2020 NHL Draft Preview – 24 Finnish Prospects, from Lundell to Ottavainen

Welcome to Finnish Junior Hockey’s 2020 NHL Draft preview. Here we will introduce 24 Finnish prospects eligible for the draft, with compact scouting reports for each of them. This draft class is a strong one for the Finns and there are several more players who could hear their names called this week.

01 F Anton Lundell – HIFK

Anton Lundell in a Liiga game with HIFK. Photo: HIFK.fi

I have had the opportunity to see Lundell’s games live for several years, from the U16 league and up to the Liiga. His hockey sense, playmaking skills and two-way game have always stood out the most. He thinks the game a step ahead of most players on the ice and pays close attention to details. He thrives in pressure situations and is the type of a forward who can be relied upon late in games. Not the most flashy player, but I have seen him pull off some creative passes. He is very strong at face-offs – especially on his backhand – and he won 53.5 percentage of his face-offs in the Liiga last season. He is physically strong and mature for his age. He uses his body well to protect the puck and has a strong stick. His skating has slowly improved over the last couple of years, but it still needs work. His first few strides could be more explosive. His stride lacks power which is evident especially towards the end of his shifts. That said, I don’t think his skating will deter him from becoming an impact center in the NHL. Draft projection: 5-15

02 F Roni Hirvonen – Ässät

Hirvonen put together a very solid rookie season in the Liiga and adapted quickly to the pro game. He played on the wing for a large portion of the season but he did also spend some time at center as the season went on. I think his biggest strength is his hockey sense. He makes the correct reads, he moves into open space to make himself a passing option, and has good split vision and offensive imagination. Constantly proactive instead of being reactive to the play. He is slippery with the puck and has the ability to make plays with limited time and space. He has a good shot selection and very good puck skills. Despite being on the smaller side, he is willing to play in traffic and doesn’t shy away from contact. Not the most powerful skater and needs to add some quickness. On a more positive note, he is highly dependable without the puck and won’t neglect his defensive responsibilities, even if it means sacrificing from offense. In Hirvonen, I see many similarities to Sebastian Aho. I believe Hirvonen will acclimate quickly to the North American game and eventually develop into a middle-six NHL forward. Draft projection: early 2nd round

02 D Topi Niemelä – Kärpät

After having a strong preseason, Niemelä started the 2019-20 season with Kärpät’s Liiga team. Thanks to his strong performances, he was able to keep his spot on the defense and put together a good rookie campaign. Taking a regular spot on a very strong team like Kärpät is not an easy task for a 17-year-old player, but Niemelä managed to do just that. He plays actively both with and without the puck and likes to push the pace of the game. He has great mobility and is very talented with the puck. He can join the rush as a second-wave option. I like how eager he is to shoot and he chooses those moments well. His competitiveness and readiness to battle are great to watch as well. However, at times I would like to see him move the puck into better spots while being forechecked. All in all, Niemelä is a modern defenseman whose style of play would fit well in today’s NHL game, where more and more emphasis is being put on mobile, puck moving defensemen. He’s a future top four blueliner in the making. Draft projection: early 2nd round

02 F Roby Järventie – Ilves

Roby Järventie playing for Ilves U20. Photo: Tommi Valkokari/Aamulehti

Järventie is a tall, skilled and strong-skating winger who has displayed great scoring abilities in the juniors and Finland’s second-highest league. His skating is a great mixture of agility an fluidity, and he is quick from a standstill. His lateral mobility has improved and his speed is noticeable in offensive transitions. He has been a productive goal-scorer pretty much everywhere he has played at. He’s a clinical finisher and will convert his chances in prime scoring areas more often than not. A real sniper with a very good shot selection. His swift hands help him to be effective around the net and collect loose pucks. At this point in time, Järventie is not the most intense player away from the puck. He relies more on using his stick to win puck battles and disrupt opponents, rather than playing the body. But he has the complete offensive toolbox and if he can round out his game, he could be an absolute force even at the NHL level. Draft projection: mid-2nd round

