Top 10 Finland prospects for 2010 draft

By Tony Piscotta

The 2009 NHL draft saw 10 Finnish-trained players selected – the first time since 2006 the total reached double digits. While that number will be tough to match, this draft should feature a first-round pick from Finland for the first time since the Tampa Bay Lightning selected goalie Riku Helenius at 15th overall in 2006. Forward Mikael Granlund, who enjoyed an outstanding rookie season in the SM-Liiga for HIFK after tearing up the junior leagues while in Oulu, is the top-rated European skater acording to Central Scouting (CS).

While Granlund, Jokerit rival Teemu Pulkkinen and Karpat’s Joonas Donskoi have all received a lot of attention and were scrutinized closely at the World U-18 Junior Championships, the rest of the Finnish forward contigent is a bit of a guessing game.

Both goalies from the U-18 team, Ilves’ Sami Aittokallio and Jonathan Iilahti of Espoo also show promise and should hear their names called in Los Angeles. Where the Finnish talent pool is a bit thin is on defense.

Julius Nyqvist opened some eyes in Belarus and should garner attention in the 2011 draft. Of the players eligible for this draft, Jani Hakanpaa drew the most attention from scouts due both to his hulking size (6’5, 212) and the fact that he plays for Kiekko-Vantaa in Finland‘s second division of juniors and therefore hadn’t been scouted as closely as the rest of the players on the Finnish squad.  

Among the draft-eligibles this year from Finland there are a pair of imports who played in the SM-Liiga A juniors – goalie Andreas Bernard (Italy) who played with SaiPa and forward Charles Bertrand (France).

Two other Finnish players – forwards Niclas Lucenius and Eero Elo – were drafted previously but not signed to contracts and are again eligible for the draft. Goalies Tomi Karhunen (Karpat) and Juha Metsola (HPK) are familiar to North American scouts after having played Canadian junior hockey prior to returning to Finland. 

Note: The Top 10 list does not include Finnish players who played in North American juniors last season.

Top 10 at a glance

1. Mikael Granlund, F, HIFK
2. Sami Aittokallio, G, Ilves A Junior
3. Joonas Donskoi, RW, Karpat
4. Jonathan Iilahti, G, Espoo Blues A Junior
5. Niclas Lucenius F, Tappara
6. Teemu Pulkkinen, LW, Jokerit
7. Nico Manelius D, Jokerit
8. Iiro Pakarinen, RW KalPa
9. Julius Juntilla, LW, Karpat A Junior
10. (tie) Mikael Salmivirta, C, HIFK A Junior
    Jani Hakanpaa, D, Kiekko Vantaa

1. Mikael Granlund, F, HIFK

    5’10 179    2/26/92
    Oulu, FI   

All eyes in Finnish hockey were on Granlund and his younger brother Markus (2011 Draft eligible) after they made the move from Oulu to Helsinki this season. Granlund lived up to expectations in his first full year in the SM-Liiga – combining with linemates Teemu Ramstedt and Jerry Ahtola to give HIFK a strong second line. He also represented Finland at both the U-18 and U-20 tournaments and scored better than a point per game in both. Granlund and Pulkkinen have long been viewed as the future of Finnish hockey. What separates him from his Jokerit rival (and ironically Team Finland linemate) is his ability to play an outstanding two-way game, read and analyze plays, and the ability to elevate his game against tougher competition. Still a bit small and not yet as strong as he will need to be to play in the tight spaces of North American hockey, Granlund is a highly-skilled player who should hear his name called fairly early.      

2. Sami Aittokallio, G, Ilves A Junior

    6’1 172    8/6/92
    Tampere, FI

The top-ranked goalie according to CS, Aittokallio established himself as a prospect this season with Ilves and was impressive enough that he was selected to the U-20 team as a back-up to Calgary Flames prospect Joni Ortio as well as being named the starter for the U-18 tournament. Unfortunately, Aittokallio suffered a leg injury which kept him out of the U-18 tournament, Though the injury did not allow North American scouts to get as long a look at him as they would have liked, his reputation is fairly well-established. While his numbers with Ilves’ A juniors were a bit average (3.29 GA, .899 save percentage), he dominated at B juniors and also appeared in a pair of games for Leki in Mestis (Finland’s second men’s division). A bigger goalie in the mold of Pekka Rinne and Islanders prospect Mikko Koskinen, Aittokallio’s game features a confidence and steady nature that relies on sound technique and good positioning. He is very good at controlling the flow of the game and using his angles to minimize scoring chances.

