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

By Tony Piscotta

Antti Kalapudas - Karpat Oulu - Champions Hockey League

Photo: Karpat Oulu forward and 2016 prospect Antti Kalapudas competed in 10 Liiga games for Karpat in 2015-16 and was also a part of Finland’s gold medal-winning squad at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship (courtesy of Karpat Oulu/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

 

Other Notable Draft-Eligibles (listed in alphabetical order by position)

Goalies

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

 

Leevi Laakso gradually emerged as a prospect in his draft year — appearing in two Mestis games with Hermes and enjoying success with the Sport U20 team under the tutelage of goaltending coach Aki Naykki. Not part of Finland’s U18 team at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, Laakso earned the starting job for the squad at the U18 World Championship, appearing in four games and posting a 1.96 goals-against average and .897 save percentage before missing the final games due to illness.

Not in the CSS midterm rankings, Laakso is ranked 11th amongst international goalies in the final rankings.

Emil Larmi, Peliitat Heinola (Mestis)
6’0″, 185 lbs., 9/28/96
Lahti, Finland

 

Emil Larmi had a breakout season as a 19-year-old in his first season in Mestis. A backup to older goalies Joonas Harald and Oskari Taari during his junior career with Pelicans, he played 38 games for Peliitat, tying Jukurit veteran Mika Norja for the league lead. His goaltending numbers (2.68 goals-against and .916 save percentage) were respectable playing for one of the league’s weaker clubs. Larmi was the third goalie for Finland at the U20 World Juniors but did not see any action. He signed a Liiga contract with HPK Hameenlinna for 2016-17.

Larmi is ranked 15th amongst international goaltenders in the CSS final rankings in his third year of draft eligibility after being 11th in the mid-season rankings.

Defensemen

Niclas Almari, Jokerit U20
6’2″, 175 lbs., 5/11/98
Espoo, Finland

 

Niclas Almari finished the 2015-16 season with Jokerit after seeing limited ice time with Espoo’s U20 team. He has the prototypical frame of an NHL defenseman but is inconsistent at times. He skates well for a taller defenseman and moves the puck but is not overly assertive. Almari’s offensive game is limited but he can initiate the attack with a strong first pass. Like Laakso, he was signed to a Liiga contract by HPK for 2016-17.

Ranked 126th in the CSS midterm rankings, he is rated 62nd amongst international skaters in the final rankings. Both St. Louis and Dallas have used late-round picks in recent years on defensemen from Finland, so Almari could be that player this year.

Tarmo Reunanen, TPS Turku U20
5’11”, 165 lbs., 3/1/98
Aanekoski, Finland

 

Tarmo Reunanen entered his draft year with high expectations after finishing with 32 points in 54 games for TPS Turku during the team’s A junior championship season but was derailed by injuries for much of 2015-16. A skilled puck carrier whose game may be more suited to the larger rinks in Europe, he was selected by Jokerit in the fourth round (102nd overall) in last year’s KHL Draft. Reunanen could be an intriguing late-round selection for a team with the patience to watch him develop.

He was ranked 33rd in the CSS midterm rankings before sliding to 53rd in the final rankings.

Forwards

Antti Kalapudas, C/LW, KalPa Kuopio
6’0”, 180 lbs., 7/22/96
Oulainen, Finland

 

Antti Kalapudas played 34 Liiga games including three playoff contests in 2015-16, beginning the season with Karpat and spending time in Mestis before finishing with KalPa Kuopio. The 19-year-old was the last player chosen for the Finland U20 team and, after sitting out the first two games, had a big impact playing on a line with NHL prospects Kasperi Kapanen (TOR) and Mikko Rantanen (COL). A big scorer but perceived as too light and more of a perimeter player coming out of junior hockey, Kalapudas has added some bulk over the past two seasons and has worked on the supplementary areas of his game.

Ranked 59th amongst international skaters in the CSS final rankings in his third year of draft eligibility, Kalapudas is not likely to put up the offensive numbers he did in junior hockey. Rather, his skating ability, skill and awareness suggest he can be a worthwhile late-round selection for a team looking for a Joonas Donskoi-like late bloomer.

Otto Koivula, LW, Tampere Ilves U20
6’4″, 220 lbs., 9/1/98
Nokia, Finland

 

Otto Koivula, like Tuulola, is a projection pick but has the size and demeanor to be an effective power forward. What has held him back to this point is his skating — which is not yet at the level of Puljujarvi, Borgstrom and the other top forward prospects. What Koivula has in his favor, in addition to his massive size, is has passing ability, offensive instincts and ability to read the play.

He was ranked 20th amongst international skaters in the CSS midterm rankings and is 28th in the final rankings. He figures to be selected somewhere between the third and fifth rounds.

Joona Koppanen, C, Tampere Ilves U20
6’5″, 195 lbs., 2/25/98
Tampere, Finland

 

Joona Koppanen is another big forward who skates well and plays a sound positional game in all three zones. More of a playmaker than a pure sniper in terms of his offensive game, Koppanen uses his reach to advantage and is adept at preventing scoring chances or regaining possession. He is a strong passer and has a hard, accurate shot.

Ranked 41st in the CSS midterm rankings, Koppanen is rated 27th in the final rankings.

Niko Kuiri, LW, Karpat Oulu U20
6’2″, 200 lbs., 6/5/98
Juuka, Finland

 

Niko Kuiri skated for Karpat’s junior program the past two seasons after playing in the Jokipojat club in eastern Finland. He has some offensive tools and was able to take advantage of his size advantage to score in the domestic U20 league, but he has not dominated the way his physical tools suggest he can.

Kuiri is ranked 69th amongst international skaters in the CSS final rankings after not being listed in the midterm ratings. NHL teams may wait another year to see how he develops before using a draft pick on him.

Markus Nurmi, RW, TPS Turku U20
6’4″, 175 lbs., 6/29/98
Turku, Finland

 

Few players have risen as much in the Central Scouting rankings as Markus Nurmi. Like Kuiri, he was not ranked in the midterm rankings but is now 31st in the final rankings.

A tall but thin forward who is still maturing physically, he has just begun to show signs of being the player he can be. Nurmi skated for Finland’s gold medal U18 team in Grand Forks, finishing +2 with two assists in seven games. Not yet as dominant as his size would suggest, he has impressive stickhandling and passing skills and is effective at using his reach to either regain possession or break up the opposition’s attack.

Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @Piscottas_Way

 

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