2018 NHL Draft – Top 15 Player Profiles

About two weeks ago I released my Top 15 list of Finnish prospects eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft. Next I will introduce all these players with quick profiles. The players are still in alphabetical order, but as I mentioned in the first article, the list will be updated throughout the next season. Also, the ranking will be expanded to more players.

2018 NHL Draft Preliminary List of Finnish Players:

Justus Annunen (’00, Goalie)

Justus Annunen is a big, athletic 6’4 goalie who was the number one netminder for both Kärpät U18 and the U17 national team last season. He is technically sound, has quick legs and looks very poised in the crease. Very smooth and has a quick glove. Just got invited to the U20 national team camp.

Oskar Autio (’99, Goalie)

After an impressive season with Blues U20, Autio announced his commitment to play NCAA hockey for Penn State University. He has displayed solid positioning and is a true competitor. He doesn’t get rattled when there are players crashing towards the net. Not the biggest of goalies at 5’11 but I like his competitiveness a lot.

Samuel Kemppainen (’00, Defenseman)

It’s not easy to find a 2000 born Finnish defenseman who brings as much offensive ability as Kemppainen. He makes great, accurate long passes that are constantly tape-to-tape. He can run the power play with his good mobility and vision – does a nice job of finding lanes to put pucks on net. Very effective with his zone exits. Defensive zone coverage needs some work.

Juuso Ketola (’00, Defenseman)

Ketola is a physical, mobile defenseman with two-way potential. He gets around the ice well thanks to his very good four-way mobility. He can unleash heavy shots from the point but could improve accuracy. Likes to carry the puck up the ice and is pretty effective in doing so. Strong in the corners, solid physical presence, covers the slot well. Decision making could use work going forward.

Lenni Killinen (’00, Forward)

The most talented player on Blues U18 in the past season. Killinen is a highly talented winger who can beat defenders in various ways. He has excellent mobility – agility and footwork are top notch. He utilizes his speed impressively when driving to the net with the puck. Has goodd hands, a great shot and advances the game with effective passes.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi (’00, Forward)

Kotkaniemi is a tall, complete player who can play both center and wing. He’s a good, smooth skater who carries the puck with great poise and has a dangerous set of offensive tools. He has a hard wrist shot and very good stickhandling abilities. What makes him such a complete player is his defensive awareness and work ethic in all three zones.

Miska Kukkonen (’00, Defenseman)

Kukkonen registered eight points in 24 games playing for Ilves U20. He has good vision and moves the puck with heady passes. When defending he keeps his stick out and has solid gap control. Kukkonen possesses good lateral movement and quickness for a 6’0 blueliner. I’m eager to see him play more in the 2017-18 season – could make a strong case for a pretty early pick.

Rasmus Kupari (’00, Forward)

I wrote the following about Kärpät center Rasmus Kupari for OHL Prospects’ 2017 CHL Import Draft Review:

Scouting Report: Marco Bombino of McKeen’s and the awesome FinnProspects, says, “Rasmus Kupari is a versatile two-way center with a lot of potential. He’s a powerful skater with good edge work, mobility and quickness in his first few strides. He works hard away from the puck, being consistently strong on the forecheck. He takes away passing lanes effectively from opponents. A highly intelligent and responsible player defensively. He has poise, skill and awareness with the puck. Has quick hands, handles the puck well at top speed and shows puck protection skill along the boards. His offensive game seemed to get better throughout the past season and he played really well in the U20 league playoffs. He is signed with Kärpät in Finland until 2019, but would be an excellent add to the Greyhounds in the OHL. Kupari will be a top pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.”

Arttu Nevasaari (’00, Forward)

The U18 league’s best player has been known for his scoring ability for already some time. Nevasaari is a dangerous shooter who puts pucks to the net with precision and can beat goalies up high. He’s a quick, agile skater and utilizes his speed effectively on the rush. Uses his puck solid protection skills to keep puck possession. However, Nevasaari is not the most skilled passer and I would like to see improvement in this regard.

Niklas Nordgren (’00, Forward)

Nordgren finished the season at nearly point-per-game pace, putting up 39 points in 40 games for HIFK U20. In my opinion he was their best player in the playoffs and scored 7 goals. His finishing ability, smarts, puck skills and hockey sense are excellent. He’s a heady, pass-first forward. On the downside, Nordgren’s skating is not high end at the moment but it’s getting better.

Sampo Ranta (’00, Forward)

Ranta scored a six goals, including two game-winners, and three assists in the USHL last season. That University of Wisconsin commit is a strong, fast skater who shows no trouble to control the puck at full speed. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen him extensively outside of international tournaments, but the skating and offensive skill set are there.

Santeri Salmela (’00, Defenseman)

Salmela made an impressive Liiga debut with KooKoo last season. The former U16 league standout has always had great poise. He’s got some offensive potential and makes a crisp first pass out of the zone. I like his overall mobility and defensive reliability. At the pro level, he projects as a steady two-way defenseman who can shut down opponents’ top forwards.

Samuel Salonen (’00, Forward)

Salonen is a strong, powerful winger who will play for USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers in the upcoming season. He scored many nice goals for Jokerit U18 last season. He plays a heavy game, protects the well with his long reach and is tough to beat in the corners and in front of the net. Has good stride power and moves rather well for a 6’3 forward.

Toni Utunen (’00, Defenseman)

Utunen played well at the U18 World Championships as an underage defenseman. He’s a bit raw and not the fastest of defensemen, but does have some puck skills, vision and a good point shot.

Jesse Ylönen (’99, Forward)

Here’s my report of Jesse Ylönen after he debuted for Espoo United men’s team last season. The supremely talented forward has first-round potential

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.