3. Joonas Donskoi, RW, Karpat

    6’0 180    4/13/92
    Raahe, FI
   
A teammate of Granlund’s in the Karpat juniors before the latter moved on to HIFK, he split the season between the Karpat juniors and SM-Liiga as well as appearing alongside Granlund and Pulkkinen on the U-18 squad. Like his linemates, he struggled in Belarus against the US but he did finish the tournament with a goal and seven assists in six games. Though not the natural scorer that Pulkkinen is, Donskoi plays a bit stronger in tight spaces and also is more of a two-way forward and his stock has risen since the beginning of the year.

He was dominant at the A junior level, with 14 goals and 15 assists in just 18 games. His role was limited at the SM-Liiga level. He averaged just over nine minutes of ice time and scored two goals and added two assists in 18 games. Donskoi was rated 14th among European skaters by CS.  

4.  Jonathan Iilahti, G, Espoo Blues A Junior
     6’1 176    4/27/92
     Vaasa, FI

TPS goalie coach Urpo Ylonen has a well-deserved reputation for developing outstanding goaltenders but Espoo’s Marko Torenius has also had success the past few seasons. Iilahti, who grew up playing in the Sport club in Vaasa, gives a lot for his development to Torenius, as well as to the fact that he’s had to compete with, and play alongside young goalies like Koskinen, Iiro Tarkki, Erno Suomalainen, and Christopher Gibson in the Espoo system.

"(Torenius) was one of the biggest reasons Koskinen got drafted in the second round," said Iilahti. "I have worked with him for a while now and it has worked out excellent. Last year I battled with Suomalainen (for the A junior starting role). It was a good thing to everyday in practice try to be better than a goalie a year older than you who is one of the best goalies in his age group in Finland."

Iilahti really grabbed the attenion of North Americans with his play in Belarus – where he became the unlikely starter after the injury to Aittokallio. "Aittokallio was a sure card on one of the spots so I thought that maybe I’d get to play one or two games in the tournament," Iilahti said. "But then Sami got hurt and I got the chance to play."

Similar to Aittokallio in stature, both tend to use their size well, but Iilahti admitted to being more active. "Sami plays more relaxed where I like to have some speed in my movements," he said.

When asked whether there was a difference between goaltending styles in Turku with TPS and with the Espoo Blues, Iilahti felt there was. "The TPS goalies play with a pretty acrobatic style. In Espoo, our style is more technically sound." 

Iilahti was sixth of the seven European goalies ranked by CS.
   
5. Niclas Lucenius, F, Tappara

    6-0 195    5/3/89
    Turku, FI

Lucenius was the first of just four Finnish players chosen in the 2007 draft when the AtlantaThrashers selected him in the fourth round. With a new regime in charge and several highly-rated forward prospects in their system, they chose not to exercise their rights to both Lucenius and Tappara teammate Jonas Enlund. Enlund’s age makes him a free agent but Lucenius is eligible for this year’s draft and is coming off the best season of his career. While over-shadowed by SM-Liiga leading scorer Jori Lehtera, Lucenius, always a highly-skilled player with natural athleticism but a penchant for erratic effort, seemed much more mature this season and played well.

"He was really good. He’s stronger and at times he was (Tappara’s) best player," said a rival SM-Liiga coach. "This season was his first full good season for him. He showed a lot of consistency."

Still more of an offensive threat than a true two-way forward, Lucenius’ defensive game was much improved and he was deadly on the power play and in odd-man situations. Lucenius’ 29 assists in 56 games during the regular season was by far the most he’s had in his career and in nine playoff games he had four goals and four assists. While there were rumors of him heading to the KHL, and he was drafted by Dynamo Riga in that league’s draft, he should draw some NHL interest based on his play last season.

