2014 NHL Draft Preview: Kapanen head of the class from Finland

By Tony Piscotta

Kasperi Kapanen - 2014 NHL Draft - Top Prospects Media Availability

Photo: KalPa Kuopio forward and 2014 prospect Kasperi Kapanen, sone of former NHL forward Sami Kapanen, is one of several 2014 NHL Draft prospects to have NHL bloodlines (courtesy of Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The 2014 NHL Draft figures to be an interesting one when it comes to players being selected out of Finland. The general consensus on the draft as a whole is that the talent pool drops off significantly after the first handful of prospects with the next group all very similar with little separating them. The same can be said of the prospects coming out of Finland this year.

After forwards Kaspari Kapanen, Juho Lammikko and second-year draft-eligible goalie Ville Husso, there are few players that are certain to be drafted and a large group of candidates for which a case can be made that they either have or do not have the potential to one day play in the NHL.

Trying to identify prospects this season is also made more difficult since if you go by Central Scouting's final rankings it appears that the high-end prospects are more spread around the country than in recent years.

The four junior clubs in Helsinki and Tampere — traditionally the hotbeds of hockey development — have few prospects listed in Central Scouting's final rankings. Husso, who played for HIFK in Liiga all season, is the top-ranked international goaltender, but among the skaters the highest ranked players from the HIFK, Jokerit, Tappara or Ilves junior teams is Tappara defenseman Jere Rouhiainen (62nd).

At the same time, Lahti Pelicans, not known for producing top prospects in droves, features two of the highest rated Finnish defensemen — Eetu Sopanen at 31 in the CSS final rankings and Ville Vainola (45th) — and a quartet of forwards who are all on scouts' radars.  Hannes Bjorninen (40th), Sebastian Repo (47th) and Miska Siikonen (70th) are all in the CSS final rankings while 19-year-old Taavi Vartiainen is an intriguing late bloomer with a nice mix of size, offensive skills and determination.

For the fourth straight year it is likely there will be a forward from Finland taken in the first round as Kapanen, despite injuries and a disappointing season team-wise for last-place KalPa Kuopio, is the top ranked international skater.

While he will likely not go as high as Aleksander Barkov (who was taken with the second overall pick by Florida last June) or Minnesota's Mikael Granlund (9th in 2010),  Kapanen is likely to be the first Finnish player selected somewhere in the range of Joel Armia (Buffalo, 16th overall in 2011) or Teuvo Teravainen (18th by Chicago in 2012).

Defensemen Olli Maatta (Pittsburgh, 22nd in 2012) and Rasmus Ristolainen (8th overall by Buffalo) were also first round picks during that stretch. Riku Helenius, selected by Tampa Bay with the 15th overall pick in 2006, is the last goalie from Finland taken in the first round while Boston's Tuukka Rask was the 21st overall selection (by Toronto) in 2005.

As in past year's, there are several prospects from Finland such as defenseman Julius Honka (Swift Current, WHL) and left wing Waltteri Hopponen (Sioux City, USHL) who skated in North America this past season and thus are not included in these rankings.

Here is the Hockey's Future ranking of the top prospects from Finland for the 2014 NHL Draft.

1. Kasperi Kapanen, RW, KalPa Kuopio
6'0”, 180 lbs., 7/23/96
Kuopio, Finland

The 2013-14 season was a challenging one for the son of former NHL forward and KalPa teammate, Sami Kapanen.

After making his debut in what was then known as the SM-Liiga and skating in four playoff games for KalPa as a 16-year-old in 2012-13, he was expected to have a breakout season as a rookie this year. Kapanen was also slated to play for the Finland U20 team that won a gold medal at the World Junior Championship but suffered a shoulder injury in December that forced him to miss the tournament.

In terms of wins and losses, things didn't go much better. KalPa, after making the playoffs six straight seasons, had the worst record in Liiga, winning just 15 of 60 games while Finland's U18 team, for which Kapanen skated in the spring, suffered a humiliating 10-0 loss to rival Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2014 U18 World Championship.

Struggles aside, Kapanen is the top-ranked prospect coming out of Europe for a reason.

