Top 30 at a glance
1. Kari Lehtonen, G
2. Hannu Toivonen, G
3. Petteri Nokelainen, C
4. Tuukka Rask, G
5. Mikko Koivu, C
6. Lauri Tukonen, RW
7. Valtteri Filppula, C
8. Perttu Lindgren, C
9. Riku Helenius, G
10. Jarkko Immonen, C
11. Sean Bergenheim, RW
12. Jesse Joensuu, LW
13. Lauri Korpikoski, RW
14. Sami Lepistö, D
15. Pekka Rinne, G
16. Teemu Laakso, D
17. Mikko Lehtonen, RW
18. Karri Rämö, G
19. Joonas Lehtivuori, D
20. Juhamatti Aaltonen, LW
21. Aki Seitsonen, C
22. Jan-Mikael Juutilainen, C
23. Oskar Osala, LW
24. Petri Kontiola, C
25. Robert Nyholm, RW
26. Masi Marjamäki, RW
27. Juho Mielonen, D
28. Niko Hovinen, G
29. Petteri Wirtanen, C
30. Miika Wiikman, G
Note: The number in parentheses indicates last year’s ranking for players who remain on the list.
1. (1) Kari Lehtonen, G – Atlanta
Team in 2006-07: Atlanta Thrashers (NHL)
Due to injuries and the lockout, Lehtonen still has limited experience in the NHL despite nominally being the Thrashers’ starting goalie last year. The qualities and achievements of the butterfly goalie make him the best goaltending prospect in the world and the best talent Finland has to offer at any position.
Some consider Lehtonen’s injuries a question mark concerning his future, while others see them as a past hindrance. But all of them have either been a result of being run into at the net or a long-term technical problem with his hips, which was finally diagnosed and addressed in 2005-06. Lehtonen has been spending his summer in Atlanta working with the team’s trainers to improve his overall physique.
In 2005-06, Lehtonen’s team missed the playoffs for the first time in his career. Taking club team seasons and official IIHF tournaments into account from the year 1999 on, he has been a playoff starter on ten occasions. These playoff runs have yielded four championship titles and only once has Lehtonen surrendered to a team that didn’t go on to win the championship.
2. (2) Hannu Toivonen, G – Boston
Team in 2006-07: Boston Bruins (NHL)
The second player on the list also has a grip on starting goalie duties in the NHL. Toivonen already proved able to carry the Bruins for a period until an ankle injury sidelined him in January 2006. No longer paired with Andrew Raycroft, he will be backed up by Tim Thomas in the upcoming season.
Toivonen is closer to a hybrid butterfly style than his main competition Lehtonen and Rask, even though he is one of the most flexible goalies out there and therefore suited for butterfly moves. The style works great for Toivonen, who has made good use of the tools he was predicted to have when he was drafted four years ago. Today he is a goalie nearly without flaws and possibly close to a high standing among NHL goalies.
3. (3) Petteri Nokelainen, C – New York Islanders
Team in 2006-07: New York Islanders (NHL)
Nokelainen remains the top skater on the list in spite of losing basically the entire 2005-06 season to knee tendonitis. As a strong and solid player he has managed to avoid injuries in his career, but this condition has bothered him for a while now. After failed attempts to heal the knee by other means, Nokelainen underwent surgery in the spring and will have the beginning of the 2006-07 season hampered by the recovery.
Nokelainen is a strong and gritty two-way forward with excellent positioning and little in the way of weaknesses. As a consistent defensive player and mature person with budding leadership, he is a welcome addition to any NHL line-up already. That makes it easier for him to develop toward his full potential, a Selke Trophy hopeful.
4. (6) Tuukka Rask, G – Boston
Team in 2006-07: Ilves (FIN)
Rask is a slim man at 6’2 and 173 pounds, which makes him the smallest of the top Finnish goaltending prospects. It is fortunate that Rask is also the fastest of them. He is comfortable in a butterfly stance, being perfectly able to make reflex saves and quick slides from the position. His athleticism showed improvement over the 2005-06 season, as did his hockey sense, which now seems only inconsistent because of his inexperience.
It was business as usual for Rask in the fall 2005, but then he took steps toward star status and was very strong and consistent performance for Ilves in the second half of the SM-liiga season, interrupted only by a visit to the WJC, where he was a tournament all-star. This made his rights a sufficiently valuable commodity to trade for Raycroft, as the Maple Leafs and the Bruins made a deal on draft day. Time will tell how well Rask and Toivonen can fit into the same organization in Boston.
5. (4) Mikko Koivu, C – Minnesota
Team in 2006-07: Minnesota Wild (NHL)
Ultimately, a knee injury suffered early in the 2005-06 season left the center prospect inches away from graduation when the season came to an end. Koivu did alright in his rookie campaign, providing defensive solidity for the Wild when he wasn’t scoring regularly. He has always been late to develop and is expected to still improve.
