2016 NHL Draft Preview: Puljujarvi, Laine the cream of a solid Finland crop

By Tony Piscotta

Kasper Bjorkqvist - Team Finland - 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship

Photo: Espoo Blues forward and 2016 prospect Kasper Bjorkqvist will begin competing for Providence College in the Fall of 2016 (courtesy of RONI REKOMAA/AFP/Getty Images)

 

6. Aapeli Rasanen, C/W, Tappara Tampere U20
6’0″, 195 lbs., 6/1/98
Tampere, Finland

 

If Makinen’s reputation stagnated towards the end of the 2015-16 season, the opposite was true of Aapeli Rasanen. Perceived as more of a two-way, supporting role player early in the year, he was placed in a prominent role by Finland coach Juusi Ahokas at the U18 World Championship and was the team’s second-leading scorer.

A determined player who plays with a heart-on-his-sleeve approach, Rasanen displayed some offensive skill in Grand Forks and may just be scratching the surface of his potential. His first-step acceleration, viewed as a weakness early in the year, has shown improvement.

In seven games for Finland at the U18, Rasanen scored three goals and six assists and was +8 with 12 penalty minutes, trailing only Tolvanen. Like Tolvanen, he will play in the USHL next season, joining the Sioux City Musketeers.

Once viewed as a fringe prospect who was ranked 85th amongst international skaters in the CSS midterm rankings, he is ranked 21st in the final rankings and could be selected as early as the third round.

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

 

Kasper Bjorkqvist, like Borgstrom, skated in the Finnish junior league to maintain his NCAA eligibility after going undrafted in 2015. Bound for Providence College in the fall, Bjorkvist had a big season offensively as an assistant captain for the Espoo U20 squad, but what has scouts excited about his game is his responsibility in all three zones.

Playing for Finland’s U20 team as an 18-year-old in January, he was a big part of the team’s shutdown line with Panthers’ prospect Juho Lammikko and also chipped in with a goal and an assist.

Another big player who skates well and plays with a lot of energy, Bjorkqvist should step right into the lineup for the Friars in the fall and figures to continue developing during his college career.

Ranked 105th in the CSS rankings prior to the 2015 NHL Draft, he is 22nd amongst international skaters in this year’s final rankings (up from 35th at mid-season). Bjorkqvist should be selected somewhere between the third and fifth round.

8. Veini Vehvilainen, G, JyP Jyvaskyla
6’1″, 185 lbs., 2/13/97
Jyvaskyla, Finland

 

The third of four players on our list who passed through the 2015 NHL Draft without being selected, Vehvilainen proved up to the task of playing in Liiga as an 18-year-old and competed for Finland at the 2016 WJC.

Splitting the goaltending duties for JyP with Liiga veteran Tuomas Tarkki as a rookie, he got off to a fast start for that club before wearing down some at the end of the year. Vehvilainen was 15-7-4 with three shutouts and had a 2.04 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 28 regular season games.

“He had an excellent fall,” said one scout. “He matured and improved.”

The starting goalie for Finland at the WJC at the beginning of the tournament, he started well but struggled at times, yielding to Minnesota Wild prospect Kaapo Kahkonen in the playoff round. There are still some mobility issues and parts of his game that need refining, but he has the base to be a talented netminder one day.

Vehvilainen was ranked sixth amongst international goalies last year and is the third-ranked international goalie in the 2016 CSS final rankings. With the goaltending pool not overly deep, he is likely to be a latter round selection for a team looking to stock their prospect pipeline.

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

 

Sebastian Repo, like Vehvilainen, got off to a fast start in Liiga and played for Finland at the 2016 WJC, looking to increase his draft stock with a big tournament. Instead, after scoring a goal in the opening game against Latvia for his only point, he finished the tournament as the squad’s 13th forward.

While his tournament success was mixed, what has likely earned the former Sioux City Musketeer a second look from scouts — and the reason he is ranked ninth on this list — was his play for Pelicans. After a nondescript 10-game stint in Liiga in 2014-15, when he was -7 with no points before eventually ending up with Sioux City, Repo flourished under first-year Lahti head coach Petri Matikainen.

Playing on a veteran squad with former NHL forward Ryan Potulny and one-time New Jersey Devils prospect Vili Sopanen, the 19-year-old led the team with 15 goals and had 13 assists in 50 regular season games.

While some of the first-year, draft-eligible forwards may have higher upsides, Repo has proven he can score on a consistent basis playing against men in Liiga. He also has the size that another 19-year-old prospect from the Finland U20 team, KalPa Kuopio’s Antti Kalapudas, lacks.

Ranked 60th amongst international skaters in the CSS mid-term rankings, Repo was 44th in the final rankings and should be selected late in the 2015 NHL Draft.

10. Eetu Tuulola, RW, HPK Hameenlinna/HPK U20
6’2”, 225 lbs., 3/17/98
Hameenlinna, Finland

 

The younger brother of HPK defenseman Joni Tuulola (CHI), Tuulola is a projection pick whose size separates him from the other first-year, draft-eligible forwards, earning him the final spot in our list.

One of five players from Finland invited to the 2016 NHL Draft Combine along with Laine, Puljujarvi, Borgstrom, and Makinen, he has potential, but forecasting his development path is a challenge.

Tuulola missed much of the first half in 2015-16 due to injury and played in just 10 Liiga games, recording an assist and finishing -6 on an HPK team that had the league’s third-worst record. He scored nine goals with five assists in 29 regular season games for the HPK U20 team and added an assist in six playoff contests.

Tuulola played for Finland’s U18 team, scoring two goals with two assists in five games at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and finishing with two goals in seven games at the U18 in Grand Forks.

He has the attributes of a prototypical power forward and some great hockey genes — his father Marko spent 13 years of his 21-year career with HPK, retiring as the club’s second-leading all-time scorer in 2013-14.

Ranked 19th amongst international skaters in the CSS final rankings, he could be selected as early as the second round or could pass through the entire draft without being selected — as Joni Tuulola did in his first year of eligibility in 2014.

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