While he will need to add some bulk and strength before making the move to North America, his understanding of the game and ability to read plays is advanced for a player his age. He skates at a high level and his passing and shooting skills allow him to complete many plays that other players simply cannot.

2. Juho Lammikko, RW, Assat Pori
6'2”, 190 lbs., 1/29/96
Noormarkku, Finland

Lammikko played for the same club as Armia and former Islanders' prospect Jesse Joensuu (a second round pick in 2006). While he is of similar size to those two and has significant individual skills, he has not had the productivity of those two at a young age and his long-term potential is difficult to project.

Finland's leading scorer at the 2014 U18 World Championship with two goals and four assists in five games, Lammikko has consistently scored points at the junior levels but that same success hasn't yet translated to the men's level. Lammikko had one assist and was -4 in 20 Liiga games this past winter.

To succeed at the next level, he will need to display a consistent willingness to compete in small areas and use his size more efficiently — something he has not needed to do against the smaller and less-skilled players he faces at the junior levels.

Talent-wise, particularly when it comes to his skating, passing and stick handling skills coupled with his understanding of the game, Lammikko steadily impressed scouts this season despite his limited offensive output in Liiga play. Some now feel he will become an effective power forward and will likely last no later than the third round.

Lammikko is ranked 14th among European skaters in the CSS final rankings.

3. Ville Husso, G, HIFK
6'3”, 205 lbs., 2/6/96
Helsinki, Finland

Husso was not selected in the 2013 NHL Draft despite playing well for HIFK's U20 team but silenced many of his critics with an outstanding rookie season playing for HIFK's men's team in Liiga this season.

In what was a disappointing season as the Helsinki club finished ninth in the regular season and were swept by Pelicans in a two-game preliminary round series (scoring just one goal), it's hard to imagine how much worse things might have been had it not been for Husso.

Appearing in 41 regular season games for HIFK, he was 19-14-5 with two shutouts and while posting a 1.99 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. He stopped 43 of 46 shots in the two playoff games with Pelicans, one of which went to overtime, and finished with a 1.25 goals-against and .935 save percentage.

Husso is the top-ranked European goaltender in the CSS final rankings for to the 2014 NHL Draft.

4. Antti Kalapudas, C, Karpat Oulu
6'0”, 160 lbs., 7/22/96
Oulainen, Finland

Kalapudas is the first of several prospects from Finland upon whom opinions vary widely.

He is a skilled scorer who has combined with Karpat teammates Sebastian Aho, a 2015 NHL Draft prospect, and diminutive 19-year-old Sami Anttila to lead Karpat in scoring, with all three finishing among the top five in scoring in Finland's A juniors. In evaluating Kalapudas, scouts must discern how successful he can be outside of the dominant Oulu club.

Kalapudas skated for Finland's U18 team at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial and 2014 World Junior Championship tournament and played well in those games. He is an adept passer and stickhandler who reads the game well and creates chances for his linemates. Like many young players there are sometimes inconsistencies in the defensive end of the ice and he will need to add bulk and strength to compete in the North American game.

Kalapudas was ranked 32nd among European skaters in the CSS final rankings.

5. Eetu Sopanen, D, Pelicans Lahti U20
6'5”, 220 lbs., 4/24/96
Kouvola, Finland

Scouts who have seen Sopanen play rave about the young defenseman's size, skating ability, and combativeness. It is possible he would be a lot higher in the prospect rankings had it not been for a series of injuries which have kept him off the ice for long stretches the past two seasons.

The younger brother of Pelicans' forward Vili Sopanen, a sixth round pick of the Devils in 2007, Eetu Sopanen missed most of the past season due to back and neck injuries early in the year and played 15 regular season games and eight playoff contests for the Lahti U20 team.

He was with Finland's U18 team at the 2014 U18 World Championship but appeared in just the opening game against Denmark; suffering a concussion after an illegal check to the head by Kristian Jensen.

Sopanen was ranked 31st amongst European skaters in the CSS final rankings.

