U20 league roundup: Weeks one and two

In this new article series, I will be writing about various topics of the Finnish U20 league. A new article will likely be published every two weeks. Here are some of my notes, thoughts and takeaways from the first two weeks of action in the league.

I really like Jokerit and think they’ll be one of the strongest teams this season. The start has certainly been promising. They don’t have as much speed or pace to their game as Kärpät, which is another quality team, but there’s depth and skill throughout the roster. I think 2021 NHL Draft eligible centers Samu Salminen and Oskari Latvala will establish their status as top-end forwards in this league.

Ultimately, I think Kärpät is the team to watch this season. They have so many skilled, speedy and reliable players at forward, as well as a mobile defense that can push the game in the right direction. Ville Koivunen has stood out the most. The intelligent and skilled forward has plenty of upside. Once his physicality and skating improve, he’s going to be even tougher to stop.

Lukko currently sits atop of the league with 11 points through four games. In my view, that is not unexpected at all, as they have plenty of talent up front and a solid number one goalie in Alex Mäkelä, who has a lot of experience for this level. Furthermore, they seem to have more depth than in many previous years. It’s early on, but I think Lukko will be very strong this season.

HIFK also has an interesting roster with plenty of talented individuals at all positions. Because the team is much different from last season and also significantly younger, I don’t expect them to excel right away. However, they definitely could be competitive already this season and there’s a bunch of names to keep an eye on for future NHL drafts.

Speaking of HIFK, one newcomer to watch is Ville Puhakka, a versatile 2000 born defenseman who was a key player for KalPa’s U20 squad last season. Puhakka is assertive defensively, makes firm, precise passes, moves well in all directions and shows head for the game. He has been flying under the radar somewhat, but he progressed very nicely last season and should keep improving.

Another team that I expect to show a great deal of improvement is JYP. Their U18 team was strong last season and many players have moved up. Santeri Koskela, Jesse Helander and Joakim Kemell pack an offensive punch and they have already shown glimpses of their abilities at the U20’s. Do not sleep on Koskela, a late 2002 born center who has skill, speed and displayed leadership qualities last season.

If there’s one lesser known prospect that I’d recommend to keep tabs on, that would be Pelicans forward Aatu Jämsen. He would have played more games in the U20 league last season if he didn’t have injuries. He caught my eye at the U18’s and he’s off to a very good start this year. He’s a very skilled player that can be a dual threat with his potent shot and passing skills. I think Jämsen is one of those players who benefit from the NHL Draft being pushed to early October.

Sport defenseman Bogdans Hodass has stood out in my viewings of Sport. The Jelgava, Latvia native spent majority of last season with HS Riga in Latvia’s top league. The 2003 is a mobile defenseman with a powerful first step, he defends well skating forward and has offensive ability. From what I have seen so far, he would be on my watch list for the 2021 NHL Draft.

TPS forward Aarne Intonen has been excellent in the early going and is making a strong case for a promotion to the Liiga team. He has put up six goals and seven points in four games and has made a strong overall impact. I really liked one of his goals against HIFK: he went in on forecheck with authority, separated an opponent off the puck and scored with a backhander. He plays a good two-way game and although not the fastest or most dynamic of forwards, he knows where to go on the ice and plays smart.

Lastly, there are some very unfortunate news as well, since according to YLE, there are over 40 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Jukurit, HPK and KooKoo U20 teams.

The league’s Top 10 in standings on September 18, 2020.

Cover photo: Ruutu.fi