2022 NHL Draft Profiles - Liiga Forwards

Taking a look at three potential Top-10 picks in a year with some impressive Finnish representation.

Every year leading up to the NHL Entry Draft, it’s seems there’s at least one Finnish player making some noise and with hopes of becoming at least a Top-10 pick. Think Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujärvi in 2016, Jesperi Kotkaniemi in 2018, and Anton Lundell in 2020. This year looks to be potentially even more promising than in years past, with three forwards playing in (but not necessarily from) Finland that have a shot at being drafted in the Top-10, or better yet, by the Ottawa Senators at 7th overall. Let’s take a look at dynamic forward Juraj Slafkovsky, sniper Joakim Kemell, and speedster Brad Lambert.

Juraj Slafkovsky, LW

PosTeamLeagueHeightWeightDate of BirthEliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
LWTPSLiiga6'4"218 lbsMarch 30, 2004#3

In 31 games with TPS this season, Slafkovsky had 5 goals and 5 assists. Comparing his draft year production to past players, his 0.32 points-per-game trail 2016 2nd overall pick Patrik Laine (0.72), 2018 3rd overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi (0.51), and 2020 12th overall pick Anton Lundell (0.63), but there’s a reason he’s rated highly in this year’s class.

First and foremost, he excels as a puck carrier, particularly through the neutral zone. Strong on the puck, he’s able to draw in opposing skaters to create more space for his teammates, and effectively judge when to carry it into the offensive zone or slide it to a teammate joining him on the rush.

With some decent agility to go along with his massive frame, he’s also proficient at cycling the puck in the offensive zone. He’ll use his reach to keep opponents off the puck while scanning for passing options or circling to the front of the net himself.

In both of these situations, translation to the NHL will depend on whether or not he’s able to fine-tune his decision-making when it comes to creating opportunities for himself and his teammates — doing so will allow his natural skill to flourish, and he’ll become a significant offensive threat at the NHL level. Especially with hands and a shot like this:

He’s also had success in international play this year, with 7 goals in 7 games at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics for the bronze-winning Slovaks, followed by 3 goals and 6 assists in 8 games at the recent World Championships.

Slafkovsky seems like the least likely of the three to be available for the Sens to select 7th overall, seeing that he’s ranked 3rd on EliteProspects’ consolidated ranking — with McKeen’s Hockey being the only source listed to have him as low as 7th. If on the off chance he’s still on the board, Ottawa will find it difficult to pass on his solid all-around offensive toolkit, highlighted by strong awareness in all three zones, as well as his ability to use his frame to protect the puck.

Joakim Kemell, RW

PosTeamLeagueHeightWeightDate of BirthEliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
RWJYPLiiga5'11"176 lbsApril 27, 2004#7

If the Sens are looking to add elite goalscoring talent beyond Josh Norris, they ought to cross their fingers in hopes of this kid falling to 7th overall. Kemell’s a 5’11 right-wing from Jyvaskylan mlk, Finland, and the general consensus is that the only reasonable way to describe him is as a “pure goal scorer”. 15 goals and 8 assists in 39 games with JYP definitely back up that claim, and with 0.59 points per game, he comfortably beats out Slafkovsky, as well as a few of the comparables we looked at earlier.

While he certainly has a refined skillset, his other tools pale in comparison to his shot. Whether it’s a one-timer, wrist shot, or something in-between, he’s a threat to score whenever he has the puck in the offensive zone.

I definitely see a bit of Tim Stützle in Kemell. Consider him a sniping counterpart to our favorite German — on top of otherworldly puck skills, Kemell’s got some of that trademark agility, defensive effort, and willingness to engage physically that we love to see from Jimmy Stü. As for hockey IQ, Stützle’s made huge strides since his draft year, and Kemell will have to do the same in order to have a chance of excelling in the same way. For now, scouts have noted a tendency to force plays in the process of transitioning the puck from one end of the ice to the other, instead of looking for safer options with a higher success rate.

Despite some elements of his skating being above-average, however, Kemell’s been identified as a skater that needs to add some “explosiveness”, in his first few strides to ensure he’ll be able to create the same opportunities at the NHL level as the one’s he’s thriving off of in the Liiga.

Kemell sits 7th on EliteProspects’ consolidated ranking, with especially high reviews from both Bob McKenzie and Craig Button, both of whom listed him 3rd overall. With Norris and Stützle as the 1-2 punch at centre, Ottawa seems poised to go for a highly-skilled winger, and adding a scorer of Kemell’s caliber will go a long way towards boosting the team’s goal output in the coming years.

Brad Lambert, C/RW

PosTeamLeagueHeightWeightDate of BirthEliteProspects Consolidated Ranking
C/RWPelicansLiiga6'0"179 lbsDecember 19, 2003#10

Lastly, we’ll go over Brad Lambert, a 6’0” forward from Lahti, Finland, who plays both centre and right-wing. Considered one of the best prospects of the class going into this season, Lambert’s production actually decreased from 15 points in 46 games in 2021 with JYP, to 10 in 49 this season, split between JYP and the Pelicans. While this has caused his stock to fall, he still remains a tantalizing prospect.

Of the three players covered today, Lambert stands out for his exemplary skating. EliteProspects lead scout David St. Louis describes Lambert’s skating form as “close to perfect”, showing his posture allows him to maximize agility and change speeds on a dime to freeze opposing skaters and open up more space for himself. St. Louis also notes the importance of Lambert keeping his upper body from moving much while in motion, which allows him to keep a much better hold on the puck.

In terms of his other tools, he can score from in tight with a quick release, and he shows a willingness to cover for a pinching defenseman whenever necessary.

Like Kemell and Slafkovsky, Lambert’s decision-making is a work in progress — he’ll need to improve his awareness such that he can identify the best passing option, and not try to force the first one he sees. He’s also not as adept on the boards, unable to maintain possession of the puck to the same degree of success as Slafkovsky. Lastly, his lack of production compared to his peers could be an indicator of a lower offensive ceiling — though, given the tools he has, it’s easy to see a potential future in which he puts it all together and becomes every bit as dangerous as the others we’ve mentioned.

He’s currently ranked 10th overall on EliteProspects’ consolidated rankings, with a couple of scouts being lower on him than the consensus — Button has him 35th, while Dobber Prospects has him 28th. Needless to say, this season has introduced a wide range of opinions on the player.

With the game getting faster by the day, would Lambert be a 7th-overall pick well-spent? From a Sens perspective, a fantastic skater and puck carrier would be a great complement to Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris. Unlike the first two on this list, it does seem likely that Lambert will be available for Ottawa if they keep their pick. The question might be whether they’d be interested.

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