Here is a quick recap on the 2018 NHL Draft which featured 16 Finnish picks.
The Montreal Canadiens selected Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick. This was no surprise as he was getting plenty of buzz before the draft. Kotkaniemi has a great shot at becoming the number one center for the Canadiens and won’t need many years of development time. I think he could play in the NHL already within two years.
The Los Angeles Kings took Rasmus Kupari with the 20th overall pick. His blend of speed and skill is very intriguing. He could easily be an above-average skater in the NHL, and his ability to play both center and wing will be very valuable for the Kings.
The second round saw one Finnish pick, with Jesse Ylönen going to Montreal as the 35th overall pick. I’ve been a big fan of Ylönen’s game for two years now. Because of his high-end skating and offensive ability, I think has a good chance to become a very solid, productive NHLer one day.
The Colorado Avalanche used both of their third round picks in Finnish players, selecting goalie Justus Annunen and forward Sampo Ranta. I considered both potential second rounders. Annunen had great playoffs for Kärpät U20 and capped off a strong season by backstopping Finland to the U18 gold. I have not seen Ranta as much due to the fact that he plays in North America, but he’s big, fast and his game projects well for the NHL.
I had Niklas Nordgren as a potential second rounder prior the dtaft, so I think he’s an excellent pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in the third round. He’s such a skilled and smart player. Nordgren has been an absolute offensive force in the Finnish junior leagues for several years and will compete for a spot in HIFK’s Liiga team next season.
Carolina Hurricanes fourth rounder Lenni Killinen is a skilled and fast player who will need to work on his consistency and become stronger. However, he was one of the most intriguing forwards in the Finnish U20 league last season. I think the Hurricanes got great value in this pick.
Buffalo’s fifth round selection Miska Kukkonen was injured for a large portion of the past season. Kukkonen is a right-shot defenseman with good mobility and the ability to move the puck up the ice. Defenseman Toni Utunen (Vancouver) is very smart, but will need time to improve his physicality and overall game. Rangers pick Lauri Pajuniemi is a skilled, fast and hard-working winger whose game improved quite a bit this past season. Chicago took another Finnish prospect in Providence College commit and a top USHL forward Mikael Hakkarainen.
Veini Vehviläinen had been passed over three times in the draft until the Columbus Blue Jackets picked him the 6th round. He was the best goalie in the Liiga last season and the cornerstone in net for the league-winning Kärpät team. Quick and technically sound, Vehviläinen was extremely consistent throughout the season.
The seventh round featured four Finnish picks in Otto Kivenmäki (Detroit), Patrik Siikanen (Edmonton), Eetu Päkkilä (New Jersey) and Santtu Kinnunen (Florida). Kivenmäki is a high-end skater who will need to get bigger and stronger, but his offensive skill set is very strong. Siikanen has intriguing potential. He’s strong, has some skill and can shoot the puck with quite good results. The Devils took a nice gamble on Päkkilä, whose skating is his biggest asset. He has developed a lot in the past year or so.