Off the Radar: Finn, Öhman overlooked players off to solid starts in 2014-15

By Peter Prohaska
Chalie Finn - Colgate University

Photo: Colgate University goaltender Charlie Finn was a Third Team All-ECAC Hockey selection and was also named to the ECAC All-Rookie Team in 2013-14 (courtesy of Icon Sportswire)

 

The October “Off the Radar” feature takes a look at two undrafted prospects, one competing in the NCAA, the other competing at the U20 level in Sweden.

Charlie Finn, G, Colgate Raiders (ECAC)

Finding the right player to play goalie for your team is a key component of success at any level. NHL teams have had success building off of early round picks like Jonathan Quick or Marc-André Fleury,  and also by waiting until much later in the drafting process for a Henrik Lundqvist or Pekka Rinne.

Although the current group of players tending goal for various NHL teams consists mainly of these drafted players, the case of Frederik Andersen shows that even the team that drafted a player initially might not end up sticking with him and a savvy scout from another club can take advantage during the next year’s draft. Trades and free agency signings out of other leagues also account for several of this season’s starters, meaning teams have grown more and more creative with the procurement process.

An overall lesson is that, more than any other athletes playing the game of hockey, goaltenders develop at a pace unique to their physiognomy and often are not ready for full-time professional action until they reach their mid-20’s. Much of the success that a player finds at the position comes from learning angles and how to track shots, along with being able to engage physically to fight for the puck. A goalie also needs to have enhanced core strength and uncommon flexibility even beyond possessing that unusual type of courage that leads a young player into the discipline of stopping pucks. The skill set for goalies is rare enough that even a player that goes off the radar at the draft can still find success in the game with perseverance.

British Columbia native Charlie Finn made his debut in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) back in 2010. He closed his rookie season as a top starter, finishing just behind Newmarket’s Jimmy Sarjeant for top save percentage in the league. Finn lost out on some starts over the course of the next season to Justin Gilbert but regained his starter’s role for the playoffs where he posted a .937 save percentage in 15 games.

Finn finished 2012-13 as the top goaltender in the OJHL by a comfortable margin after having accepted a scholarship offer from Colgate University in November. The Hamilton, NY college is not well-known for producing NHL players, although Andy McDonald and Mike Milbury are among its notable hockey alumni, but it has produced a lot of pro players at other levels. For a young hockey player, the college environment is often the right spot to build life skills as well as hockey skills.

“Charlie is fun to be around,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan, describing Finn as one of those “calming” people a team needs during the rigors of the season. “He’s a very competitive guy who doesn’t quit on a shot.” Vaughan pointed out that this desire to stop pucks extends even to the kind of practice drills designed to help build the confidence of offensive players. It’s the kind of attitude that a goaltender needs for success.

Vaughan credited assistant coach and former Colgate goaltender Jason Lefevre for scouting Finn out of Ontario initially. While there is obviously a little adjustment coming up to a tougher league, Vaughan pointed out, Finn quickly learned improved puck tracking skills throughout his freshman season.

After putting up a .918 save percentage over a pretty heavy workload of 29 starts in 2013-14, Finn was invited to the rookie camp of the New Jersey Devils in the summer of 2014. There he split goaltending duties with a much more well-known prospect, Anthony Brodeur, son of Martin. Finn played fairly well by all reports against a solid group of young players and took a lot from the experience back with him to Colgate.

College hockey success is highly dependent on good goaltending and with the weekend series being a common feature, players who can give their best two nights in a row are a coveted commodity. In his sophomore campaign, Finn is off to a very good start, with a weekend shutout of Northeastern on consecutive nights earning him ECAC Goaltender of the Week honors. Back-to-back wins against Sacred Heart followed. Though the schedule gets tougher as the season grinds on, Finn is the backbone of an experienced roster. Though he is a little average-sized by current NHL goalie standards, Finn’s ability to battle and win games should not be underestimated.

Anton Öhman, D, Skellefteå J20

Skellefteå has a reputation for being a ‘gold town’ due to its ties to the mineral extraction industry. Its hockey team is known for its success in recent years, as well, having taken home the last two SHL championships after losing in the finals the prior two years. Part of the reason for the team’s success in recent years has to do with a number of homegrown players and a strong developmental system. That organizational strength is evident so far this season, with the J20 squad leading the league in points.

Defenseman Anton Öhman is a big part of the team’s success despite being passed over at the NHL Draft last season. He is far from a finished product physically, but the 18 year old is a productive scorer who could bear a closer look from NHL teams in the near future.

Öhman leads all junior defenseman in goals currently and is second in scoring among defensemen to MODO’s Lukas Ekeståhl-Jonsson. This speaks to a player with a skill level that is increasingly important in the North American game. If Öhman can maintain this pace, he is on track for an excellent 2014-15 season.

After initially appearing overmatched at the U20 level upon his debut, Öhman rebounded with a solid campaign in his first draft-eligible season, with NHL scouts taking some notice. But it was teammate Sebastian Aho who got the most attention although Öhman had more total points. Central Scouting ranked Aho ninth among European skaters and Öhman 88th, although the latter did rise 12 places from his midterm ranking. Despite this, both young men went undrafted in 2014. Despite being skilled puck-moving defensemen, neither player has the kind of physical build that immediately convinces a scout that they could play in the NHL. As players like Jared Spurgeon, Sami Vatanen and Ryan Murphy have some success at the NHL level, more attention can be paid to skill than size.

The veteran depth of Skellefteå at the SHL level makes it difficult for junior aged players like Öhman and Aho to get adequate minutes even if they crack the lineup. For an offensive-minded defenseman like Öhman, the risk is that bad habits can creep in to one’s game playing against a lesser level of competition. On the other hand, a player of his skills gains in confidence with offensive success. With his ability to join the play and contribute goals, Öhman will have an opportunity this season to establish himself as a player of note and perhaps get another look from NHL teams at the 2015 NHL Draft.

Off the Radar is a monthly feature that spotlights prospects that have been overlooked at the NHL Draft who could be worthy of a second look from NHL scouts.

Follow Peter Prohaska on Twitter via @pprohaska