With the 2019 NHL Draft being only a few days away, Finnish Junior Hockey has released its final ranking for the event which is set to take place in Vancouver. As was the case in previous rankings this season, the final ranking includes the top Finnish prospects from the Finnish leagues. This time we also have decided to include five honorable mentions. By clicking on some of the players’ names, you can find more information in prospect profiles. All photos are our own, unless otherwise noted.
1. RW Kaapo Kakko – TPS (Liiga)
In January 2018, I wrote that Kakko has a legitimate chance to be a Top 5 pick in the draft. With terrific performances at the international level and in the Liiga, he has become a potential first overall pick. The 6’2″ winger is a multifaceted player with NHL level puck protection and stickhandling skills, as well as very good hockey sense. He has a quick wrist shot and can score from close range or further out. He does the little things, works hard at both ends of the ice and is tough to play against. Kakko is an NHL superstar in the making.
2. D Ville Heinola – Lukko (Liiga)
Heinola is a potential first round pick who has hit another level offensively in the last two seasons. He is a skilled and confident blueliner with an excellent understanding of the game. He makes smart plays in all areas of the ice and remains unrattled under pressure – poise with the puck stands out. Has an accurate shot from the point that hits the net consisently. He’s a smooth skater with good edge work. I would not consider Heinola the most flashy or dynamic defenseman, but he definitely has a chance to become a top four NHL blueliner.
3. LW Patrik Puistola – Tappara (U20)
A highly skilled winger who can both score and set up scoring chances, Puistola has quick hands, very good vision and can shake off defenders with creative dekes. He goes to the high-scoring areas and generates a lot of chances from the slot. It often looks like he doesn’t shoot as hard as he could because he can pick his spots so well. He has a special finishing ability and he can score with a wrister, backhander or one-timer. His skating is starting to come along nicely. He has good mechanics but needs to add quickness. Puistola competes hard and is useful on the penalty kill. He is pretty good in his own end, but can be too stagnant at times, however.
4. D Antti Tuomisto – Ässät (U20)
Tuomisto, who logged lots of ice-time for Ässät U20, made significant improvements from the previous season. He plays with his head up, sees the entire ice and makes crisp passes on the breakout. He has a cannon for a slap shot with good velocity and accuracy on it. He has excellent size, some snarl and doesn’t shy away from battles and playing rough in the defensive zone. As he continues to work on his skating, mechanics and strength, he could become a force in all three zones. Tuomisto is headed to NCAA for the 2020-21 season.
5. D Mikko Kokkonen – Jukurit (Liiga)
Kokkonen broke the U18 record for most points by a defenseman in the Liiga, recording 19 points in 56 games. He can distribute the puck well at the point and he can also start offensive transitions with long-range passes from his own end. Kokkonen is physically strong for his age and stable in his own end, where he covers passing lanes effectively and can force opponents to the outside. His skating lacks quickness and explosiveness, but I think he has the smarts necessary to compensate those shortcomings.
6. D Anttoni Honka – JYP/Jukurit (Liiga)
Honka is a very skilled skater who moves well laterally and has good foot speed. He has quick hands, a soft touch on the puck and can quarterback a power play with his distribution skills. He needs to improve his defensive game and decision making, both of which can leave a lot to be desired. The past season was definitely not as strong as I expected, however, the potential remains high with the offensive-minded blueliner.
7. LW Leevi Aaltonen – KalPa (U20)
The best skater of all draft eligible Finns, Aaltonen can absolutely fly on the ice. He is explosive, has excellent acceleration and makes plays at high speed – the puck doesn’t slow him down. His speed makes him a good penalty killer and he can recover pucks quickly. He is constantly moving and buzzing on the ice. Aaltonen has been a proficient goal-scorer at the junior level, he has a precise wrist shot and snap shot. He sees the ice well and can execute a quick passing game in the offensive zone. On the downside, a lack of physicality has been an issue in the U20 league and his board play could be much stronger.
