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2022 NHL Draft Profiles: Finnish skaters

This time, we present three forwards and three defenders currently playing in Finland who might interest the Senators with a mid- or late-round pick.

Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympics - Day 11 Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

I’ve always found it interesting that despite the Senators Chief European Scout hailing from Finland, the team has only drafted three players out of the country in recent memory: Markus Nurmi in 2016, Roby Järventie in 2020, and Leevi Meriläinen last year.

We’ve already discussed the hype around Joakim Kemell and Brad Lambert — two players who have brought the scouts in for multiple viewings given the complexity in projecting either of them — but there’s a solid group of skaters available in the next tier, especially at the U20 level. While we won’t be covering the Mestis’ Jani Nyman or Czech international Tomas Hamara in this post as they’re players who we expect to be taken in the second-round, let’s look at three forwards and three defenders who present an interesting blend of skill and risk for teams to consider in a few weeks.


Finnish skaters

Name Position Team League Height Weight Date of Birth
Name Position Team League Height Weight Date of Birth
Aleksanteri Kaskimäki C/LW HIFK U20 SM-sarja 6'0" 196 lbs 02/06/2004
Topi Rönni C Tappara U20 SM-sarja/Liiga 6'1" 181 lbs 05/04/2004
Miko Matikka RW Jokerit U20 SM-sarja 6'3" 187 lbs 10/26/2003
Elmeri Laakso LD SaiPa U20 SM-sarja/Liiga 6'1" 185 lbs 07/19/2004
Otto Salin RD HIFK U20 SM-sarja/Liiga 5'11" 205 lbs 03/07/2004
Kasper Kulonummi RD Jokerit U20 SM-sarja 6'1" 174 lbs 03/01/2004
Data from EliteProspects

Forwards

  • A top scorer in Finland’s top U20 league, Aleksanteri Kaskimäki had one of the best first halves of the season among all 2022 eligible skaters. He had 10 points in his first four games — including a four goal game — en route to 29 points in 21 games before December. That earned him a call-up to league-contenders HIFK, where he debuted on the team’s top-line and recorded his first two points against men over a four game stint. His production cooled down in the second-half, but he still ended the season with a 1.29 points-per-game — well clear of second place among regulars in the league. A strong skater and shooter, Kaskimäki possesses strong in-zone spatial awareness and scores through a combination of anticipation and a quick release — ranking as the third-best draft-eligible in expected primary goals per 60 in EliteProspects’ Lassi Alanen’s tracking data. He’s at his best when he keeps moving, using a fluid crossover technique to build speed through the neutral zone and displaying the puck skills to stickhandle at top gear. He also has potential as a read-and-react winger defensively, utilizing his explosive first few steps to attack the puck carrier before separating from his opponent on a breakaway. Detractors note his passing ability as a primary limitation, and is what prevents him from providing more value to a team as a centre — ranking near the bottom of Alanen’s dataset in expected primary assists per 60. At the U18s in May, scouts expected more of Kaskimäki’s rush offence — especially playing with Jere Lassila and Joakim Kemell on Finland’s top line — but he was ultimately held to just one goal and four points over six games. Look for him to be selected in the third- or fourth-round.
  • It’s extremely easy to project Topi Rönni into bottom-six NHL minutes. As a May-born centre, Rönni spent the end of his year playing mature, responsible hockey in 20 Liiga matches and showcased that reliability as one of Finland’s most important forwards at the U18s. It was nice to see Rönni use his frame to shield the puck at the pro level, often buying the extra time needed to utilize a teammate for a zone exit or to maintain possession in the offensive zone. It makes sense that he’s seen as an elite penalty killer, supporting his teammates with a well-timed pressure and an active stick to break up plays and clear the zone. Most detractors pointed to Rönni’s lack of standout offensive tools — questioning his upside — and I often find myself less worried about that among young players who saw significant pro minutes because it makes sense that they’re trying to prevent mistakes at this point in his career. Next season, I’m looking to see Rönni grow in his confidence as a puck carrier instead of automatically looking to make a quick, accurate pass; and to develop his agility to the point where he can pivot quickly and start to head up the ice as a puck carrier. In the offensive zone, Rönni currently supports the play with his hockey sense — showing one move to his opponent to force hesitation and open up another lane for his teammate. Developing the skating and improving the release point on his shot to help him become his own threat if he has a lane will only further his effectiveness. It’s clear that Rönni is a longer-term project, but both the physical upside and hockey sense makes him one of my favourites as a mid-round option.
  • A 6-foot-3 winger with crafty hands, Miko Matikka is doing everything he can to showcase that he can play a North American game — even committing to the University of Denver next season. Matikka utilized his frame to its full advantage at the U20 level this season — fighting off the opposition, hanging onto pucks, and smartly distributing in order to prolong possession. He’s detailed in his effort level and his play, clogging the wall, battling for loose pucks on retrievals, and supporting the breakout in transition. What excites me the most about Matikka is that he’s not just a physical winger; there’s offensive upside with both his shot and his vision. On the former, he’s got a strong one-timer and can be a volume shooter as he directs attempts on net. On the latter, he’s comfortable with a range of passing types; whether it’s a quick bump on the exit, a hook pass through defenders’ sticks, or using lateral lanes after opening up space with his hands. What’ll be interesting to watch at the NCAA level is if he’s able to improve his skating to a point where he can take advantage of one-on-one opportunities and get into dangerous areas to show off his vision. Otherwise, he still might provide value as a bottom-six player in the fifth- to seventh-rounds of the draft.