6. Mika Ilvonen, D, Espoo Blues U20
5'8”, 160 lbs., 2/27/95
Espoo, Finland

Ilvonen is an intriguing prospect despite his lack of size. Committed to playing college hockey at St. Cloud State in 2014-15, Ilvonen skated for Espoo's U20 team rather than joining the Liiga club and thus losing his NCAA eligibility.

While most players his size, particularly defensemen, would draw little interest from NHL scouts, the fact that he will play college hockey and thus has a longer window to develop combined with his offensive ability could make him a worthwhile late-round investment for the right club.

The team captain for Espoo's regular season and playoff championship A junior squad, he scored 14 goals with 35 assists and was +48 in 45 regular season games and scored two goals with three assists in seven playoff games.

In his second year of NHL Draft eligibility, Ilvonen has never appeared amongst the European skaters in the CSS final ratings.

7. Kaapo Kahkonen, G, Espoo Blues U20
6'2”, 210 lbs., 8/16/96
Helsinki, Finland

Kahkonen looked like he might be the top-ranked European goalie at mid-season but struggled at the Five Nations Tournament in February, and then was a part of Finland's meltdown against Sweden at the U18 World Championship tournament. It is performances like these that have tempered scouts' enthusiasm a bit for Kahkonen.

The backbone for Espoo's U20 championship team, he plays a controlled and efficient game and often looks almost effortless at times. He played 38 regular season games and 10 playoff contests for Espoo so durability is not an issue.

While the national team's performance can hardly be pinned on one player, the fact that Kahkonen has not had the same success in international play that he's had domestically to this point is at least a source of concern.

Kahkonen was ranked fourth amongst European goaltenders in the CSS final ratings prior to the 2014 NHL Draft.

8. Hannes Bjorninen, C, Pelicans Lahti U20
6'1”, 185 lbs., 10/19/1995
Lahti, Finland

No player from Finland has risen more in the eyes of NHL scouts over the course of this season than Bjorninen. After not even appearing among the European skaters in Central Scouting's mid-term rankings, he was ranked 40th in the CSS final rankings.

With a late 1995 birthdate he is eligible for the draft for the first time and was a captain for Pelicans' U20 team this past winter. The proverbial late bloomer who was never part of Team Finland's national team junior programs at the U16, U17 or U18 levels, Bjorninen has been in the shadows of teammates Repo and Siikonen on his own club for much of the season.

While there are no particular areas of his game that will amaze, he is sound in all areas and plays hard in all three zones. His size and strength also make it likely he will be able to compete in the more physical North American game.

9. Joni Tuulola, D, HPK Hameenlinna U20
6'3”, 180 lbs., 1/1/96
Hameenlinna, Finland

Another player whose father skated in the SM-Liiga, Tuulola is the son of HPK all-time leading scorer Marko Tuulola. Not surprisingly, offense is a big part of the young defenseman's game.

Tuulola skated in six games for the HPK championship U20 squad in 2012-13 and was the team's leading scorer amongst defensemen this year. He played for Finland's U18 team at the 2013 U18 World Championship but had no points and four penalty minutes in five games.

As with many young defenseman who prefer to push the attack, he is still working to develop his game in his own end. His size and skating ability, to go along with his offensive instincts and passing and shooting skills, make him a worthwhile late round option.

Tuulola was rated 41st among European skaters in the CSS final rankings.

10. Teemu Lamsa, TPS Turku U20
6'3", 200 lbs., 2/6/1996
Turku, Finland

Lamsa, like Lammikko, has the prototypical size and physical frame to be a power forward at the pro level. Unlike the Assat forward, he has not yet flourished offensively though he did score nine goals with 21 assists in 46 games, including three playoff games, for the TPS U20 team during the regular season.

Still very much a work in progress in terms of putting all the pieces of his game together, Lamsa is fluid for a big player and skates well.  He played for Finland's U18 team in the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and 2014 World Junior Championship tournaments, finishing +3 with one assist in nine games.

Lamsa was ranked 39th amongst European skaters in the CSS final rankings.