8. C/W Antti Saarela – Lukko (Liiga)
Saarela is a balanced, strong skating forward who can play both center and wing. He’s smooth, energetic and agile, along with plus-level acceleration. He gets up and down the ice well. Even though not particularly big or a punishing hitter, he can still play a surprisingly strong physical game. He applies pressure quickly. He has grit and competes, but I would like to see him be more engaged in the game at times. Has a hard shot; the release could be a tad quicker. Saarela is versatile, but he doesn’t seem to have similar high-end offensive tools compared to his older brother Aleksi.
9. RW Tuukka Tieksola – Kärpät (U20)
Tieksola made a smooth transition to the U20 league and showed he can drive the play on his line. A prototypical playmaker, his stickhandling and passing are both top notch. He finds cross-ice seams in the final third and moves the puck in a timely manner. Tieksola has a good glide, strong edge work and decent top speed. All in all, he is a confident, dynamic winger when having the puck on his stick. He could round out his defensive game, but with his offensive skill set and vision, I think Tieksola’s game will translate to the pro level.
10. C Juuso Pärssinen – TPS (U20)
Pärssinen impressed both with TPS U20 and the Finnish U18 national team this past season. He has a very good understanding of the game, highlighted by his defensive awareness and ability to break up plays with his stick. He has good puck skills too, he works well on the cycle and values possession. Pärssinen’s 6’2″ frame hinders his skating ability a bit, but he could more than keep up with the pace in the U20 league. He is very good at the face-off dot and won more than 60% of his face-offs in my viewings.
11. D Santeri Hatakka – Jokerit (U20)
Hatakka was a key defenseman for Jokerit U20 for the second season in a row. He especially improved his defensive reliability and puck movement, and he was one of the few bright spots on the Finnish team at the U18 World Championship. His mobility, physicality and defensive game are at a strong level. He handles the puck quite well and while he lacks creativity, he is often willing to carry the puck up the ice. Hatakka has added power to his shot and possesses a good slap shot and wrister. He is a well-rounded defenseman who may have untapped offensive potential.
12. D Kalle Loponen – Hermes (FIN-2)
Loponen had a good season with Hermes in Finland’s second-highest league, playing confidently with the puck and not shying away from the physical game either. The right-shot defenseman is mobile and can create space for himself with his footwork and lateral movement. He has good puck moving abilities and a solid point shot. Defensive game is a work in progress, however.
13. RW Aku Räty – Kärpät (U20)
Räty is a skilled winger who possesses quality stick skills and quick hands, enabling him to control the puck well in tight quarters. His offensive skill set, which also features a quick and precise wrist shot, is strong. Räty is a strong skater with good acceleration mechanics and top-end speed. He can carry the puck into the zone with relative ease. Moreover, he is smart and dependable without the puck and has a strong on-ice work ethic. I firmly believe that Räty could be one of those picks that exceed the expectations in a few years after the draft.
14. G Jasper Patrikainen – Pelicans (U20)
Patrikainen was the cornerstone in net for Pelicans U20 this past season and was named the best goalie in the league. He was excellent especially during the first few months of the season and played well in the playoffs, too. The 2000 born prospect is a calm goalie who moves well and reads shooters effectively. He tracks the puck well through screens, has good net coverage and seals the posts when required. At 6’0″, he does not have the prototypical size of today’s goalie and his rebound control needs some work.
15. C Henri Nikkanen – Jukurit (U20)
Nikkanen’s season was a tough one, he missed development time due to injury and he was one of the last cuts from the U18 World Championship team. He has great size and although not exceptionally skilled, he does have quick hands and creates offense through very good stickhandling. Decent hockey sense, needs to work on decision making which has been an occasional issue. Nikkanen has the raw talent to become a strong pro center, one who could possibly help an NHL team down the road.
16. RW Wiljami Myllylä – HIFK (U20)
Myllylä played on a scoring with HIFK U20 throughout the season and led the team in goals (20). He is consistently one of the hardest-working players on the ice, he has a non-stop motor and does not quit on any play. He has a quick, yet slightly inaccurate wrist shot and he is dangerous from his off-wing on the power play. He possesses decent puck handling skills. He could smooth out his stride but he has very good speed and endurance which allows him to be highly energetic every time he steps on the ice. Myllylä needs to work on his play reading without the puck, to make sure he doesn’t get caught below the puck; however, he has a solid foundation to build his game on.