Honourable mentions: Jere Lassila [the Finnish captain at the two top tournaments for his age group, he’s been Finland’s top-line centre and Kemell’s linemate for quite some time and provides value in transiton], Otto Hokkanen [a reliable, two-way centre who played 30 Liiga games this season, I like his poise and versatility as a late-round option], Patrik Juhola [one of the best players in the U20 SM-sarja this season, the 6-foot-2 centre possesses quick decision-making to go along with strong puck protection skills. He’ll be playing in Liiga next season.]

Defenders

  • It is rare for July-born defencemen to play any time against men in Liiga — on average, only two or three U18 defenders spend more than 10 games in Finland’s top league. Elmeri Laakso played 17 games with SaiPa, and while it was an adventure at times as he doesn’t have a standout tool, it bodes well for his future development heading into next season. Laakso’s strongest in-zone tool is his ability to create shooting lanes, whether it’s through jumping into open-ice or utilizing solid four-way mobility to walk the line to get off a quick wrist shot. In fact, at times, I want Laakso to show a bit more patience before flicking one on net — scanning for a pass instead of having blinders on — and it’s this habit that most detractors point to around his vision. Regardless, I appreciate Laakso having the confidence to try to be engaged offensively, even if he’s too aggressive in the neutral zone or jumps the play too quickly in the defensive end. If his processing speed can catch up to his now-advanced level of play, it’ll be interesting to see what Laakso can become as it’s certainly not like he lacks ideas, he just needs his body and brain to be on the same page. Despite his time in Liiga this year, Laakso is ranked as a late-round pick and could be a player to surpass his projection if his game gets more consistent.
  • Suiting up for only 17 games in your draft year wasn’t how it was supposed to go for Otto Salin, but as a result, a lucky team might be able to snag him much later than his second-round projection at the beginning of the season. Like Laakso, Salin was one of only three draft-eligible defenders this year to play any games in Liiga, averaging 10 minutes per night as compared to his 25+ minutes in 11 games at the U20 level, where he produced at above a point-per-game pace. Internationally, Salin played on Finland’s top-pair at the Hlinka and at the U18s — thriving at the former while disappointing at the latter as it never seemed like he was at 100% after missing two-and-a-half months of play between October and December. An adept puck mover, Salin is noticeable on almost every shift — consistently trying to create advantages for his team with quick decision-making on puck retrievals, breakouts, and holding the line in the offensive zone. He’s described as an efficient skater, covering a ton of ground in all directions and using his feet to survey the ice as he contemplates his next move. He’s not scared to be the primary puck carrier, either. His injuries hindered his development defensively, where he needs to improve his reads off the cycle and his details when defending the rush. Salin’s the type of player who I’d want to bring over to North America after his next season to get him acquainted with imposing his style of play on faster opposition. Right-shot defenders with his skillset are quite rare and he’d be worth a gamble for me.
  • Salin’s antithesis given the stability of his season, Kasper Kulonummi played 43 league games this season — 40 at the U20 level and 3 in second-tier Mestis — while representing Finland internationally at the pre-season Hlinka and the post-season U18s. Recording over 25 minutes a night on league-leaders Jokerit, Kulonummi’s 0.73 points-per-game rate ranks 18th all-time among draft-eligible defenders — behind Salin (#2) and Hamara (#13) but ahead of Laakso (#19) — while providing nearly mistake-free hockey defensively. The right-shot defender processes the game extremely well, utilizing strong edges to buy time and allow for lanes to develop for him to move the puck to instead of making riskier plays. Kulonummi’s other tools are all solid, as he’s adept at using his body positioning to protect the puck, comfortably stick-handles in tight spaces, and consistently makes confident decisions with and without the puck thanks to his scanning habits. He rarely panics, and isn’t scared to use his teammates to slow the play down before engaging in transition. On exits, he can pivot to escape pressure and will utilize a range of tactics — head-fakes, tilted edges, teammates — to deceive the opposition in order to exit with control. Offensively, Kulonummi doesn’t have Salin’s dynamism at five-on-five or with the extra skater, moreso looking to maintain his position, distribute the puck, or get an accurate shot on goal. Continuing to improve that area of his game, potentially through generating more explosiveness through his first few steps, might help him keep some of his offence as he moves up the ranks. Kulonummi was selected by the Sudbury Wolves in the CHL Import Draft, and I’m hoping he reports just to see if his processing can keep up against faster and more physical opposition as he’s clearly beyond the U20 level in Finland.

Note: Faber at CanucksArmy has a great post comparing Salin and Kulonummi’s game with video if you want to read more.


Do you see a fit here for the Ottawa Senators? Let us know your favourite in the comments.