Top 40 prospects in Finland

By Pekka Lampinen

Below is a ranking of the Top 40 Finnish prospects still playing in Europe. All players on the list are (1) old enough to have been picked in the 2004 Entry Draft but below Hockey’s Future’s cutoff of the 24th birthday (2) never have been under NHL contract, and (3) have finished the 2003-04 season in Europe.

The note below each name describes the player’s chances of reaching their potential: (1) on track — the player is already the kind of player he could become at best and should get there by developing steadily; (2) needs work — the player has flaws in his game, high potential compared to current ability or other obstacles along the way, but may reach it; (3) unlikely — the player has abilities which hint of high upside, but he probably won’t reach it.

For more information about the players, please click on the link
for their player profile.

1. Lauri Tukonen, RW (LA)
Progress: On track

Tukonen has always been mature for his age. His downside is a player whose skills remain unpolished and mediocre, hitting the ceiling too early. The positive side is that he has honed his skills so well so early that he can develop them onto a very high level. For such a solid package as a player, his true potential is quite a mystery.

2. Mikko
Koivu
, C (MIN)
Progress: Needs work

The sixth overall pick spent three more years in Finland after the
2001 draft than originally expected. Some ran
out of patience and were eager to label Koivu as a bust because of it.
It is a genuine cause for concern — his development has been slow. However, it has been exceptionally steady and he has improved in
agility and strength. His puck skills can still keep improving for a
long time.

3. Petteri Nokelainen, LW (NYI)
Progress: On track

Nokelainen has blossomed and gained greater notoriety. A year ago “only” one of the best of the age group in the country, he is now viewed as an exceptional
two-way specialist. Having now showed him the ropes of defensive play
in SM-Liiga, Nokelainen’s team SaiPa will offer him a great place to
develop for at least two more years. His defense needs mostly just
experience from now on, so he can concentrate more on offense. He can be expected to become a regular penalty killer as a rookie in the NHL.

4. Jarkko
Immonen
, C (NYR)
Progress: On track

Immonen met the expectations set on him after the World Junior
Championships of 2002 with a breakout that lasted two seasons. Looking like an NHL player when with the Leafs at the European camp in 2003 didn’t hurt him either. His physical play, however, is concerning. He has bulked up as much as suitable but still gets knocked around too much. Finding
the remedy won’t be that easy. He still has notable room for improvement
even in the fundamentals of both his offensive and defensive play, but
still has the potential to excel at them.

5. Valtteri
Filppula
, C (DET)
Progress: Needs work

In the 2004 World Juniors Filppula’s talent unfolded into
a display of desire to become one of the best. With a solid SM-Liiga
performance as well, he simply oozes potential. A true finesse player, he copes well with the beating, but that is every bit as far as he can go in terms of physical play. Filppula needs many more time to develop.

6. Jesse
Niinimaki
, C (EDM)
Progress: unlikely

Since being drafted in 2002, Niinimaki has performed with gross
inconsistency but is still promising. A broken shoulder ruined his 2003-04 season, but is expected to return a lot
stronger than before. With the whole process of learning to play effective
defense to go, one would hope the very skilled centerman were
17 years old, not about to turn 21.

7. Lauri Korpikoski, LW (NYR)
Progress: On track

During the spring Korpikoski was spoken of as a highly skilled
player, but perhaps it was the Rangers’ comments that turned the talk back to
the track very familiar to Finns. A hard-working team player doesn’t
get attention on this list, but there is hope for Korpikoski’s puck
skills to blossom, though the odds are against him. In a non-ideal
situation he can still avoid failure and make a career as a checking
line speedster.

8. Jussi
Jokinen
, LW (DAL)
Progress: On track

After being drafted, Jokinen has improved greatly. The
2003-04 season didn’t offer much improvement in the way of points, but
it did teach him to carry others beside him and to win a championship.
The foreseeable leap to North America should still change his game a
bit.

9. Teemu
Lassila
, G (NSH)
Progress: Needs work

The Cinderella of 2003 went through trying times in his sophomore
season but brought the chapter to a happy ending. Back on track to aim
for the top, he could achieve NHL readiness in only one year. Although
Lassila lacks a strength that would make him NHL bound and that hurts his potential as well, his well-rounded game is his best attribute.

10. Sami Lepisto, D (WSH)
Progress: Needs work

Unknown a year ago, Lepisto is now doing everything necessary to become as good as possible. During the regular season of 2003-04 he solidified his position in SM-Liiga, and when a couple of veterans went down with injury, he found another gear for the
playoffs. He didn’t dominate, but he took every opportunity
to play like a star with a high-risk game, which is a great help in
development. On the downside, it is possible that he never learn to
minimize his defensive liability.