6. Teemu Pulkkinen, F, Jokerit
    5-10 180    1/2/92
    Vantaa, FI

Pulkkinen, like Granlund, has gotten a lot of attention in Finland since putting up big numbers in his bantam days but he did not have as good a season as he would have liked. A pure scorer at the junior level, it was hoped that he would establish himself at the SM-Liiga level, as did Granlund and Donskoi, but both he and Jokerit struggled in the beginning of the season. After suffering an injury which kept him out of the U-20 tournament, he returned to Jokerit’s A junior team – where he dominated by scoring 20 goals and putting up 41 points in just 17 games. Pulkinnen led all scorers with 10 goals at the U-18 tournament and his scoring ability is impressive.

When asked if Pulkkinen’s potential could be similar to that of another former Jokerit prospect, Kim Stromberg, who had great numbers in junior but was never drafted and is now a lower line player for Tappara, one Finnish coach could see similarities but felt that Pulkkinen “is a much better skater.”

While other questions concern his determination in tight situations, his ability to function in the team setting (he was on the ice for long stretches during the U-18 team’s loss to the US), and negative plus/minus ratings, he does have superior offensive skills and he can be a lethal weapon in extra man situations. Pulkkinen can be a very good fit in the middle rounds of the draft for a team that does not need immediate help and is willing to wait for him to become a well-rounded player. He was ranked 17th among European skaters by CS.

7. Nico Manelius, D, Jokerit A Junior

    5’11 190    3/12/91
    Vantaa, FI    

Manelius is one of the few talented two-way defensemen in a country that emphasizes offensive play from the backline. One of three young defensemen for Jokerit at the SM-Liiga level, Manelius could be the best long-term prospect since his size and strength are a good fit in the North American game. The fact that he was able to appear 14 games at the SM-Liiga level as well as playing 31 games at A juniors, where he scored three goals and added 13 assists, after a serious knee injury limited him to 17 games in 2008-09, is an encouraging sign that he’s back on track to reach the potential many feel he has.

With all the requisite skills to be a successful defender and an ability to generate the attack off of transition play, he does not play a particularly physical, punishing type of defense. For a club that does its homework, he could be a very valuable pick. Manelius was not ranked by CS this year.
   
8. Iiro Pakarinen, F, KalPa
    6’0 198    8/25/91
    Suonenjoki, FI

Overshadowed by recently-signed Edmonton Oiler draft pick Teemu Hartikainen in Kuopio, Pakarinen is another of the fine young players who’ve developed in the KalPa junior system. Though not as flashy offensively as some of the other young forwards, Pakarinen established himself in the SM-Liiga as an 18-year-old albeit in a lower line role. In 38 games, he finished with three goals and eight assists despite playing just over eight minutes a game. With Hartikainen headed to North America, that role should increase next season. Pakarinen was particularly impressive at the June prospect camp in Vierumaki. According to one scout, the big right-hand shot was particularly impressive in the skills sessions and in controlling the puck in small game drills.

Pakarinen represented Finland at the U-20 World Championships, scoring one goal and adding an assist in six games. He was ranked 63rd among European skaters by CS.

9. Julius Junttila, F, Karpat A Juniors
      5’10 160    8/15/91
      Oulu, FI

Junttila led all scorers in A juniors with 27 goals and 33 assists to top Karpat teammate Joonas Komulainen for the league scoring title. His exploits also earned him some time with the Karpat men’s team as he dressed for five regular-season games and all three playoff games – though he only saw limited ice time. His third pro game was a memorable one as he scored a natural hat trick in a 4-3 win over Pelicans in Lahti.

Like other scorers in Finland, his numbers are viewed with a bit of skepticism due to the lack of tight checking and defensive play. And as with other scorers, particularly from Northern Finland, he has not yet been part of Team Finland’s program though that could change this fall according to one coach.

"He’s one of the prospects for the under-20 team. Offensively he’s very good, particularly with the puck. He carries it and is also good at going around defenders," said the coach. Junttila was ranked 41st by CS among European skaters.