17. D Kim Nousiainen – KalPa (U20)
At 5’9″ and 177 lbs, Nousiainen is on the smaller side, but there are many things to like about the KalPa U20 standout. Very poised on the blueline and can quarterback a power play. He’s very good at defending with his stick and maintains good gap control in 1-on-1’s. He has swift hands and moves the puck with tape-to-tape passing from his own end. He thrived offensively at the U20’s and played well during his short stint in Mestis.
18. LW Jere Innala – HPK (Liiga)
The 1998 born winger had a breakout season with HPK in the Liiga, scoring 24 goals and 45 points in 60 games and adding 11 points in the playoffs. Innala is a crafty and skilled winger with quick feet and nice agility in small spaces. He remains poised with the puck under pressure and can deliver high-level passes in the offensive zone. He can fire quick wristers and beat goalies from a distance. Innala is on the smaller side but added strength this past season which was a big reason for his on-ice success.
19. LW Aleks Haatanen – Pelicans (U20)
Haatanen’s strong season with Pelicans U20 and U19 national team has put him on the map as a potential NHL Draft pick. Haatanen is a skilled, instinctive winger who can execute high-level passing in the final third, especially on the man advantage. The winger plays with his head up, he has poise and he is always looking to make a play. He’s a smooth skater with good acceleration.
20. C/W Matias Mäntykivi – SaiPa (U20)
Mäntykivi had a good season with SaiPa U20. Though the team struggled as a whole, Mäntykivi was able to produce and stand out on the first line. He capped off the season with gold in Mestis (FIN-2). Hockey sense is his biggest asset, but he also has good offensive instincts and makes plays with the puck. He is a strong, fierce competitor. He needs to work on his skating, especially stride power and length. Mäntykivi could push for a spot on SaiPa’s Liiga team as soon as next season.
HM: D Mico Luoto – Jokerit (U20)
Luoto is a smooth-skating, puck moving defenseman with swift hands and good vision. His superb play in the U18 finals convinced me that he could be a worthwhile late round gamble for an NHL team. He delivers accurate long range passes and is smooth with the puck. Defensive game has gradually improved. Expect Luoto to take on a bigger role with Jokerit U20 next season.
HM: D Valtteri Pulli – TPS (U20)
There has not been a whole lot of hype around the towering, mobile 6’4″ defenseman. Pulli earned his promotion to TPS U20 after being a key contributor for the U18 team. Pulli is an agile skater who can stop and start quickly and make sudden changes of direction. He is strong in battles. Not particularly flashy but makes the effective and smart play with the puck. Has a hard shot.
HM: RW Joonas Oden – KooKoo (U20)
Oden is a bit of a late bloomer and has developed rapidly during the last few seasons. He is an agile and fast skater who can separate from defensemen in a hurry. He has a lot of skill too, he controls the puck well in small spaces and has an accurate, potent wrist shot. On the downside, he does not play overly physically and could show more snarl and aggressiveness. But I really like his speed, puck skills and offensive instincts.
HM: D Atso Lehtinen – HPK (U20)
I was impressed with Lehtinen’s overall play in a few live viewings this past season. He’s a well-rounded defenseman with a good understanding of the game. He moves the puck well and can jump into the play. In the playoffs, his skating looked improved from the 2018 preseason. Has a good stick and can defend well against the rush. Ultimately, Lehtinen may not have a particularly high ceiling, but the growth in his game makes me optimistic.
HM: C Kristian Tanus – LeKi (Mestis)
Tanus was excellent for LeKi in Finland’s second highest league and even got the opportunity to play 17 Liiga games with Jukurit. A very good playmaking center with outstanding vision, he can distribute the puck to the wingers who are skating at full speed. He is also a good set-up guy on the power play. Tanus is agile, quick and slippery with the puck. He creates a lot of offense but doesn’t forget his defensive responsibilities either.
Cover photo: Kevin Light / Getty Images