11. Tuomas
Nissinen
, G (STL)
Progress: unlikely

Nissinen has always had great tools, now it is just a matter of
putting it all together. His development has stalled ever since he wore
down after an exhausting fall season and the World Junior Championships of
2003. His future in the NHL is hanging by a single thread.

12. Mikko
Kalteva
, D (COL)
Progress: On track

Kalteva was with the Jokerit pros already in the 2002 preseason, but
as the organization likes its defense deep and a few others (Sami
Lepisto, Kevin Kantee) have broken out right in front of him, he has still
yet to become a regular. A solid performance in the World Junior Championships of 2004 proved that he is the real deal and can cope with his limited mobility even in the big rink. A move to North America should prove relatively easy one day.

13. Ville
Mantymaa
, D (ANA)
Progress: Needs work

Once the top of the class in his age group, Mantymaa captained the Finnish U18 team in the World Championships in 2003 and has accomplished little since that. Fortunately he
still possesses a rare sharpness. Together with a good frame, that
makes a very promising combination. A stride in development – not even a legitimate breakout – is all that is needed to make his the top
defensive prospect in the country.

14. Janne
Niskala
, D (NSH)
Progress: Needs work

Niskala’s skating, physique, feistiness and puck skills make him the
best package along the blue line in his parts. His inconsistency and
defensive play used to be so poor that he was nowhere near the
prospect he is now a year ago in 2003, but one season changed it all.
However, he may not be able to repeat his success. Another year should tell a great deal more.

15. Kevin
Kantee
, D (CHI)
Progress: On track

Kantee is very mediocre. Like Mikko Kalteva, he spent
excessive time in Jokerit juniors but never dominated no matter how far he developed. When given a chance in the World Juniors Championships and in SM-Liiga in 2004, he played just the same – an admirable all-around game, that is. Once he has matured enough (never playing like a star), he could make the jump to the NHL and simply do his job well
without the problems most players face.

16. Pasi Salonen, LW (WSH)
Progress: Needs work

Back in 2002, Salonen was headed for a first or second round pick in
the entry draft. In 2002-03 his numbers in Jr A were better than many
people realized, but an injury-ridden 2003-04 season saw no improvement.
With his birthdate leaving him outside major international tournaments,
his stock plummeted. Now Salonen is a long-term project seeking to put
his efficient checking game and impressive offensive skills
together.

17. Arsi
Piispanen
, C (CBS)
Progress: Needs work

Piispanen boasts impressive stickhandling and hockey sense, which
made him a desirable prospect in his draft year of 2003. His extremely lanky build is a cause for concern, and he is filling out slowly. A calm player with limited mobility has to be really good in order to be effective, but Piispanen is unlikely to hit any ceilings
anytime soon.

18. Oskari
Korpikari
, D (MTL)
Progress: On track

Stay-at-home defensemen can go far before being noticed. Korpikari
crept far enough to make an SM-Liiga appearance out of the blue as U19
and continued on the same path from that moment on. He doesn’t make any
compromises in his ability to defend the net, and that kind of game
gives him the chance to become an NHL regular one day. An unspectacular
late bloomer can still find his hockey sense difficult to improve.

19. Aleksis Ahlqvist, G (-)
Progress: Needs work

Ahlqvist missed being an NHL draft pick in 2004 due to a lack of scouting. His skills are as god as those selected in the middle rounds. He has always developed steadily and one more season in
juniors, then probably to be followed by a jump to SM-Liiga, will be a
good foundation for improving his talent. Eventually he should face the
need to tweak his style of play towards butterfly, which would be a
challenge for him.

20. Markus
Seikola
, D (TOR)
Progress: On track

Seikola was a typical junior national team player, well-rounded and
good enough to warrant a draft pick right away. He last displayed
progress in the 2002 World Junior Championships and then stagnated for a
long time. He revived his potential once more in the 2004 SM-Liiga
playoffs showing that he could become a depth defenseman in the NHL.
Interestingly enough, the defense corps in TPS is so strong that Seikola will
not stray off the path by reaching the top pairing. He will be well
acquainted with the role.

21. Tuukka
Mantyla
, D (LA)
Progress: unlikely

With Mantyla’s height, you need the best WJC defenseman honors to
earn a draft pick. Naturally he was expected to become an offensive
threat, but it was his offense that never developed as expected. That limits his usefulness notably. Fortunately he knows his limits and has long since learned to incapacitate bigger opponents. With his positive
performance in the 2004 World Championships it is safe to say that he has reached the level where he could make the team out of camp in favor of less experienced defensemen, even without any special skills.

