Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was alreary ranked first in April’s Prospect Guide, remains my number one ranked prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft. The 6’2 forward has had a solid start to the Liiga season, averaging 15 minutes of ice-time per game. A lack of strength on the puck and being too fancy offensively at times have been some flaws thus far in his rookie campaign. However, Kotkaniemi’s blend of smarts, skill and work ethic make him an elite prospect and a first rounder in my books.
No. 2 ranked prospect Rasmus Kupari started the season with Kärpät U20. The mobile and powerful skater has since taken his place on the Liiga team and scored against SaiPa in his fifth game against men. The 6’1 center is a remarkably strong skater and thinks the game at a high level, both with and without the puck.
Jesse Ylönen had a stellar U18 World Championship tournament last season with nine points in seven games. His improvement in the U20 league from the previous season with Jokerit U18 was significant. The elusive, creative forward has terrific puck skills and excellent acceleration. He has played four games for Espoo United at the second highest level in Finland, registering one goal. He has NHL bloodlines, as his father Juha played 341 NHL games with Phoenix, Tampa Bay and Ottawa.
Niklas Nordgren returned to HIFK U20 from injury at the end of September, but has already been dangerous in each viewing, making high percentage plays with the puck. Moreover, he scored 6 points (4G, 2A) in two CHL games against KS Cracovia. He made his Liiga debut in a 4-2 loss to Sport. Nordgren has the puck skills, finishing ability and hockey sense that few 17-year-old prospects can match. He’ll need to improve his first-step quickness and mobility, to become a more dynamic skater.
Rounding out the Top 5 is Blues U20 forward Lenni Killinen. The good-sized winger has an interesting toolbox of offensive skills. Possesses a quick wrist shot and performs well in key moments. Shows scoring drive, as well as the willingness to be involved in board and corner battles. He’s a strong skater with speed, agility and balance. He had nine points in nine games in September.
More notes on draft eligible Finns:
– Sioux City Musketeers forwards Sampo Ranta (#6) and Samuel Salonen (#14) are two names to keep an eye on in the USHL. Ranta has plus-level puck skills and skating, plus his work rate is excellent. Salonen is a 6’3 forward who plays a heavy game, winning puck battles and utilizing his size and reach to protect the puck. He has a high-velocity wrist shot and moves fairly well for a big guy. Both are key forwards for the Musketeers, who lost to the Waterloo Blackhawks in the 2017 Clark Cup Finals last season.
– Juuso Ketola (#9), Vili Laitinen (#10), Toni Utunen (#11) and Samuel Kemppainen (#15) are the defensemen that made the October rankings. Ketola plays a physical brand of hockey and gets around the ice well, but his decision making can be poor at times. Laitinen is a good puck mover who processes the game quickly. He might have most upside of the four. Utunen is playing in Mestis and has had some decent performances. Kemppainen is a smooth skater with offensive skill, but whether he can improve his defensive game and physicality will be crucial for his draft stock.
– Kärpät U20 is a team that should be watched closely. Justus Annunen (#7), Arttu Nevasaari (#8) and Eetu Päkkilä (#13) all are prospects that could be selected within the first few rounds. Annunen is a very quick goalie with athletic ability, whereas Nevasaari is a sharp shooting right wing whose goal-scoring ability is his bread and butter. He’s not as versatile as the other forwards ranked before him, but there’s some pretty high upside here, especially if he can become a more complete player. Päkkilä has been playing on the same line with Nevasaari. Päkkilä is more of a late bloomer, but he is very fast, thinks the game well and has constantly gotten better.
– Read more about Jerry Turkulainen (#12) here. The diminutive forward is off to a strong start with JYP in his second Liiga season.
– Prospects who have a chance to be picked in their second year of eligibility include Sami Moilanen (Seattle, WHL), Emil Oksanen (Regina, WHL), Linus Nyman (Kingston, OHL), Lauri Pajuniemi (TPS, Liiga/U20) and defenseman Otto Latvala (LeKi, Mestis).
– Don’t count out 1998 born HIFK goalie Niilo Halonen and forward Juha Jääskä either. Halonen has shown consistent improvement since the 2016-17 season. Jääskä had an excellent preseason, but has played in only 5 Liiga games due to injury. Jääskä has always had very good hockey sense and offensive abilities, but he has become a more complete player and physically stronger.
– Among first-time eligibles who did not make the list, KooKoo defensemen Santeri Salmela and Peetro Seppälä could move up the rankings as the season progresses. Same goes for USHL goalie Oskar Autio, who has won his first two games with the Chicago Steel.