals. Leevi Lemberg plays a heavy game, has a good shot and will have a bigger role than last season. On defense, Jaakko Haarti will begin his second U18 season. He’s an offensively skilled and active blueliner with a good point shot.
Blues Akatemia finished the preseason with a strong 9-0 win over SKA Pietari in what was a very one-sided game. The team also finished third at a five team tournament in Vierumäki. Jesse Pesonen had a couple of very strong games and scored a few goals in my viewings. He’s a good goal scorer who plays well away from the puck and makes smart plays in puck possession. Jesse Nikander is another forward to keep an eye on. Kaapo Kosunen and Eetu Kallio are two smaller defensemen with good puck skills and poise on the power play. Norwegian Jörgen Hanneborg will likely be the starting goalie.
HIFK won the U16 league last season and many players have moved up from that team. There are two promising goalies in Jere Huhtamaa and Henrik Tikkanen, who’s one of the top Finnish goalies in the 2000 born age-group. They also added four prospects from Blues in skilled forward Aleks Haatanen, Jaakko Innanen and defensemen Tom Grönblom and Axel Rindell. Rindell has a very good point shot and good vision and passing ability. Matias Lentämäki and Jasper Rannisto will also be key defensemen. Center Otto Etelätalo looked very sharp in preseason. Talented Niklas Nordgren will also be a player to watch should he remain in the U18 league.
Ilves participated in the DEL Junior Cup in Mannheim, Germany and performed well. They won three games, managed their way to the finals before losing 3-4 to St. Andrew’s College. Perttu Aho led the event in scoring with three goals and five assists. He’s a good playmaker who can also finish and he uses his stick very well to retrieve pucks. Forwards Lassi Korpela, Matias Arppe and defensemen Santeri Silvennoinen and Santeri Sila played with the team last season and will have increased roles now. Ilves lost two top forwards in Aleksi Heponiemi and Joona Ikonen but they will be able to compete against any team this season thanks to good depth.
Samuel Salonen and Jesse Moilanen will play for both U20 and U18 teams this season. Salonen is a strong power forward with good finishing ability and hands around the net, while Moilanen is quick, has nice offensive instincts and puck skills. Eetu Vyyryläinen, Joona Kontio and Veikko Loimaranta are a couple of other key forwards. On defense, Leevi Karjalainen showed improvement during the preseason, while new add Gregorio Gios from HIFK U18 received good amount of ice-time in my viewings. Igor Samokhvalov is a very solid goalie, plus Jokerit added Petri Iisakka from Blues U16.
JYP won bronze last season by beating Lukko 4-2 in Espoo. The club has produced promising goalies lately and Jimi Uusitalo, who has great reflexes and athleticism, is another goalie with potential. Anttoni Honka is an offensive defenseman with good mobility. He played 31 games last season and won’t turn 16 until October. He’s the brother of Dallas Stars prospect Julius Honka. Valtteri Kakkonen is another defenseman with potential and scored 10 goals in the U16’s last season. Forwards Tomi Mäntynen, Joni Airo, Oskari Kalajanniska and 2001 born standout Henri Nikkanen will bring scoring ability.
KalPa will be one of the most interesting teams this season in my opinion. They have a few skilled forwards such as Leevi Aaltonen, Aleksi Klemetti, Pekka Suhonen and Veikka Halonen, who all have proved to be effective in the juniors thus far. Klemetti, a very quick skater, could be one of the best forwards in the league. Defenseman Kim Nousiainen played two good U16 seasons. He’s a skilled skater with poise, puck moving ability and hockey sense. Riku Sirviö (’99) and Henri Härkönen (’00) are the team’s two goalies.
Kärpät won the U18 league for the second time in a row after beating Blues in the final. This year’s team will also be difficult to beat as Kärpät have a lot of quality players. Justus Annunen, who played with Kiekko-Laser U18 last season, is among the best ’00 goalies in Finland. On defense, Samuel Kemppainen and Aapo Holtinkoski have a lot of skill and can play a solid defensive game, while Kalle Loponen is a mobile and strong defenseman. Ville Heikkala, Zdenek Sedlak, Rasmus Kupari and Arttu Nevasaari are forwards with offensive skill. Kalle Matikainen brings speed, physical game and a strong work ethic.
Last season’s fourth placed team have as many as five 2001’s on the roster: Goalie Romi Huunonen, defenseman Onni Korkka and forwards Rasmus Elo, Mikko Petman and Antti Saarela. They also added a strong two-way forward Ville Petman and defenseman Viljami Istala from SaiPa, both of whom played recently with U17 national team. Promising goalie Kalle Nurmi (Ässät) is another new add and has a great deal of potential. Niklas Ylitalo is a skilled right-handed winger who will take pucks to the net.
Pelicans, a hard-working team that will compete, look to have an improved team from last season. They took two fairly clear wins against HPK and KooKoo in final preseason games. Conrad Mölder and Akseli Eerola is a solid goalie tandem. Waltteri Vannula, who has also played with U20 team recently, and Tommi Takala will be important parts of defense. Leevi Tukiainen, Juuso Jämsen, Jere Manninen and Jerkko Rämö all can score and create offense.
Tappara won the U18 tournament they hosted in August, beating Jokerit in the final game 3-2. Forwards Kristian Tanus, Patrik Puistola, Oskari Kärkimaa and Jere Kivimäki were effective at the U16’s and look to bring offense to this team. Jaakko Vuorinen was one of the top defensemen in the U16 league. The RHD has good lateral agility, moves the puck with crisp passes, gets shots on net and he’s effective in the defensive zone. Iivari Räsänen (’01) and Saku Salminen (’99) played for the team this past season. Both are solid defenders who could add some points from backend.