Other draft-eligibles (listed in alphabetical order by position)

Goalies

Dominik Hrachovina, Tappara U20
6'0”, 185 lbs., 8/29/94
Brno, Czech Republic

A product of the HC Kometa Brno program in the Czech Republic, the 19-year-old has been playing in Finland since 2010-11. Taking over as the starter for Tappara's U20 team after appearing in 11 games a year ago, he appeared in a league-high 39 games and had the top save percentage among full-time starters (.922). Hrachovina appeared in four games for the Czech Republic's U20 team but was not with the sixth-place squad at the 2014 U20 World Junior Championship.

Now in his third year of draft eligibility, he was not among the 15 European goalies in the CSS final rankings.

Mikael Saari, Ilves U20 and U18
6'1”, 180 lbs., 8/27/96
Linkoping, Sweden

Saari had a 2.92 goals-against average and .886 save percentage in 12 SM-Liiga U20 junior games with Ilves and played 24 games for Ilves' U18 team. He had a 2.92 goals-against and .901 save percentage during the B juniors regular season and in five playoff games was 3-2 with a 2.40 goals-against and .937 save percentage.

Saari played for Finland's U18 team in two tournaments. He stopped 15 of 16 shots in Finland's 5-1 win over Switzerland in his only game at the 2013 Four Nations Tournament in December and played two games at the 2013 Five Nations Tournament in Switzerland, finishing 0-2 with a 3.00 goals-against and .889 save percentage.

Saari was ranked 12th amongst the 15 European goalies in the CSS final rankings.

Oskari Setanen, Jukurit (Mestis)/Lukko U20
6' 0", 185 lbs., 4/28/94
Eura, Finland

Setanen, now in his third year of draft eligibility, saw limited time during the regular season, appearing in two Liiga games for Lukko Rauma but spending most of the season with the club's U20 team and on loan to Jukurit in Mestis. It was the 20-year-old's play in the Mestis playoffs, however, which provided North American scouts with another reason to take a look at him. In 19 playoff games he had a 2.72 goals-against average and .919 save percentage — stealing a few games — as seventh-place Jukurit reached the Mestis finals.

Setanen was not among the European goalies in the CSS final rankings prior to the 2012,  2013 or 2014 NHL Drafts.

Henri Viitala, HPK Hameenlinna U20
6'3" 180 lbs., 5/14/95
Hameenlinna, Finland

Playing in the shadow of Juuse Saros (NSH) in Hameenlinna during his junior career, Viitala emerged for the HPK junior team this past season with Saros moving up to the Liiga club. While Viitala does not have the world class skills package and all-around game that Saros possesses and could not lead HPK to a junior championship as his predecessor did in 2013, there are some things to like about him. He has the prototypical size of an NHL goaltender that Saros lacks and could be an intriguing prospect for an organization willing to allow him the time to develop his game.

Now in his second year of draft eligibility, Viitala was not among the 15 European goalies in the CSS final rankings.

Defensemen

Miro Karjalainen, Jokerit U18
6'5", 205, 5/23/96
Espoo, Finland

Purely a defender for the most part this season, Karjalainen dominated the smaller players at the U18 level for B Junior champion Jokerit and continued to show improvement in his skating and stick handling/passing skills through the season. His coaches loved his attitude on and off the ice.

Karjalainen was ranked 139th amongst European skaters in the CSS final rankings.

Miro Keskitalo, Jokerit U20
6'2", 175 lbs., 2/16/96
Vantaa, Finland

The highest rated Jokerit player according to CSS's final rankings (81st), Keskitalo spent most of the season with the club's U20 team and skated on the Jokerit B junior team during it's championship playoff run.

Not tremendously fluid at this point, he has good instincts and is fairly well-rounded in all aspects of the game with the prototypical frame that NHL scouts seek. Keskitalo also shows some offensive elements to his game and was among the leaders in minutes played for Finland's U18 team at the 2014 U18 World Championship.

Elmeri Laamanen, Jukurit Mikkeli U20
6'3", 190 lbs., 10/24/94
Mikkeli, Finland

Laamanen plays in the second division of junior hockey in Finland and is thus a bit off the beaten path but could be a late-round surprise. He scored at nearly a point-per-game pace for Jukurit in the Mestis A junior league, playing with a physical yet disciplined demeanor. Laamanen will play for the Jukurit men's team in Mestis next fall after playing in five games (including one playoff game) for the squad over the past two seasons.

