Buffalo Sabres prospect Oskari Laaksonen took steps forward with Ilves U20 this past season. The team managed to collect only 40 points in the first 35 games; Laaksonen was one of the few players who stood out. He took a lot of responsibility, made plays from the backend and consistently had a positive impact on his team’s play.
After earning a call-up to the Liiga team in January, Laaksonen recorded four assists in 21 games. At the age of 18, he was one of the better blueliners on the team, and used his quick feet and hockey sense to join the attack. He played with impressive confidence and looked to create offense instead of playing a safe game.
I had the opportunity to watch him play as the Finnish U20 national team took on Czech Republic a couple of weeks ago in Vierumäki. He was particularly strong in the first game and received power play time on the first unit. He scored a nice goal with a solid one-timer on the man advantage. His offensive game looked very good at this event.
The right-shot defenseman is a smooth skater who can transition quickly from forwards to backwards and vice versa. He skates well backwards and shows impressive footwork at the point. His edge work has improved and he’s stronger on his skates than in the past. Laaksonen makes an excellent first pass out of the zone. He has smooth hands, enabling to handle the puck in tight quarters and while accelerating up the ice. He will need to gain more muscle in order to be stronger along the boards and in front of the net. It would help him balance his overall game quite a bit. His defensive game is also a work in progress.
With his development trending upwards, Laaksonen has quickly started to make a name for himself. One of the most intriguing youngsters in the Liiga, he should see his ice-time increase this upcoming season.