02 D Joni Jurmo – JYP

Jurmo is a very powerful and rounded skater who can skate like the wind. He can carry the puck up the ice with relative ease. He can be unstoppable when he powers his way through the neutral zone and gains the offensive zone. Has plus mobility and balance as well. He can be a threat from the point, especially on the power play, on account of having a diverse shot selection. He has a quick and hard one-timer with good technique, using strong weight transfer and properly following through. He has a heavy slap shot as well, with good wind up on it. He can do many things offensively. He can keep the puck on a string and his stickhandling is very good even at top speed. He displays great poise when having the puck on his stick. He likes to hold on to the puck after entering the offensive zone, keeps his head up to scan the ice and makes the smart play more often than not.

On the downside, he is not the most aggressive defender and could have a stronger physical presence. He needs to improve his defending in tight spaces. The former Jokerit U20 standout joined JYP in the Liiga and is a potential breakout player to keep tabs on. In the juniors, he could take over shifts and make eye-popping plays which most players cannot. His potential should be very appealing to NHL clubs in the draft. Draft projection: 2nd round

02 D Eemil Viro – TPS

Viro is is a smooth, powerful skater who moves well with the puck. He has great quickness in his first few strides. He has the ability to make shifty moves, enabling him to shake off forecheckers and create more time and space to make plays. His edge work is very good as well. He is skilled with the puck, he can make all the passes and his timing is consistently on point, he gives passes that are easy to receive and they often arrive to players who are moving instead of being stationary. In the past season, he would more often decide to give a first pass and then join the rush as a second-wave option. I think this has been a successful adjustment to his game. He also shows some deception with the puck.

Viro is not the biggest of players but he already plays a pretty solid physical game and should only improve in the coming years with additional strength. He goes into one-on-one battles with authority. He is willing to pay the price in order to win those situations. It has certainly been interesting to watch his game evolve in the last few seasons. I think Viro has the potential to be a middle-pairing defenseman. However, he does not have the strongest shot which may hinder his chances of being a significant power play contributor in the NHL. Draft projection: 3rd round

02 G Joel Blomqvist – Kärpät

Blomqvist is a calm, technically sound goalie with very good rebound control. He displays great patience and rarely commits too soon to the shooters. Because of his calm demeanour, he seems to consume a pretty low amount of energy. He most often stays on his feet on high shots, but will drop to the knees to cover low shots. He tracks the puck well through traffic and screens. He reads the shooter’s release well and keeps his eyes on the puck, enabling him to determine the path of the puck. Oftentimes, he prefers to stay in the blue paint and doesn’t challenge shooters very aggressively. He is consistently in position to make a save. I think Blomqvist has a legitimate chance to develop into a starting goalie in the NHL. Draft projection: 3rd round

02 F Kasper Simontaival – Tappara

One of the top forwards in the U20 league last season, Simontaival is a precision shooter with a scorer’s blade. He has an excellent shot selection as he can score with a one-timer, slap shot, wrist shot or backhander. He is far from a one-trick pony, though. He can deliver accurate passes to the slot from below the goal line, as well as beat defensemen in 1-on-1’s. He can also corral difficult passes with relative ease. He protects the puck surprisingly well and keeps defenders at bay. Although he is not a defensive specialist at the moment, I wouldn’t call him a liability either. His skating has gotten better, but he still must get quicker. His overall game took a step forward in 2019-20 which I think should warrant him a pretty high selection in the draft. Draft projection: 3rd round

01 F Veeti Miettinen – St. Cloud State University (NCAA)

Miettinen is a strong skater with very good acceleration. He thrives most in north-south hockey where he can use his straight-line speed to his advantage. That speed helps him create turnovers and havoc on the forecheck as well. Miettinen has been a prolific goal-scorer in the Finnish junior leagues. He has a dangerous wrist shot and snap shot with excellent velocity and accuracy. He has added versatility and he was a trusted penalty killer for K-Espoo U20, where he put together two very impressive seasons. Skating and scoring goals are his calling cards, but he also has good hockey sense and delivers quality passes both on his forehand and backhand. He is headed to St. Cloud State University and there is no doubt in my mind that he will add scoring punch to the team and be a strong college player. Draft projection: 3rd round