10. Mikael Salmivirta, F,  HIFK A Junior
      6’0 172    2/8/92
      Helsinki, FI   

Opinions vary greatly on HIFK’s Salmivirta. While he has not a pure goal scorer, some feel he is more of an all-around player with the physical tools and athleticism to develop into a power forward similar to Hartikainen or New York Islanders prospect Jesse Joensuu. On the flip side, the lack of small area competition against physically imposing defensemen, and little back checking in Finnish juniors make it difficult to project competitiveness for bigger forwards. Current HIFK forward Max Warn, a fifth-round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2006, comes to mind. After an impressive junior career, Warn has developed into a solid SM-Liiga forward but is no longer viewed as an NHL prospect.

To Salmavirta’s credit, he appears to be a bit more of a playmaker than Warn and also skates well. In 52 games with the HIFK Junior A team (including playoffs), Salmivirta scored 12 goals with 31 assists. He also played for Team Finland at the U-18 championships scoring one goal and adding an assist in six games. Salmivirta was ranked 20th among European skaters by CS.

10. Jani Hakanpaa, D,  Kiekko Vantaa A Junior (Division I)

      6-5 220    3/31/92
      Kirkkonummii, FI

In a country with so many small, slick-skating, offensive-minded defensemen Hakanpaa stands out simply because of his size. But after he spent the season playing in Finland’s second junior league few knew what to expect when he joined Team Finland for the World U-18 Championships.

"He’s obviously a good sized kid," said a coach who saw him in person for the first time at the Vierumaki prospect camp in June. "He’s not the smoothest skater and his puck handling skills are a bit rough around the edges. But he’s got good potential."

Hakanpaa seemed to handle the adjustment to a higher talent level playing in Belarus with the U-18 team – being recognized as a top three player on his team and also registering one goal and an assist in six games for the bronze medal-winning squad. He will have the chance to be tested again this fall when he moves up to SM-Liiga juniors with Espoo. Hakanpaa was ranked 55th among European skaters by CS.    

Other notables

Goalies

Andreas Bernard (’90), SaiPa A Junior – The top goalie on Italy’s U-20 team the past two seasons, Bernard was a workhorse in Lappeenranta. In 37 games, he stopped over 90 percent of the shots faced with a 3.38 GAA. Representing Italy in the Division I Group B tournament in Poland, which was won by Lars Volden‘s Norway squad, he held opponents to just eight goals in five games despite the Italian team being out-shot in most of those games.  Not ranked by CS.  
 
Patrik Heikkila (’91), Lukko A Junior – Seemingly smaller than the 5’10 listing, Heikkila played well in his first season of A junior – splitting time with Antti Raanta. A very athletic goalie, he stopped 92 percent of the shots faced but scouts fear his size may be an obstacle in North American hockey. Not ranked by CS.

Juha Jarvenpaa (’89), Assat A Junior – While the big story goaltending-wise in Pori was the play of Jussi Rynnas in the SM-Liiga, which earned him a free-agent contract with Toronto, Jarvenpaa was equally impressive at A juniors. While one-time Dallas Stars prospect Eero Kilpelainen, 25, is slated to start for Assat this season, Jarvenpaa should make his SM-Liiga debut. Jarvenpaa is not ranked by CS.

Antti Raanta (’89), Lukko – Raanta split last season between Lukko’s A juniors and, after the departure of Petri Vehanen to the KHL saw some time in the SM-Liiga behind Nashville Predators prospect Atte Engren. With Engren likely headed to Milwaukee of the AHL, Raanta is slated to back up former HPK and AHL netminder Mikka Wiikman, who is returning to Finland after three years in North America. Raanta proved capable of playing a lot of games during his junior career and is an intriguing prospect. He was ranked 11th by CS in 2009 but was not ranked this year.

Erno Suomalainen (’91), Espoo Blues A Junior – Iilahti’s teammate in Espoo, Suomalainen was ranked ninth among European goaltenders by CS in 2009 but is not ranked this season. A backup to Calgary prospect Joni Ortio on the U-18 team in 2009, Suomalainen showed some improvement this year but with the signing of Volden from Norway he will move to Iilahti’s old club, Vaasa Sport, for 2010-11 and play either in Mestis or A juniors.

Defensemen

Mikael Aaltonen (’91), TPS – Aaltonen was a key player on the bronze medal U-18 team in 2008-09 and is a candidate for the U-20 team this coming season. He is a physical defender who gets the most out of his 5’10, 185 lb frame but sometimes gets a little too aggressive and undisciplined. Aaltonen split the season between TPS in the SM-Liiga and TuTo in Mestis – but did not appear in any playoff games for the Canada Cup champs. He was not ranked by CS this season.

