2016 NHL Draft: Finland’s Laine, Puljujarvi looking like Top 3 material at midseason

By Tony Piscotta

Miro Keskitalo - Team Finland - 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship

Photo: TPS Turku defenseman and 2016 prospect Miro Keskitalo chipped in two points and some solid defensive play for Team Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship (courtesy of MARKKU ULANDER/AFP/Getty Images)

 

8. Kasper Bjorkqvist, C/W, Espoo Blues U20
6’1″, 200 lbs., 7/10/97
Espoo, Finland

 

Kasper Bjorkqvist has added size and strength to his frame and continues to be a dominant scorer in the A Junior league. Like HIFK’s Borgstrom, Bjorkqvist is skating in the A Junior league in hopes of securing an NCAA scholarship and is one that league’s leading scorers with 24 goals and 23 assists in 30 games.

Not selected in the 2015 draft in his first year of draft eligibility, Bjorkqvist skated for Finland’s U20 team in the WJC and was effective playing on a lower line with Florida Panthers‘ prospect Juho Lammikko.

While his offensive numbers may be a bit inflated playing in the domestic junior league — he scored one goal with one assist in seven games for Team Finland — Bjorkqvist’s combination of size, speed and a willingness to compete all over the ice suggest there is some pro potential.

9. Walterri Ruuskanen, D, KalPa U20
6’3″, 195 lbs., 7/23/97
Kuopio, Finland

 

Ruuskanen is far from certain to be selected and is somewhat of a long shot to reach the NHL one day. What makes him a prospect in our eyes is that, in addition to possessing the prototypical size of an effective shut-down defender, he is a natural leader and is willing to work hard to improve.

KalPa has been a laboratory for young defensemen in recent years, using a philosophy that rewards risk-taking and experimentation at the lower levels which allows players to develop into quality prospects.

Nashville’s 2015 fifth round draft pick, Joonas Lyytinen, and Niko Mikkola, a 19-year-old drafted by the St. Louis Blues last year and another member of the gold medal-winning U20 team, are both seeing regular ice time with the KalPa men’s team. Ruuskanen made his Liiga debut earlier this season.

10. Veini Vehvilainen, G, JyP Jyvaskyla
6’1”, 185 lbs., 2/13/1997
Jyvaskyla, Finland

 

 

Vehvilainen was the top rated goalie out of Finland heading into last year’s draft but was not selected. Like HIFK goalie Ville Husso — who responded to not being taken in the 2013 draft by having an outstanding rookie season in Liiga and was subsequently selected in the fourth round by St. Louis in 2014 — Vehvainlen has had similar success playing for JyP in his first Liiga season with his hometown club.

Sharing time with veteran Tuomas Tarkki, he was 15-5-2 with three shutouts in his first 23 Liiga games while posting a 1.82 goals against average and .930 save percentage.

“He’s had an excellent fall with JyP in Liiga,” said one scout. “He has matured and improved.”

Named the starter for Team Finland by head coach Jukka Jalonen headed into the WJC tournament, he was not as successful. After making 10 saves in a 6-0 shutout win over Belarus in the opening game, he struggled at times and was ultimately replaced by Kahkonen, who finished the quarterfinal game and then started both the semifinal and gold medal games.

When he is on his game, Vehvilainen can be tough to score upon and at times is capable of stealing games. In the World Juniors, some rigidity in his hips and lower body and an inability to control rebounds were an issue at times.

Others to watch (by position, listed in alphabetical order)

Goalies

Alexander Georgiyev, TPS Turku
6’1″, 175 lbs., 2/10/96

 

Russian goalie from Moscow is in his second season in Finland, splitting the year between Liiga and the TPS junior team. Georgiyev started five of seven games for Russia at the World Junior Championship, including the gold medal game against Finland.

Denis Godla, Hermes Kokkola (Mestis)
5’11”, 175 lbs., 4/4/95

 

Undersized goalie is in his first season in Finland after backstopping Slovakia to a bronze medal and being named the top goalie at the 2015 World Junior Championship in Canada.

Severi Isokangas, Karpat Oulu U20
6’1″, 185 lbs., 1/2/98

 

Starting goalie for Finland at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and expected to be the starter at the 2016 U18 World Championship.

Leevi Laakso, Vaasa Sport U20
6’0″, 170 lbs., 6/12/98

 

Product of the Kuopio youth system also skated for Finland’s U18 team at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and has played two games in Mestis with Hermes.

Defensemen

Miro Keskitalo, TPS Turku/Hermes Kokkola
6’2″, 175 lbs., 2/16/96

 

Product of the Jokerit junior program is in his second season with TPS after splitting time between Liiga and the junior team in 2014-15. He played for Finland at the World Juniors, providing some size and sound defensive play. His mobility is a concern.

Eetu Pylkkanen, Jokerit U20
5’11”, 195 lbs., 4/29/98

 

First-year draft-eligible defenseman grew up playing in the Espoo Blues program before joining Jokerit this season. He skated for Finland’s U18 team in the Ivan Hlinka Tournament.

Tarmo Reunanen, TPS Turku U20
6’0″, 180 lbs., 3/1/98

 

Puck-moving defenseman was impressive at Ivan Hlinka Tournament. Has been limited by injuries this season and is inconsistent at times in his defensive game.

Eetu Sopanen, Peliitat Heinola (Mestis)
6’5″, 225 lbs., 4/24/96

 

Now in his third year of draft eligibility, Eetu Sopanen was expected to play a big role for Finland at the WJC before suffering a leg injury in the second game of the tournament.

Ville Jarvinen, Ilves Tampere U20
6’4″, 205 lbs., 1/3/97

 

Jarvinen is another large defenseman who has been slowed by injuries during his junior career. He has the physical tools and attacking instincts to be an effective puck-mover one day.

Forwards

Juha Jaaska, LW, HIFK U20
5’10”, 170 lbs., 2/9/98

 

Assistant captain for the HIFK U20 team, the undersized forward made his Liiga debut in a game earlier this fall and skated for Finland in the Ivan Hlinka Tournament.

Janne Kuokkanen, C, Karpat Oulu U20
6’1″, 180 lbs., 5/25/98

 

Leading scorer for Finland at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament with six points (all assists) in five games. He is scoring at a point-per-game pace for the Karpat junior team.

Markus Nurmi, RW, TPS Turku U20
6’3″, 170 lbs., 6/29/98

 

Raw prospect with some offensive playmaking skills and a projectable frame that suggests he can be a force with added mass and strength.

Aapeli Rasanen, C/W, Tappara Tampere U20
6’0″, 185 lbs., 6/1/98

 

Rasanen is a teammate of Makinen’s with the Tappara U20 team and also skated for Finland at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. He has been one of the top goal scorers in Junior A play.

Sebastian Repo, RW, Pelicans Lahti
6’2″, 190 lbs., 6/23/96

 

Repo is in his first full season with Pelicans after playing in 10 Liiga games in 2014-15 before joining the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL. A right-handed shot, he uses his frame to advantage and has a quick release that can surprise goaltenders. His skating, thought to be a liability, has shown progress this season. He skated in the World Juniors but, after scoring a goal in the tournament’s opening game, Repo gradually had a reduced role.

Balazs Sebok, C/W, KalPa Kuopio

Twenty-year-old from Hungary played junior hockey in Oulu before playing in Mestis last season. He has four goals with nine assists in 35 games for KalPa in his first Liiga season.

Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @Piscottas_Way

 

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