22. Olli Malmivaara, D (CHI)
Progress: unlikely

For years Malmivaara was offered a depth defenseman’s role in
Jokerit. A transfer to
the weak SaiPa team rejuvenated his game in the middle of the 2003-04
season when he was handed a bigger role. Despite a brutal performance
statistically, he took immediate strides in development and was once again a realistic project from the NHL’s point of view. If he manages to keep it up, a use could easily be found for the huge defenseman.

23. Lennart Petrell, RW (CBS)
Progress: Needs work

Petrell plays a flashy game as he hunts for big hits and his deking knows no limits. Anything can happen when he is on the ice. It goes
without saying that all this comes with a massive downside. Coaches may
not want to play Petrell until he learns to play better defense and
minimize the risks. He skated under the radar until his last junior year in 2003-04.

24. Teemu Nurmi, LW (-)
Progress: Needs work

A well-rounded and mature player, Nurmi has always been a core
player for junior national teams. In 2003 he was not selected in the draft despite
being pegged for first day by some. Notable improvement along with an
impressive performance in the World Junior Championships wouldn’t get
him picked in 2004 either. He thirsts for more opportunities to prove
himself and will surely not stagnate in 2004-05 either, his final junior year. However, without better raw offensive skills his potential will hit a ceiling rather early.

25. Janne Laakkonen, RW (-)
Progress: unlikely

Laakkonen broke out only weeks too late the join in the World Junior
Championships of 2002. Since then he certainly has been visible on the
top lines of HPK but apparently found wanting by NHL scouts. At 5’9
and 180 pounds he is small and weak yet obviously something else in the
skill department. A five-star skater and stickhandler could one day take his game to such a high level that he simply can’t be ignored. Euro Hockey Tour games have indicated that greater opposition doesn’t slow him
down.

26. Janne Pesonen, RW (ANA)
Progress: Needs work

When Pesonen first entered the fight for SM-Liiga roster spots, he
seemed like the typical Finnish youngster: flawless mobility, honed
physique and adequate skills but no real potential. Unlike most others, he managed to rise onto a higher level. In 2004 he demonstrated good
sniper skills and better overall ability. Another season of notable
development would help a lot in proving that he could go far. As far as NHL hopes go, the odds are naturally against a ninth round pick.

27. Miikka Tuomainen, RW (ATL)
Progress: Needs work

The Thrashers used their most recent seventh round pick to draft a
long-term project. Tuomainen played with semi-professionals on the
second tier already in his draft year, but he isn’t as polished as to take his game onto higher levels very early in his career. In about four years’ time we should find out what kind of utility player he is
becoming.

28. Topi
Jaakola
, D (FLA)
Progress: On track

Jaakola never showed signs of timidity when he played SM-Liiga
hockey as a regular at the age of 17. He still doesn’t but hasn’t
taken many steps in the positive direction either. He still makes rookie
mistakes and his style of play doesn’t involve any heroics to make up
for them. The experience of three full seasons can’t be in vain and he
showed that when he played the best hockey of his career in the
postseason of 2004 when the team made it all the way.

29. Joni
Puurula
, G (MTL)
Progress: Needs work

When Puurula’s Cinderella run in 2002 ended with a few soft goals,
he was labeled as a goalie who couldn’t perform in clutch situations. That label sticks so hard
that many simply ignored the career season he had in 2003-04. His
potential is limited by his talent level at his age of 22 and smallish
stature, but not as much as one would think. What his possible NHL
career needs is for him to gauge his ability in the AHL. However, that
wouldn’t be a good career move at this point.

30. Juhamatti
Aaltonen
, RW (STL)
Progress: Needs work

A fringe player for junior national teams so far, Aaltonen emerged
as a superstar in junior A in 2003-04. He logged huge minutes and made
things happen all by himself. Such a role leaves a mark on him; the next step is to learn to play better defense. The second tier league would be a good place for that as there is no room on the Karpat SM-Liiga team barring a breakout. Considering his modest achievements Aaltonen would seem to have no potential to become an offensive forward in the NHL, but his pure ability begs to differ.

31. Toni
Koivisto
, LW (FLA)
Progress: unlikely

Koivisto matured early and now that a breakout has eluded him for
years, it feels like his talent has been stagnant forever. The obstacle
between him and point production is his hockey sense and finishing
skills, two things that should improve with experience. Whenever he takes a
step forward, the blazing fast winger looks as if he had all the
potential in the world.

32. Jyri
Marttinen
, D (CGY)
Progress: On track

Marttinen earned his status as an NHL prospect in the 2002 World
Junior Championships. His 2002-03 season was ruined by back problems, but he rebounded in 2003-04. There are no aspects in his game that would
suggest a breakout taking him onto a totally new level – not that there
is anything wrong with his game now. His well-rounded game will still
hit its ceiling sooner than later when in North America except for one
aspect, heart. A player like him is extremely desirable to have on the
team even if his talent is modest.

