22. Leevi Meriläinen (Reader rank: 21, Last year: N/A)
In what is becoming a consistent trend, the Ottawa Senators 3rd round selection in the 2020 draft was unconventional. Not many scouts had even heard of Merilänen before, so there wasn’t much analysis given on him when he was selected. Since then though, he’s quietly been one of Ottawa’s best performing prospects.
Meriläinen played in 22 games for the U20 Kärpät team in Finland, and he posted a whopping .934 SV%. For reference, the next best goalie in the league (with at least 10 GP) had a .923 SV%. 32 goalies fit that criteria and the median SV% was just .890%, so he was clearly the best in the league. Compared to other 18-year-old Finnish goalies playing in the same league, Pekka Rinne had an .891 SV% in 20 games, Joonas Korpisalo had a .913 SV% in 12 games, and Juuse Saros had a .933 SV% in 33 games, although he was actually 17 and played in the SM-Liiga the following season.
The fact that he compares better than Rinne and Korpisalo this early on is good news, but he obviously still has a long way to go. Here are his career stats so far, although they’re quite limited:
He also ranked first amongst goalies in SV% in the U18 league in 2019-20, so hopefully he can keep up that trend in the 2021-22 season.
Meriläinen surprisingly signed his entry-level contract in June, and Pierre Dorion had this to say about him:
“Leevi made significant strides in his development while playing with a strong program at Karpat last season. He plays big in the net, maintains a controlled style and is on the right path to continuously improve as he builds additional strength and gains more experience. It’s our hope to see him play for Finland at the next world junior championship.”
That last point is important, because it will be a lot of fun getting to follow him at the WJC where he has a chance to put Team Finland on his back. With him, Jake Sanderson, Tyler Boucher, Tyler Kleven, and Ridly Greig all potentially suiting up for their countries, it’ll be an entertaining tournament to watch.
It’s incredible how few clips of him there are online, because I’d love to show him off more. We at least have this clip, where he played fantastically well in the World Junior Summer Showcase:
Another big save by Leevi Meriläinen? Of course. #GoSensGo— Everyday Sens (@EverydaySens) July 28, 2021
Colour commentator is raving about him right now. “You’ve gotta give all the credit in the world to [Merilainen].”
Shots are 26-16 for the USA. Finland just took a 3-2 lead. pic.twitter.com/I8OT0FXH6W
His efforts in that showcase did not go unnoticed, and it looks like he might actually have caught the attention of national prospect writers:
USA Blue closes out the World Junior Summer Showcase with a 4-2 loss to Finland. Aatu Räty (NYI) had a goal and two assists. Roni Hirvonen (TOR) scored twice. Leevi Merilainen (OTT) made 28 saves in another incredible effort.— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) July 31, 2021
In terms of highlights, unfortunately there is such a dearth of options for Meriläinen that this is legitimately the best thing I could find:
What’s neat about Meriläinen is that he is yet another prospect the Senators have convinced to come over to North America, as he will be playing for the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL for one season (or potentially two if he plays an overage season as well). With his ELC signed, there’s a decent chance that he will begin playing in Belleville/the ECHL in 2022-23. I feel that fans are able to contextualize a prospects’ value if they are playing in the CHL, so if Meriläinen is able to have another solid season, he could shoot up the rankings.
On the flip side, Ottawa also has young goalies like Filip Gustavsson, Mads Søgaard, and Kevin Mandolese, so he could easily get bypassed if he doesn’t get better. He’s certainly the furthest goalie prospect away from the NHL amongst their group, but his potential seems quite high. I’m absolutely on the Leevi hype train.