Teemu Eronen (’90), Jokerit – Of the three junior defensemen who saw time with Jokerit, Manelius and Carolina prospect Tommi Kivisto are the others, Eronen got the most ice time, appearing in 33 games and averaging almost 17 minutes per game. While more advanced at this stage, he is neither physically strong nor as thick as the other two and his skating, offensive style of play may be more suited to European play than North America, though his power play skills are enticing. Eronen was ranked 67th among European skaters.

Joonas Jarvinen (‘89), TPS – Like Hakanpaa, scouts were first drawn to Jarvinen’s size, despite a lack of speed or quickness and limited technical skills. But after a tough first SM-Liiga season in 2008-09, it is likely that few players enjoyed this past season’s SM-Liiga championship more than Jarvinen. A fixture on the backline, he averaged nearly 19 minutes per game during the regular season and played in all 15 playoff games as the Turku club rolled to an unlikely championship. Not ranked by CS since being ranked 37th in 2007.

Jesse Jyrkkio (’89), Assat – The 21-year-old from Hameenlinna established himself as a legitimate SM-Liiga defenseman, and an offensive threat, particularly on the power play. While still a bit lighter and smaller than NHL clubs prefer, he averaged close to 18 minutes per game and showed the ability to withstand physical play. He still has mental lapses but his judgment has improved. In his final year of draft eligibility, Jyrkkio was not ranked by CS.

Samuli Kankaanpara (’92), JyP – A product of the Jyvaskyla program that does a great job in getting the most out of its players, Kankaanpara does not have the offensive game or technical skills that many of the top defenders in Finland are known for but is sound in his own end and has the size (6’2, 180) that pro scouts seek. Kankaanpara was ranked 126th among European skaters by CS. 

Lauri Karmeniemi (’91), HPK – Some scouts felt that Karmeniemi would be drafted last season because of his strong play in the 2009 U-18 championships in Grand Forks, despite being fairly light for a defensive defenseman. Karmeniemi got his first taste of SM-Liiga play this season, appearing in 17 games and averaging 10 minutes of ice time while also playing for the A juniors in Hameenlinna. Karmeniemi was not ranked by CS.

Aleksi Laakso (’90), Espoo Blues – The loss of several veterans for financial reasons was a key factor in the disappointing season for the Blues but one positive development was the added ice time it afforded young players like Laakso. Though a bit light for NHL standards, Laakso is a gifted offensive defenseman but doesn’t mind playing a physical game. While he sometimes has lapses in his own end, his offensive flourish is intriguing. Laakso scored a goal and added two assists in five games for the U-20 team, missing one game due to injury. He was ranked 60th among European skaters by CS.

Aleksi Laine (’92), HIFK A Junior – The Helsinki-born defender grew up in the Jokerit organization and split last season between A and B junior with HIFK. Laine has decent size for a defenseman (6’0, 190) and will return to Jokerit this coming season. Laine was ranked 122nd among European skaters by CS.

Krystian Nakyva (’90), Espoo – The highly-skilled, gifted offensive player was once again an offensive force at the A junior level but couldn’t crack the SM-Liiga lineup on a consistent basis. At times he appears disinterested and undisciplined but if the light goes on he could be a special player. He was not ranked this year by CS after being 28th among European skaters in 2009.

Jesse Turkulainen (’90), Tappara – Turkulainen’s biggest asset is his size though he does not play a particularly abrasive style. He has limited offensive ability. Turkulainen split the season between A juniors and the SM-Liiga, appearing in 24 regular-season matches and all eight playoff games. He has not been ranked by CS since returning to Finland after playing juniors in Sweden.
 
Veli-Matti Vittasmaki (’90), TPS – Like Jarvinen, Vittasmaki’s second year in the SM-Liiga was a lot more enjoyable. Though he saw slightly less ice time than Jarvinen, Vittasmaki appeared in 34 regular-season games and all 15 playoff games for the SM-Liiga champs – gaining valuable experience playing alongside veterans such as Aki-Petteri Berg and recent Vancouver Canuck signee Lee Sweatt. More of a true defensive defenseman, he must add some bulk to compete at higher levels. Vittasmaki was not ranked by CS.