Laamanen is in his second year of NHL Draft eligibility and has yet to appear among the European skaters in the CSS final rankings.

Mikko Lehtonen, TuTo Turku (Mestis)
5'11”, 180 lbs., 1/16/1994
Turku, Finland

Passed over in his first two years of draft eligibility, Lehtonen skated for TuTo in Finland's second league and was part of the gold medal-winning Finland U20 team at the 2014 U20 World Junior Championship. Not flashy offensively nor overly physical, he is a sound defensive defender who relies on positioning and his skating skills to prevent opposition chances. His size and strength will sometimes be an obstacle against larger, stronger forwards but his level of competitiveness and determination are first rate.

Lehtonen was the 30th-ranked European skater in the CSS final rankings in 2012 in his first year of draft eligibility but has not been ranked since.

Atte Makinen, D, Tappara Tampere/LeKi (Mestis)
6'3”, 205 lbs., 5/17/95
Tampere, Finland

One of the last players cut from Finland's U20 squad, Makinen spent the season playing at the men's level, appearing in 10 Liiga games with Tappara and spending most of the year in Mestis with LeKi. A defense-first defender, Makinen does not have a lot of offensive components in his game but makes smart, simple plays, uses his size to his advantage, and has a heavy shot from the point. His skating at the next level will be a concern.

Makinen was rated 89th amongst European skaters by the CSS prior to the 2013 NHL Draft and is listed at #97 in the CSS final rankings this year.

Sebastian Moberg, Espoo Blues U20
5'11", 155 lbs., 2/24/96
Espoo, Finland

Moberg is another player who skated for the A junior champion Espoo Blues and skated for Finland's U18 team at the 2014 U18 World Championship.  A smooth-skating defensemen with a significant arsenal of stickhandling and passing skills in his game, his style of play may be more suited to the big rinks of Europe. He will need to add some bulk and strength if he is to compete in North America on a nightly basis.

Moberg was ranked 57th amongst European skaters in the CSS final rankings.

Ville Vainola, Pelicans Lahti U20
6'0", 175 lbs., 1/9/96
Nastola, Finland

Vainola, like Pelicans teammates Bjorninen and Siikonen, was one of the big risers in the CSS final rankings. He was ranked 45th amongst European skaters after being 98th at mid-season.

A solid defender, he can join the rush effectively and contributes to the attack from his defensive spot. Vainola skated for Finland's U18 team in the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament but did not play for the squad at the 2014 U18 World Championship. While a bit light and undersized for an NHL defenseman at this point, Vainola does have some offensive ability.

Forwards

Manu Honkanen, TPS Turku U20
5'11", 180 lbs., 4/29/96
Turku, Finland

Honkanen is another player who came up through the TPS club in Turku. A team captain for Finland's U18 team at the 2014 U18 World Championship, he is a two-way forward who competes at both ends of the ice. Not a gifted offensive scorer, he creates chances with positional play and is a solid team player. In 45 games for TPS' junior A team, including three playoff games, he scored 14 goals with 17 assists and was +7.

Honkanen was ranked 95th amongst European skaters in the CSS final rankings.

Joel Kiviranta, Jokerit U20
5'10", 165 lbs. 3/23/96
Vantaa, Finland

Kiviranta is a slight but highly-skilled offensive forward who developed ahead of his peers and has always managed to put up points in domestic play. A fixture for Team Finland's junior teams at the U16, U17 and U18 levels the past few seasons, Kiviranta was the third-leading scorer for Jokerit's U20 team as a 17-year-old and played for the club's U18 team during it's championship run.

While his offensive game is top notch, there are concerns about his size and strength and whether he will be able to compete in the smaller spaces and against the bigger bodies in North America. Kiviranta was ranked 82nd amongst international skaters in the CSS final rankings.

