Top 15 Finnish prospects for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft

By Pekka Lampinen

In terms of potential draftees, 2005 is a good year for Finland. The Finnish roster for the 2005 U18 World Championships was telling; the defensive half was comprised completely of 2005 draftees, but as many as eight forwards have to await their draft for another year. The Finnish 2005 draft class has poor offensive depth due to immaturity. Some of the players are young in age, some undeveloped in physique, others simply not far along their development curve.

In terms of top picks, goaltender Tuukka Rask falling out of the first round would be quite a shock. After that it is hard to predict in how high a regard scouts hold the next best Finns. Five first day picks should be witnessed, but after defenseman Juho Mielonen the quality drops quite drastically.

1. Tuukka Rask, G
6’2/175, 3/10/1987, L
Ilves

Rask and his flashy style of play have made noise right from the start when scouts started to gauge the draft class. In 2004-05 he faced new, difficult challenges with introductions to higher levels of play in the WJC and SM-Liiga. Unfortunately he was placed behind overpowered defenses in both situations and the results weren’t pretty. In his day job in Finnish Jr A he still dominated as usual. The postseason was sheer magic on Rask’s part with numbers on a victorious playoff run that some would consider impossible to maintain over ten games.

The inconsistent season is the direct result of Rask’s youth. Physically the teenager, still growing, can’t match up to many of his peers, let alone older goalies. His lack of stamina showed every now and then after a taxing schedule. He has demonstrated mental strength by emerging victorious in games against great odds, but the head goes down with the rest of the body. Mixed indications of ability have baffled scouts, many of whom think Rask and his explosive butterfly slide should be the first to go in the draft as far as netminders are concerned, wishing for more support for that claim from Rask.

2. Teemu Laakso, D
6’0/190, 8/27/1987, R
HIFK

Whenever Laakso gets his offense going, the spectators agree – he is a star in the making. The U18 WC tournament in 2004 he dominated at the age of 16 is a good indication of that. Since then he has been haunted by injuries, which first ruined his offseason, and later in the spring an ankle injury kept him sidelined from the playoffs and then rendered him hopelessly ineffective in his second U18 WC appearance. This is where negative remarks on Laakso’s ability stem from: that he’s too fragile, doesn’t put up enough points, not big and strong enough.

A mid-sized European defenseman, Laakso can often suffer from the misconception that he is an offensive defenseman. But his defensive game is very underrated. Guided by all the hockey sense needed for the NHL, he moves swiftly and likes to handle his opponents physically. He still lacks in strength, but judging by his frame he will easily reach 200 pounds and more. As one of the youngest players in the draft, he may not be picked very early, but a disappointing result on draft day wouldn’t change what he is as a prospect.

3. Risto Korhonen, D
6’2/203, 11/27/1986, L
Kärpät Jr A

Born in 1986 and a strong junior player early, Korhonen was the first Finn in the draft class to make his name known. As a defensive stalwart he hasn’t been able to show dominance as much as many others have, which makes him seem relatively mortal. His first major international tournaments he experienced with the 2003 draft class. In the WJC of 2005 he was badly outmatched by players with more experience and fine-tuned physique, so he is surely looking forward to his last appearance there, as much more can be expected of him.

As a big man Korhonen skates smoothly but doesn’t have much speed to speak of. He’s mobile and will go for the big hit – yet still is rarely caught out of position. It’s somewhat surprisingly this overall package wasn’t effective in the North American WJC rinks. It isn’t very clear how much NHL organizations think of Korhonen’s game, and his predicted draft position can vary quite a lot in the range of day one.

4. Perttu Lindgren, C
6’0/180, 8/26/1987, L
Ilves Jr A

A mere day older than Laakso, Lindgren is also used to taking hits from older and bigger opponents. Even as Finland’s main offensive engine in the age group the finesse-oriented center hasn’t garnered much attention. Lindgren won the Jr A Finnish championship title in 2005, setting a new record for postseason points. Everything pointed to him being poised to skyrocket in prospect rankings in the U18 WC, but things went awry. Lindgren couldn’t even register a point before the relegation series.

Playing center, Lindgren has been able to focus less on checking and learn to play zone defense. NHL scouts must not be overly thrilled that he would rather cut passing lines and guide transitions than rush to the corners. Also his lacking physical abilities may have his style deemed unsuitable for the NHL, which can severely hurt him on draft day. Top 15 skill should, however, be a great asset.