02 D Ruben Rafkin – TPS

Rafkin signed with TPS in the Finnish Liiga after spending the previous four seasons in North America. He is a very physical right-shot defenseman who skates really well and is sturdy on his skates. He can lay heavy hits – even in open ice – without getting out of position. He reads the game well away from the puck and is able to break up plays with his stick. He closes in on forwards quickly and plays his angles well. He also gets into shooting lanes and will block shots. He is effective in offensive transitions where he can help generate offense. I feel Rafkin is a bit underrated as far as the draft is concerned. I wouldn’t be surpised if he goes in the late second or early third round. I think his game will translate well to the pros. Draft projection: 3rd round

02 F Oliver Suni – Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Suni could work on his skating mechanics, but he’s very fast, especially in a straight line. His stride isn’t the prettiest and his first few strides could be a tad quicker, however, once he reaches top speed he has the ability to gain one stride ahead and pull away from defensemen. The raw power is there. However, if he can smooth out his stride, improve his explosiveness and lateral agility, his skating could turn into a real asset in the coming years. At the moment his skating is good, but not at an elite level compared to his peers.

The 6’2″, 187-pound right wing has really good hockey sense. He reads and reacts quickly and plays with his head on a swivel. He moves into good spots in the offensive zone and has a knack for being at the right place at the right time. He gives puck support at both ends of the ice. When in possession, he can execute a quick and effective passing game in all three zones. I strongly feel that Suni’s smarts will enable him to play a number of roles and up and down the lineup at the pro level.

Suni has shown that he has the physical tools to compete in the OHL. He is aggressive on the forecheck and uses his strength to separate opposing players from the puck. He won a fair amount of his puck battles in my viewings. A hard-nosed player with a good approach and effort from shift to shift. Draft projection: 4th round

00 F Joonas Oden – KooKoo

Oden had an excellent 2020 World Juniors tournament where he showed why NHL teams should take notice. He is a very strong skater with quick feet and a good glide. He gets to top speed in a hurry. He also has a potent shot and a lot of skill. He can use indirect passing to find his teammates and he controls the puck well along the boards and in tight spaces. He has a heavy and quick wrist shot, he gets it on net with regularity and he shoots with a purpose. He can beat goalies cleanly and shoot in stride. He knows where his teammates are on the ice in order to feed them the puck and does not give “hope passes”. What’s more, he is very strong on the backcheck. I see Oden as a potential middle-six NHL winger down the road. Draft projection: 4th round

02 D Christoffer Sedoff – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

Christoffer Sedoff in action with the Red Deer Rebels. Photo: Byron Hackett/Red Deer Advocate

Sedoff was absolutely phenomenal when I watched him play in the U16 league a few years ago, very close to the level of Olli Juolevi. Although he won’t be drafted as high as Juolevi, he will likely hear his name called on the second day of the NHL Draft. Sedoff is an economical and smooth skater who displays very good edge work. He moves effortlessly around the ice and he trusts his mobility which enables him to keep tight gaps. He covers shooting and passing lanes efficiently and reads the game well in defensive situations. Offensively, he can help his team in zone exits and in the transition game. He can jump into the rush and does so in a timely manner. His puck skills are good, albeit not high end. He has swift hands and good puck control. His shots from the point aren’t wasted because he shoots with a purpose. He is currently playing on loan for FPS in Finland’s second-highest league before he will rejoin the Red Deer Rebels for the start of the WHL season. Draft projection: 4th round

