This article is a part of a series where Finnish Junior Hockey will aim to bring in-depth articles on drafted prospects. The idea is to give readers a close look at the players’ strengths, weaknesses, and how they are progressing since being drafted. For now, we are aiming to publish at least one article each week.
1999 born defenseman Santtu Kinnunen spent most of the 2017-18 season with Pelicans U18. Having watched him play in his first year of NHL Draft eligibility, there was no doubt that he was one of the most talented players on the ice in my viewings. However, it is rare to be selected directly from the Finnish U18 league in the draft, so Kinnunen needed to get more of an opportunity to show what he can do at the U20’s.
The 2017-18 season was a breakout season for the right-shot defenseman, who played four games in Mestis and also suited up for the U20 national team in three games. The Florida Panthers took notice of the offensively talented blueliner and ended up selecting him with the 207th overall pick. He impressed a lot of people soon after the draft in Florida’s development camp and continued to develop in the 2018-19 season while splitting time between the Liiga, Mestis and U20 league.
Kinnunen is a smart defenseman who has demonstrated lots of potential with his offensive game. His passing skills are above-average at the junior level. He moves the puck into good spots and makes an accurate first pass out of the zone. His long passes constantly arrive on the tape. Kinnunen has been an important player for Pelicans U20, especially in terms of starting offensive transitions. He is poised under pressure and has great vision.
Kinnunen doesn’t carry the puck for long periods ice very often; his ability to move the puck and push the game in the right direction is what makes him such an efficient defenseman. Additionally, I have seen some pretty significant improvements in his skating and defensive game over the last two years. He angles opponents, keeps good gap control and has a quick stick. He’s not the most explosive skater but he has good foot speed and gets around the ice well.
Kinnunen also impressed against men this past season and made a promising Liiga debut in October last year. Pelicans head coach Ville Nieminen said after the game that “we’ll be hearing a lot of that kid in the future”. At 6’2″ and 161 lbs, he will need add muscle into his frame in the coming years. But he has a lot of raw talent and I firmly believe that the 19-year-old defenseman is on the path to becoming a late round steal for the Florida Panthers.
Cover Photo: Tuomo Seppänen