Three Finns were taken in the Top 20 in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Lauri Tukonen, Petteri Nokelainen and Lauri Korpikowski, which has happened only once before.
These three were among only five members of the Finnish U18 team drafted — third-liner
Miikka Tuomainen and backup goalie Karri Ramo were the other two.
A leftover from 2003, World Junior Championship superstar Sami Lepisto was the only defenseman picked.
The total number of Finns drafted took a nose dive in 2003 to 12.
The record set in 2001 of 29 won’t be broken in the foreseeable future as the
country is finally drained of older talent. The total of 15 reached this year is only fair at best.
Lauri Tukonen, RW, 11th overall (Los Angeles)
Tukonen ended up falling near the bottom of the range of where he
was predicted to go, and that is probably a good thing for him as the
expectations set on him remain moderate. The Kings organization is eager and willing to bring in young talent. Hopefully he can avoid the injury bug that seemed to plague the organization.
The decision to pick Tukonen involved some dramatics as the team
was expected to choose the goalie Marek Schwarz should he still
be available. Obtaining Tukonen’s rights instead of addressing a
glaring organizational need indicates that they obviously have a lot of
confidence in him.
Tukonen together with Jesse Joensuu (2006) represents the hope of future national teams, he is a forward prospect who must pan out for them to be
Petteri Nokelainen, LW, 16th overall (NY Islanders)
Left outside the first round in many rankings, Nokelainen went very quickly on the first day. Flashiness can get you plenty of attention in the media, but a rock solid
two-way game impresses the NHL staffs, and that’s what Nokelainen brings. The Isles should never need to
regret picking him even if they had traded higher up to secure his
rights. The organization has had notable turnover in the lower offensive lines and
that is likely to continue, so Nokelainen stands a good chance of
cracking the lineup when the time is right.
Lauri Korpikoski, LW, 19th overall (NY Rangers)
Korpikoski didn’t appear on the radar until the Five Nations
tournament in February. Once he had given his hype another great boost in the
U18 World Championships there was no stopping it, and it kept on
growing even after the season was over. In the end the Rangers picked him perhaps a little too early in the draft. He does have the advertised talent, but compared to the achievements of other Finns he has to beat the odds in order to become as good as expected.
The Rangers have not been know to have much patience rebuilding, and may have
positions already filled before Korpikoski is ready. But he is well-rounded forward and could end up in pretty much any role in the NHL.
Lepisto, D, 66th overall (Washington)
An opt-out in 2003, Lepisto would not have been picked anyway. This changed at the 2004 World Junior Championships where he was the very best
defenseman. His hype peaked soon after the tournament and cooled a bit in the spring. However, the inertia was too strong as by draft day people were focusing mostly on his deficiencies. The beginning of the third round is not far off his real potential, though. The
Capitals should be a good organization for him as the rebuilding project can be expected to take quite a long time, enough for Lepisto to arrive.
Seitsonen, RW, 118th overall (Calgary)
So far Seitsonen’s decision to make the jump to the WHL has paid
off. He was projected to go at best in the second round, but a weaker postseason performance bumped his turn down to Day 2. Seitsonen is a mature and extremely versatile player, which will make his transition to the NHL relatively easy regardless of the organization.
Salonen, LW, 138th overall (Washington)
A projected first round pick long ago, Salonen’s development has
slowed down in the past two years and the middle of the draft is where he
was expected to end up. Having failed to reach a World Junior
Championship roster spot among players 18 months older than him, he lost his
best opportunity to display his talent in 2003-04. The Capitals acquired a
great deal of potential in the form of the skilled and feisty winger,
and the organization is as good a place for Salonen to build a future in
Niskala, D, 147th overall (Nashville)
Even though a national team regular back in his junior years,
Niskala was long considered to be a hopelessly incomplete package of talent.
In 2003-04 he put it all together and left NHL teams no chance to
ignore him. At the age of 22 and with only one solid season behind him, he
should still remain in Finland for a year. If any, the team with Kimmo
Timonen and Marek Zidlicky in the lineup will be receptive to an older
and smallish skilled defenseman.
Petrell, RW, 190 overall (Columbus)
The loose cannon of Finland’s World Junior Championship team,
Petrell certainly caught the attention of several scouts, and in hindsight
him getting picked looked fairly certain. He was not a junior national
team regular until 2003-04 when his offensive game flourished with the
HIFK juniors. Although the Blue Jackets organization appears suitable for
Petrell at first, a stronger team could probably better afford a flashy
and somewhat inconsistent checker, whereas a weaker one needs defensive
Ramo, G, 191st overall (Tampa Bay)
Ramo’s best and perhaps only chance to be picked was to make the U18
World Championships, and he delivered at the right time. As a pretty
big and quick butterfly goalie, the tools he possesses impressed the Stanley Cup champions and now Ramo provides them with goaltending depth.