Forwards

Charles Bertrand (’91), Lukko A Junior  – Though very raw in terms of understanding the complete game, the Paris native has a great work ethic, is well-conditioned, constantly improving, and has shown flashes of talent on the offensive end of the ice. Though he did not score at the same pace in the second half of the season in the early months, and had just one goal in five games for France at the Division I U-20 tournament, Bertrand shows some potential. He was ranked 104th among European skaters by CS.

Eero Elo (’90), Lukko – A fifth-round selection by Minnesota in the 2008 draft, Elo was one of three Finnish prospects who were not signed by the Wild this year (goalie Niko Hovinen and defenseman Harri Ilvonen were the others). Elo’s game to this point has been one dimensional – but when that dimension is goal scoring it will garner some attention. In 22 games with Lukko (including playoffs), Elo scored eight goals despite limited ice time. In 10 games with KooKoo in Mestis he scored seven times with five assists. And at the A junior level he was dominant, with 18 goals and 18 assists in only 19 games. With numbers like that, and the Wild organization thin on prospects at this point, the decision not to sign him at first appears puzzling. But Elo must become a more complete player and add some bulk to his frame to attract serious consideration. He will have every opportunity to crack the Lukko SM-Liiga lineup on a full-time basis this winter.

Petteri Halinen (’92), Espoo A Junior – Halinen split the past season between A and B junior in Espoo. He was also a member of the U-20 national team – finishing with one goal in six games. Hallinen’s size (6’3) is one of his key assets though he is still somewhat of a work in progress. Halinen was ranked 92nd among European skaters by CS.

Michael Keranen (’90), Ilves A Junior – Like Tommi Pekkala of Karpat a year ago, Keranen put up big scoring numbers in A junior but has gotten only modest interest to this date. Though he has skill and skates well, he is a little light for the prototypical NHL forward. Keranen was ranked 102nd among European skaters by CS.

Moses Mustonen (’91), Lukko A Junior – Mustonen appeared to be a future star when he performed at the Pohjola Camp for 15-year-olds in 2005-06 but things have not gone as planned to date. Though his big frame (6’2, 195) and significant stick skills suggest he’d be an ideal power forward, he failed to crack the A junior lineup for his hometown team despite scoring at a point-per-game pace in two years of B juniors. He spent a disappointing 2009-10 season with Jokerit, where he scored just two goals in 16 games and will try and get things back on track playing for Lukko this season. Not ranked by CS.

Niko Palonen (’89), Assat – The Finnish version of an energy player, Palonen seemed to regress a bit this season, appearing in just six SM-Liiga games while splitting the bulk of the season between Assat A Junior and KooKoo of Mestis. With KooKoo he racked up 62 PIM in just 12 games. Though his size is appealing, this type of player is generally drafted from Canadian junior, American university hockey or signed as free agents. Not ranked by CS.

Tommi Pekkala (’89), Tappara –  After going undrafted last season despite back-to-back seasons of 50-plus points in A juniors for Karpat, the Liminka native started his SM-Liiga career with Karpat before moving to Tappara in mid-season. Overall, the 6’0, 201-pounder had a solid first season – and his goal-scoring numbers picked up with increased ice time after the move. After scoring four goals with four assists in 24 games in Oulu, he potted eight in 19 games with Tappara. Pekkala is not ranked by CS.

Joonas Rask (’90), Ilves – The younger brother of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, he attended last year’s NHL Draft Combine but was not selected. He bounced back, however, to have a decent season in the SM-Liiga scoring 10 goals in 43 games for a last place Ilves squad that had to defeat Mestis champion Jokipojat in a best-of-three series to avoid relegation. "He’s pretty skilled but he doesn’t have the (bulk) or size (that most NHL prospects have)," said one coach. Rask was ranked 82nd among European skaters by CS. 

Henri Tuominen (’91), Ilves A Junior – Tuominen, a Turku native, spent last season with Ilves after growing up in the TPS juniors. At 6’2, 176 he has decent size and should be able to add some muscle. Tuominen was ranked 91st among European skaters by CS.