5. Mikko Lehtonen, RW
6’4/193, 4/1/1987, R
Blues Jr A

Lehtonen has always been a noticeable player with good height and speed. He has been viewed perhaps as the national team’s most intriguing prospect even when the results haven’t quite reached the level of the top line forward that he is projected to be. Lehtonen’s stickhandling ability is such that his potential isn’t considered limited by skill any more so than by size or movement.

Sometimes Lehtonen is seen as a dangerous sniper, sometimes as a competent checker, but rarely both at the same time. He can be a bit too creative for his own good and hog the puck, failing at consistent team game. He is a risk to not put it all together to a complete, professional package,. History proves that this isn’t a primary concern for NHL organizations on draft day, though, so the well-scouted winger could end up picked a little too early.

6. Juho Mielonen, D
6’2/177, 3/1/1987, R
Ilves Jr A

Mielonen grew in height early and could always skate well, so he has been a core player for junior national teams and a solid prospect for quite some time. His career reached a high point just at the right time when he won the Jr A Finnish championship and was Finland’s best defenseman in the U18 WC as his last deeds before the looming draft.

Gaining mass is something Mielonen hasn’t done successfully, but he is still deceptively strong, more so than his heavier peers. His physical play is thus a question mark but a somewhat positive one. The most important thing about scouting Mielonen is his hockey sense, as he is often very composed yet regularly gives reminders of being a junior player. Whether he is headed toward the NHL is about 50-50, and it is his hockey smarts that will tilt the outcome to whichever side.

7. Tommi Leinonen, D
6’2/182, 5/14/1987, L
Kärpät Jr A

Leinonen was still scarcely known back in the 2004 offseason but broke out in 2004-05. He was strong with Kärpät Jr A and the U18 national team right from the start, and all of a sudden scouts were looking at a defenseman who skates smoothly, supports the forwards and takes good care of his own end. Leinonen was hurt in spring season which ruined the U18 WC for him, but during his short time anywhere near the spotlight he showed enough internationally to warrant a solid second day selection.

8. Miika Lahti, C
6’2/193, 2/6/1987, L
JYP Jr A

Lahti was one of only two forwards to join the ’86-born age group for the U18 WC in 2004. A utility center back then, he was automatically expected to assume more offensive responsibility in 2005. It was ignored that Lahti is a fairly defensive player by nature and wouldn’t score many points this time around either. His overall performance in 2004-05 was mediocre at best and those two things together got him some criticism. He should be seen as what he is, a checking center, and a pretty promising one at that.

9. Jussi Peltomaa, LW
6’0/193, 7/24/1987, L
Ässät Jr A

Peltomaa has been with the junior national teams for quite a while and really seemed to find his place in 2004-05 with his impressive checking game and chemistry with his linemates. The U18 WC was a major disappointment for him, the unity lost and the results with it. Peltomaa lacks strong skills and has never put up that many points, but he sure gets the job done. On the second day of the draft when thoughts drift to finding someone who would be good to have around on the team to fill roster spots, NHL organizations will take a long look at Peltomaa.

10. Timo Seppänen, D
6’0/207, 7/22/1987, L
HIFK Jr A

Seppänen has always had to fight for his spot in international tournaments, but he has come through. He may not have the most imposing frame or the most visible puck skills, but he is still often seen generating a surprising scoring opportunity or mucking near the own crease. His basic mold is quite simple, but it doesn’t help him from being mistake-prone and displaying a questionable hockey sense. Because of that Seppänen isn’t quite what is wanted of an NHL defenseman, but his potential isn’t as limited as those of many others.

11. Erkka Leppänen, D
6’1/177, 11/25/1986, L
JYP Jr A

Leppänen was an early bloomer and one of the first top players of Finland’s ’86 age group, already in the U18 WC two years before his draft. He lost his second chance there to injury and later couldn’t repeat the trick in U20 after progressing more slowly than most players. He has lost his status among the age group’s top prospects even though he is one of the few to have got a whiff of professional hockey. However, high talent level a few years in the past in comparison to players now of the same quality is more often a good sign than not, and the two-way finesse defenseman could surprise any day.