Timi Lahtinen, Espoo Blues U20
6'2", 190 lbs., 1/6/95
Helsinki, Finland

Lahtinen is a left wing who grew up playing in the Jokerit club. After playing a limited role for the Jokerit A junior team last season, he had a breakout season playing for the A Juniors champion Blues this year. Lahtinen scored 28 goals with 20 assists and was +27 in 47 regular season games and had two goals with five assists in 11 playoff games for Espoo.

While 19-year-olds putting up nice stats in junior hockey doesn't insure success in pro hockey, Lahtinen is a decent-sized forward and will push for a spot with the Blues' Liiga club in the fall.

Joni Nikko, Lukko Rauma
6'2", 190 lbs., 5/31/94
Vaasa, Finland

Nikko had an impressive rookie season skating for Lukko and was one of the unsung heroes for Finland's gold medal-winning U20 team at the 2014 World Junior Championship. After missing most of the 2012-13 season due to injury, he got off to a fast start and carried that into the WJC where he scored three goals and was a strong two-way presence. Concerns over whether he skates well enough for pro hockey still exist but his size and willingness to block shots, work in the tight areas, and do all the little things to win makes him an interesting late-round option.

Nikko, in his third year of draft eligibility, is ranked 61st amongst European skaters in the CSS final rankings.

Kasperi Ojantakanen, Jokerit U20
5'10", 155 lbs., 1/12/95
Helsinki, Finland

Ojantakanen's offensive skills have drawn comparisons to Teravainen but that's probably more due to the fact that they played on the same club. Slight and a bit undersized, the 19-year-old scored 24 goals with 33 assists in 50 games for Jokerit's A junior team. He scored two goals in three games for Finland's U20 team but was not on the final roster for the team that won a gold medal in Stockholm.

Not among the European skaters in the CSS final rankings in his second year of draft eligibility, Ojantakanen is another player who is pursuing the college hockey route and will skate for the University of Connecticut in 2014-15.

Sebastian Repo, C/W, Pelicans Lahti U20
6'2", 180 lbs., 6/23/96
Lahti, Finland

The right wing made a smooth transition from B to A juniors as a 17-year-old skating for his hometown team. He skates well, uses his size to his advantage and has strong passing and stickhandling skills. Repo is more of a playmaker than a true goal-scorer at this point.

He was ranked 47th among the European skaters in the CSS final rankings.

Aleksi Rutanen, TuTo Turku (Mestis)
6'1", 175 lbs., 7/19/94
Espoo, Finland

A teammate of Lehtonen's with TuTo in Mestis and one of the last player's cut from Finland's gold medal-winning U20 team, the former Espoo Blues Junior A sniper proved capable of having success playing against men as a 19-year-old. Playing a key role for one of the second division's top teams, he scored 16 goals with 13 assists and was +15 in 54 regular season games and scored four goals with four assists in 13 playoff contests.

Now in his third year of draft eligibility, he has never been listed in the CSS final rankings.

Miska Siikonen, Pelicans Lahti U20
6'3", 200 lbs,, 5/12/96
Tampere, Finland

The largest of the three forward prospects from the Pelicans U20 team, Siikonen, like Bjorninen, has drawn more interest as the draft draws near — going from 93rd in the CSS mid-term rankings to 70th in the final rankings. Siikonen was also one of four players from Finland (along with Kapanen, Lammikko, and Tuulola) to appear among the top 100 in ISS Hockey's list of prospects in May.

Siikonen's ascension to a high profile prospect comes despite the fact that he skated in a lower line role for the Pelicans' U20 team (though he did see significant power play time) and is not a pure goal scorer. His combination of size, effective two-way play, and mobility for a big player are what stands out in his game.

Julius Vahatalo, TPS Turku U20
6'5, 190 lbs., 3/25/95
Vahto, Finland

More of a finesse player and not overly physical despite the prototypical frame for a power forward, Vahatalo was a team leader for the TPS U20 team and appeared in 18 Liiga games with the club's men's team as an 18-year-old.

Despite his rare combination of size and skill level he was not selected at the 2013 NHL Draft in his first year of eligibility and is not among the European skaters in the CSS final rankings this year.

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