02 D Kasper Puutio – Kärpät

This year’s Finnish NHL Draft class features many offensively talented defensemen and Puutio is amongst them. He returned to the Kärpät organization after spending the past season in the WHL. A solid passer, he has a soft touch on the puck and can carry it with confidence. He’s a smooth skater, he retrieves pucks well and can start the play the other way. However, I have noticed that he will occasionally get caught flat footed by quick forwards. He can struggle with his pivots. Puutio shows head for the game and is deceptive with the puck, which I like. Not the most physical or aggressive defender, but he reads the game well and maintains good gap control. Draft projection: 5th round

02 F Juuso Mäenpää – KalPa

Mäenpää had an excellent season for Jokerit U20 which earned him the rookie of the year award in the Finnish U20 circuit. He also played very well in international events. The skilled, quick and cunning forward has the potential to develop into a strong three-zone center. He already drives offense in the U20 league, he carries the puck through the neutral zone and overall is an effective puck transporter. He is responsible, active defensively and supports his teammates. He reads the game really well and always knows where the play is headed. He can create more room for himself in possession with his cutbacks – he has really mastered this skill. His quickness helps him to avoid checks which also makes him tough to contain along the boards. He has a decent wrist shot with good accuracy, velocity and a tricky release to add a bit of deception.

A lack of size has not affected his game in a significant manner at the junior level. However, I do feel that Mäenpää is going to be a long-term project as an NHL prospect. He has the talent, the work ethic and if there is one smaller forward who is going to make the NHL, it’s him. Draft projection: 5th round

02 D Matias Rajaniemi – Pelicans

Rajaniemi is an intriguing prospect who appeared in 12 Liiga games in 2019-20. His development has been steady over the last few years. I like his poise with the puck. He plays with natural calmness and does not get rattled under pressure. Certain times I do wish that he would make a tad quicker decisions. However, I wouldn’t consider this a significant issue. Defensively, he is highly effective as he trusts his mobility and is able to break up plays in the neutral zone. He is not particularly flashy and you won’t see him stretch the ice with long-range passes very often. On the other hand, he is highly consistent. Physically he is already able to more than hold his own against older opponents. There’s a lot to like about Rajaniemi’s physicality, work ethic and defensive prowess. Draft projection: 5th round

02 D Karri Aho – Ilves

Aho is off to a promising start in Finland’s second-highest league this season. He already made significant strides in 2019-20, emerging as a potential NHL Draft pick. He logged the most ice-time at even strength for Ilves U20 and impressed during his stint with KOOVEE in Mestis. He’s a smooth skater with good mobility in all directions. Light on his skates and handles the puck well when moving up the ice, especially for a defenseman. He makes calculated decisions in possession – very poised with the puck. He senses pressure well and often plays accordingly without getting into trouble. An intelligent, fleet-footed defenseman who plays wisely to his strengths and has offensive upside. Another thing to note is that he is one of the younger players eligible for the draft. Currently his physical play is an area of improvement, plus he doesn’t have the best shot in terms of power. Although it may take time, I do believe Aho will eventually earn his opportunity to play in the NHL. Draft projection: 5th or 6th round

01 G Lassi Lehti – Aberdeen Wings (NAHL)

Lassi Lehti in action with St. Andrew’s College. Photo: Paul Mosey/St. Andrew’s College

Lassi Lehti is one of the lesser known names introduced in this article. I watched many of his games with St. Andrew’s College last season and I had to wonder, “Why isn’t this guy more highly touted?”. Lehti possesses great size but does not rely on it too much. His quickness has stood out in my viewings. He moves quickly across the crease and post to post. He has a great glove and his reactions are sharp, even on high danger shots from point black range. He will challenge shooters at the top of the crease to cut down angles. He covers the lower parts of the net effectively and seals his posts. Good rebound control. He looks comfortable when playing the puck outside the crease as well. Lehti is a classic late bloomer who is only going to get better in the coming years. This upcoming season, he will play for Aberdeen Wings in the NAHL. Draft projection: 6th or 7th round