12. Ville Korhonen, C
6’0/182, 5/20/1987, L
Ilves Jr A

Ville Korhonen (not related to Risto Korhonen) is a player whose qualities are best described with a long line of words “good”, and that has earned him an impressive number of international appearances. The finesse center isn’t suited to play by aggressive physical tactics in the NHL, though. He may likely have to pursue a career in Europe, but he also stands a chance of following the examples set by Esa Pirnes (LA) and Petri Kontiola (CHI), similar players who also took steps toward the NHL in Korhonen’s hometown Tampere.

13. Jesse Uronen, RW
6’0/180, 3/16/1986, R
Jokerit Jr A

Uronen is the only player on the list not draft eligible for the first time. He was a core national team player in U17, but his stock went down in U18, and he missed his first real chance to gain prestige internationally. When now considered improved, the swift sniper still hasn’t done anything on foreign ice, but the attention is thanks to leading the Finnish Jr A league in goals and winning the MVP award due to his scoring. The knock on Uronen is that Finland has only a couple of offensive NHL forwards and Uronen would be lucky to be considered among the first 20 waiting in line, so the odds are greatly against him.

14. Juha Toivonen, G
5’10/165, 6/10/1987, L
HPK Jr A

Toivonen got an international career going in U17. A strong tournament in the spring of 2004 suddenly made him the age group’s national team backup, but he was unable to hold on to that status. HPK had a weak Jr A team in 2004-05 that was carried by their experienced goalie, and whenever the rookie Toivonen jumped in, the results were rather horrendous. As a result, he didn’t make the U18 WC. At the time he has a hard time proving that he is adept at guarding the net, but the small goalie has shown potential with his style of play. Naturally he has to move like the wind in order to get things done and also his technique looks intriguing if very raw. Toivonen can at best hopefully offer something to an NHL team in the distant future, so he is worth only getting over the draft threshold.

15. Mikael Kurki, D
5’11/178, 1/13/1987, L
Jokerit Jr A

Kurki is the age group’s former national team captain and MVP in U17. Even significantly smaller back then, he relied on his heart when confronting opponents. He won’t reach NHL size but wouldn’t be the only defenseman to overcome that obstacle. Still, Kurki isn’t an aggressive player. He uses his hockey sense to be in the right place at the right time and to use the strength he has when necessary. The problem is that he has never produced notably and is unlikely to ever become an offensive force. He doesn’t have the sheer talent to be a desirable pick, but some of the scouts who have seen him play may consider him too respectable a player to leave undrafted, a player who truly wants and knows how to help the team.

Past their junior years

Hannu Pikkarainen, D
6’1/188, 10/13/1983, L
HIFK

There are things about Pikkarainen that suggest he isn’t a young player of the typical mold. He lacked the physique and fine-tuned tactical ability used to create players for the junior national team and therefore went without a major international appearance. Years in HIFK’s system eventually produced a smart, creative two-way defenseman whose awaited breakout took place in 2004-05 with some noise. Pikkarainen is a very calm and composed player who can support the offense in any zone and hold his own in one-on-one situations. His strength and meanness are not on optimal levels, and he needs at least one more season in Finland before he can hope to move across the pond.

Miika Wiikman, G
6’0/180, 10/17/1984, L
HPK

Swedish-born and of Finnish descent, Wiikman went through kind of a career reboot when moving to Finland for good in 2003. He missed the train to the last possible WJC tournament but had no other trouble gaining new momentum. By his second fall he was already in SM-Liiga and posting good numbers against tough competition. Wiikman is too small to play optimal butterfly and too green to be in the Finnish goaltender mold. He maintains cool composure until the moment action is needed, and then he displays athleticism and technique sufficient for domination. His style isn’t a typical package, so it appears there is still plenty of room for improvement, perhaps enough to reach the NHL. He shouldn’t be headed for North America anytime soon, though.

Jukka Voutilainen, C
5’9/195, 5/14/1980, R
HPK

Voutilainen lost the 2000-02 season to a difficult hand injury but came back with a vengeance. He showed newfound confidence in his third SM-Liiga season of 2004-05, being immensely dominant, only to have the season put temporarily on hold due to injury. The remainder of his regular season was merely good, and his poor playoff performance cast doubt on his career prospects. Voutilainen had showed effectiveness against stronger competition in the Euro Hockey Tour when still a more modest SM-Liiga player, but that also means that was a good while ago. He is a speedy finesse center, a terrific stickhandler and when on his game also a deadly sniper. Earlier in the season he was thought to be likely drafted, but the chances are reduced now.

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