The 2017 USHL Draft Phase 2 Draft featured 12 Finnish players. For the second year in a row, there were more than 10 Finnish prospects selected in the draft.
Sioux Falls Stampede picked the first Finnish player in 1999 born forward Aarne Talvitie. The Penn State University commit had a solid campaign for Blues U20 while centering the team’s first line and improving his offensive game towards the end of the season. Dubuque Fighting Saints took TPS U18/U20 forward Matias Maccelli in the sixth round. Maccelli, a shifty, quick winger who oozes offensive skill, will be an impact player for Dubuque if he reports.
After picking Talvitie, Sioux Falls added two more Finns later in the draft. Kärpät U20 defenseman Antti Virtanen scored 25 points this past season and also appeared in three games for the U19 national team. He has been an assistant captain at the U18 and U20 levels. 2000 born goalie Jere Huhtamaa had a great, consistent season for HIFK U18 and made his debut with U17 national team. Huhtamaa will play for Espoo United U18 in the upcoming season. Considering the upward trend in his development, he could be a very solid USHL goalie in the future.
Tri-City Storm was the other team that took multiple Finnish players in the draft, selecting Jami Krannila (Tappara U18) and Oskari Oksanen (TPS U16). Krannila is a quick, skilled forward who makes plays at high speed and has a good hockey IQ. Oksanen is defenseman with good puck skills and has head for the game.
Sioux City Musketeers picked HIFK U16 standout forward Marcus Kallionkieli. He is at least one year away from the league but has already showed signs of pro potential. Kallionkieli is a very good goal-scorer with good hockey sense and stickhandling skills. He also has above-average speed and acceleration for a 6’1 forward.
The draft included three players who were drafted from Kärpät U18. Skilled Uula Ruikka (Lincoln Stars) is an exciting, mobile defenseman who can push the pace of the game and carry the puck up the ice. Samuel Kemppainen (Green Bay Gamblers) is a smooth skating blueliner who makes crisp, accurate passes and can quarterback the power play. He has also proved to be rather strong in the defensive zone. Goalie Justus Annunen (Omaha Lancers) is the top 2000 born Finnish goalie prospect. For a 6’4 goalie, he displays fluid movements, quick hands and solid rebound control. He was rock solid in the net for the U17 national team last season.
Arguably the most interesting Finnish pick is winger Jesse Ylönen, a 2018 NHL Draft prospect with lots of skill and great skating ability. Here is what I wrote about Ylönen after his debut for Espoo United men’s team in February. Muskegon Lumberjacks have his USHL rights now, but he will most likely play in Finland next season.
RW Jesse Ylönen – Espoo United – 2018 NHL Draft eligible
The son of former NHLer Juha Ylönen made his debut for Espoo United in Mestis. He played on the first line and received power play time on the first unit. He made a good play in the first period after entering the offensive zone. He drew an opponent to himself before making a little pass to set up a scoring chance. He used his good vision and poise while moving the puck with long cross-ice passes. I also liked his inside the dots mentality on some occasions in which he went to the net and didn’t stay on the perimeter. He also registered one shot today. Ylönen is a very skilled skater with strong edge work and first step quickness. He has smooth, fast strides and his acceleration is just as impressive. As a 17-year-old prospect, his physicality and defensive game will require further development. However, today you could see flashes of the skill level that he’s been demonstrating in the U20 league this season. Since he signed a two-year contract with the team in late January, it will be interesting to see if he plays some more games with United during the rest of the season.