01 F Mikael Pyyhtiä – TPS

Pyyhtiä had a terrific season for TPS U20 and emerged as a potential NHL Draft pick. The late 2001 is a savvy, skilled and poised forward who can play both center and wing. He reads the game and seldom makes a bad decision when having the puck on his stick. A very skilled and fluid skater, he can reach pretty good top speed. He has quality passing skills and a slick stick, he can create offense in traffic and in space. From time to time he will make a high-end play that grabs your attention. Competes from shift to shift and doesn’t leak defensively. He is trending upwards and his best hockey is ahead. Draft projection: 6th or 7th round

02 F Joel Määttä – Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)

Määttä is a competitive and physical center who plays a strong 200-foot game. He is very effective along the boards and in the corners. He is heavy on the puck and knows how to use his size to his advantage. He finishes his checks with authority and has a workmanlike attitude on the ice. He is smart and pretty simplistic with the puck – nothing too flashy. One thing he does very well is making plays off cycle in the offensive zone. On the downside, at times his skating seemed to hold him back in the USHL last season. He lacked separation gear and couldn’t always carry much speed when accelerating with the puck. Nonetheless, I could see Määttä develop into a solid complementary player in the pros. Draft projection: 6th or 7th round

01 F Elis Hede – HIFK

After spending the past season with USHL’s Chicago Steel, Hede decided to head back to Europe and signed with HIFK in the Finnish Liiga. He stood out somewhat when I attended the first U20 national team camp of the 2020-21 season. He showed flashes of his speed and puck skills in the Liiga preseason as well. Hede is a crafty forward who can play both center and wing. He sees the ice well and can deliver passes that catch opponents off guard. He shows nice offensive vision and he does not lack confidence either. His quickness stands out, not only in his skating, but in his ability to process the game and make decisions rapidly. He has strong technical skills and he reads the game well without the puck, too.

The most obvious area for improvement is his physicality. He definitely needs to get stronger and gain situational toughness. But he has the work ethic and mindset to get better. If he is drafted – which I suspect would happen in late rounds – the team in question will need to be patient. I do feel Hede has pretty high upside and will develop into a solid pro – in Europe at the very least. Draft projection: 6th or 7th round

02 D Rami Määttä – Ässät

The left-shot defenseman from Oulu had a strong season for Ässät U20. Määttä also stood out when I watched him play in a U18 tournament with Ässät as he made lots of positive plays. He is very poised with the puck, he can move it well and he understands the game. He gives accurate outlet passes and can kickstart the breakout. He is good at defending 1-on-1’s, keeps his gaps tight and has a quick stick to break up plays. He does not have blazing speed and his first few strides could be quicker, yet he is mobile with some nice agility. I wouldn’t consider him particularly flashy but he has swift hands and can help create offense. Määttä plays a style that I think will translate to the pros. He makes quick, intelligent decisions and outsmarts opponents in the juniors. He has the potential to become a well-rounded defenseman who plays a good two-way game. He is headed in the right direction. Draft projection: 6th or 7th round

00 D Axel Rindell – Jukurit

Rindell’s biggest strengths lie in his skating and offensive skills. He does a great job of escaping from pressure and skating with the puck out of trouble. He can deliver a good stretch pass and his puck play is simple enough most of the time. His slap shot is a real weapon, one that he won’t hesitate to use. He gets his shots past the first defender and he shoots with a purpose. However, he is not all that physical or effective in his own end. When he is not generating offense, he will need to find other ways to help his team and make an impact. I think Rindell will likely be drafted this week after being passed over twice. He will need some development time in Finland before taking his talents to North America. Draft projection: 6th or 7th round

02 D Ville Ottavainen – Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

The former Kärpät U18 standout went across the pond to play for the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL in 2019-20. Ottavainen is a little bit raw right now, but I think he’s got the toolkit of a potential NHL defenseman. He’s a tall, fairly mobile defenseman with a long reach. He can start offensive transitions and he makes a precise first pass out of the zone. Long-range diagonal passes are on the money. Competes in every shift and does a good job of protecting the net front. He’s dependable, honest and the type of a defenseman every team should have on their roster to succeed. Draft projection: 6th or 7th round