33. Tero
Maatta
, D (SJ)
Progress: unlikely

A second round pick followed by a great SM-Liiga rookie season sent
Maatta’s stock way up in 2000-01. Unfortunately since then Maatta has
degenerated as a player and struggled for a good two years. In 2003
he started developing again, slowly and not that surely either, but
notably over a long period. He has learned to live with his inconsistency and questionable hockey sense and plays good hockey most of the time. It is hard to say anything about Maatta’s future potential, including limiting it.

34. Otto Honkaheimo, D (-)
Progress: On track

Honkaheimo still skates under the radar. A valuable effort in the
U18 World Championships of 2003 made him core material for the age
group’s national team and he is very likely to make the upcoming World Junior Championships. By that time he may look like a very promising two-way defenseman with few flaws. His next milestone is to establish a position
in SM-Liiga, which won’t necessarily happen in 2004-05.

35. Sami
Venalainen
, LW (PHX)
Progress: Needs work

The speedy winger broke out in
2003-04. His pseudo-skills finally turned real as he set a personal
record in point production, and put his game together. He
still isn’t set on track for an NHL career, but the tools are there. A
promising showing in the Coyotes’ camp in 2002 may help him overcome a few bumps along the way.

36. Teemu
Jaaskelainen
, D (CHI)
Progress: On track

An eighth round pick, Jaaskelainen started out as a long shot. His
development was decent at best and he was disappointing in the 2003
World Junior Championships but then took a turn for the better, nowadays a
core defenseman for Ilves. His career is fighting an uphill battle
against the limits of time and potential chasing the threshold of NHL
hockey. On his level any stagnation hints at defeat, a prospect of his
status needs a breakout.

37. Arttu Virtanen, RW (-)
Progress: Needs work

Virtanen is a physical, hard-hitting winger, but short of an agitator. Many rookie forwards have tried to make it in TPS in
the past couple of years, yet none have left an impression as strong as
Virtanen did in the spring of 2004. Simply put, he hit and he scored.
Not a candidate for Finland’s team in World Juniors only a few months
earlier, Virtanen is obviously not quite a player of exceptional quality, but a very intriguing prospect nonetheless. His nose for the net is promising, whereas his speed could use improvement as it plays a crucial role in effectiveness on high levels of play.

38. Ossi Louhivaara, LW (OTT)
Progress: On track

The Senators made a discovery in Finland’s second tier league in
2003. Louhivaara did not see much improvement in 2003-04 as
worn down by military service, but now he is ready to take a step forward
with JYP in SM-Liiga. A winger of commendable speed, decent skill and
ability to play both ways can always be surprisingly valuable.

39. Valtteri Tenkanen, C (LA)
Progress: Needs work

Tenkanen has always developed steadily but was not a big enough
talent to earn a pick in 2003. In 2004
the Kings picked him despite no appearances in major international
tournaments. He will surely continue to make progress, at this point he must learn to produce more. Tenkanen could climb the ranks in the future.

40. Teemu
Laine
, RW (NJ)
Progress: On track

For years Laine was pushed from one role to another by Jokerit, even center and defenseman, on the lower lines of the team, never given a solid standing. Some argue that Laine, lacking in hockey sense and finishing, didn’t deserve it anyway. Now he is off to a fresh start with Tappara, still hoping to become a utility player for the Devils one day.

Other Notables

Joonas
Vihko
, RW (ANA)
Progress: Needs work

Vihko’s career development fell after he was drafted as
an overager. His point production shrank and with it his role diminished as well. Now he is making his way back onto the wings of HIFK’s second line, but he has lost precious time and potential. If he improves his confidence and consistency, he could still become an energy line sparkplug in the NHL.

Tomi
Maki
, RW (CGY)
Progress: On track

Life has treated Maki poorly as of late. He displayed offensive
potential along with his physical high-energy game in the 2003 World
Junior Championships but has failed to reach foothold anywhere since then. Battered by multiple concussions and injuries, he has also been pushed around in the deep Jokerit roster. His problems reach for a new
pinnacle as he could be knocked completely off the roster in 2004-05 by new veteran acquisitions. Maki’s potential in the offensive end was always hanging by a thread and repressed like this, it is now probably ready to be buried. His career as a whole isn’t.

Miika Wiikman, G (-)
Progress: Needs work

The Swedish-grown goalie decided to commit to his parents’ homeland
at the age of 18. Largely untested, he has an impressive
talent level at an early age along with calmness and quickness. Wiikman has now joined HPK in SM-Liiga and hungers for results. He must continue to progress steadily. At this point even
small changes in his performance can alter his predicted potential greatly as it has been difficult to gauge.

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