Kontiola, C, 196th overall (Chicago)
Kontiola was a small-name junior in the Tappara organization until
2003-04. He gathered a good deal of professional games under his belt
and earned a spot in the World Junior Championships, where he led the
defense from his position in the center of the third line. The Hawks were
surely not the only organization he impressed. Kontiola’s
potential is limited, but he is likely to become a serviceable player.
Miikka Tuomainen, RW, 204th overall (Atlanta)
Tuomainen has had some growing pains and has been part of the age
group’s national team core. A big banger with some finishing skills was
certain to be drafted, and now he is to have his mind set on Georgia. There has been a lot of turnover in the Thrashers third and fourth lines, and Tuomainen hopes to take advantage of that when he is ready.
Rinne, G, 258th overall (Nashville)
The Predators sent their scouts all the way near the Arctic Circle
and then picked the second-string goalie there. Rinne backed up Niklas
Backstrom in Karpat and has only size and four more years to
develop, yet that was enough to convince the Predators of his
superior potential and usefulness. Rinne needs an all-around improvement in
his talent and may be looking into that in the United States soon.
Anttila, RW, 260th overall (Chicago)
Blake Wheeler may have been off the board as a pick, but Marko
Anttila really is something else. Chances are that no one present at the
draft except those affiliated with the Hawks’ Finnish scout Sakari Pietila
had ever heard of Anttila. Players are not drafted into the NHL from
the third tier Finnish league, but now the fourth tier has their man. The
19-year-old, 6’7″ giant tore up the league and his talent has been
nearly impossible to gauge accurately due to the level of competition.
Anttila will now hunt for a spot in the top Jr A league with Ilves. He is a real longshot to make the NHL.
Valtteri Tenkanen, C, 264th overall (Los Angeles)
Tenkanen is a leader among his peers. His somewhat mediocre skills
kept him from being picked in 2003, but now he got his due. Being
drafted by the Kings granted him a rather unique experience, to play
alongside Sidney Crosby at the prospect camp. The duo dazzled observing eyes,
so Tenkanen already sent his stock way up. A somewhat similar
player in Esa Pirnes has adapted well to NHL hockey with the Kings, so
Tenkanen’s future looks very bright for a hot-off-the-press ninth round
Janne Pesonen, RW, 269th overall (Anaheim)
A breakout and the rookie of the year honors in SM-Liiga were
certain to get some attention. Pesonen is a smallish speedster not all that
different from Joonas Vihko, another Ducks pick in 2002. Pesonen is an
easily maintainable pick who can be left to develop in Finland for a
good number of years as he has plenty of room for improvement. Fans should
adopt the same point of view: something will become of him or not. The
tools are nice, though.
Not selected in 2004
Ahlqvist lost the U18 WC roster spot and the most important
showcasing opportunity to Karri Ramo, and with it a draft pick. His rights were
worth a fourth round pick, yet scouts missed their chance. He did appear in
the Viking Cup and Finnish Jr A finals. The only possible knock on Ahlqvist is that he doesn’t play a clear butterfly style.
Twenty-six years old and one of the best in Europe, Backstrom could have
been shrugged off on the grounds that no one needs an older goalie in
today’s buyer’s market, but nothing justifies the Oilers’ decision to pick
25-year-old Bjorn Bjurling over Backstrom or Bjurling’s fellow
countryman Daniel Henriksson. (Also, see Pekka Rinne)
Nurmi missed his first chance at a draft pick in 2003 and was now
unexpectedly ignored again. Four points as an underager in the World
Junior Championships is a feat matched by few, yet that wasn’t enough.
Without a top-notch skill his potential was deemed unimpressive.
In 2003, Kuukka, a mature and talented two-way defenseman in Ilves
juniors, was headed for a first day pick. Players often move to the WHL
in order to become more NHL ready and to earn a good draft pick, but
right now the decision or at least the timing seems to have been wrong. He
left the base of development he had in Finland behind and couldn’t
improve his skills enough while having to concentrate on learning new kind
of hockey. His stock kept dropping along spring season and ended up
taking the final plunge on draft day as Kuukka wasn’t picked at all.
Still, that is just the first chance lost.
When it comes to stay-at-home defensemen with a good frame,
mediocrity often translates into well-roundedness and a bright future, but
Gardstrom’s mobility was battered by judgmental looks. He is the most
suitable for the NHL of all the age group’s European-based defensemen.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.