Koivu returned to don the Lions jersey in the 2006 World Championships. With Olli Jokinen as a late and crippled arrival, Koivu was Finland’s top center for most of the tournament. Against new kind of opposition he found ways to produce offense that he had not yet displayed as such in his career. In the long run he has the Wild’s second line in sight and is almost a sure bet to enjoy a long, fruitful NHL career.
6. (5) Lauri Tukonen, RW – Los Angeles
Team in 2006-07: Manchester Monarchs (AHL)
In 2005 Tukonen’s career was facing a downswing after a mediocre sophomore season with Espoo Blues. A move to the AHL proved a good decision so far, as he tripled his points-per-game ratio from his previous minor pro season and turned from a disappointment into an all-star forward in the WJC. He could easily afford to double the year’s point total of 36 in the AHL before he needs to move to the NHL. To reach for such numbers already in 2006-07 would do wonders to show that he is indeed a go-to guy – the kind he seemed to project to when selected to play against semi-pros before even turning 15.
Tukonen boasts a rock solid array of puck skills and his speed and frame together are fitting for a power forward. At his worst he displays mediocrity that would limit him to the third line in the NHL, while at his best he looks like a genuine first liner. Where Tukonen will fall within this range depends on small nuances and is very difficult to predict.
7. (7) Valtteri Filppula, C – Detroit
Team in 2006-07: Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Filppula has come a long way from the player who was physically incapable of playing in the WJC when underaged. Now he has gained more mass than most players with a frame like his ever will and has hardly any weaknesses left. Filppula’s first season with the Griffins was personally a complete success with 70 points in the regular season and 16 more in the playoffs. He also had the honor of becoming the first Finn ever to play for the Red Wings.
Filppula predicts plays like the best of them. He doesn’t get through the defense with speed and stickhandling alone: When he gets the puck, he knows exactly how far he can go with it. Once at the end of the line, he draws opponents to himself and dishes out a quick wrist shot or an accurate pass to an empty space. Soft hands, over 200 pounds of weight and exceptional balance make Filppula dominant in small spaces. The Wings are intent on making a scoring line forward of him, and they have every reason to expect results.
8. (14) Perttu Lindgren, C – Dallas
Team in 2006-07: Dallas Stars (NHL) / Ilves (FIN)
Lindgren raised his stock the most over the 2005-06 season of all the players featured in the top 30 last year. The finesse center turned 18 waiting for the season to begin and had no experience from playing against men, yet he held a third line spot night after night, eventually to move farther up in the line-up. He was an elite center in SM-liiga in the last third of the regular season, scoring 22 points in 18 games.
Even so, Lindgren wasn’t expected to be NHL ready. The Stars begged to differ and signed him to an entry-level contract, although with the catch that he would play either in Dallas or his native Tampere. Lindgren has to go a long way from the player he was last winter if he wants to make his impeccable stickhandling and hockey sense useful in the NHL already in 2006. For now his abilities work the best in the perimeter and against slower opponents. Still, only a handful of players are drafted each year whom Lindgren’s pucks skills can’t put to shame.
9. (NR) Riku Helenius, G – Tampa Bay
Team in 2006-07: Ilves (FIN)
A star was born in the U18 World Championships. Up until then, Helenius was one of the two talented split starters of the Finnish team, but a silver medal and being named the best goalie of the tournament changed all that. Helenius is a big, conventional butterfly goalie. He has excellent movement in all directions, which grants him strong game-breaking abilities and potential as an NHL starting goalie.
The 2006-07 season will be an interesting one for Finland’s only fresh first-round pick. Ilves has one of the youngest and the most gifted goaltending tandems in history with Helenius as the backup of the 19-year-old Rask. If everything goes as planned, Helenius will get the right amount of starts for a rookie. There is also a good chance that the same duo will be seen playing for Finland in the World Junior Championships.
10. (10) Jarkko Immonen, C – New York Rangers
Team in 2006-07: New York Rangers (NHL)
Immonen left Finland in 2005 as a skilled and well-rounded but also as an oldish prospect. In his first year under NHL contract he dispelled as many worries about his future as one could hope. He appeared to be quicker and strong than before, scoring 70 points in the AHL and his first couple of goals in the NHL.
Immonen is ready for the show and not far from the roles he could be expected to fill for the rest of his career. That is promising, considering that the 24-year-old center doesn’t have that much development ahead of him. Immonen is suited for all kinds of situations like faceoffs and special teams, and thanks to sufficient speed and strength he could do everything asked of a second-line center in the NHL.
11. (11) Sean Bergenheim, RW – New York Islanders
Team in 2006-07: Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (RUS)
The winger known for his great speed ended up in Bridgeport early in the 2005-06 season. Bergenheim’s wheels seemed to be skidding on his career path, as he already had plenty of AHL experience under his belt. He moved up eventually and 28 NHL games over the spring season might have established his presence in the league for good if not for his contract disputes with the Islanders. He will play in Yaroslavl, Russia in 2006-07.
Bergenheim was one of Finland’s finest in the 2006 World Championships. For the first time could he display experience and leadership on a high level of play, which is indicative of what the young all-around player can do in the NHL once he matures. Bergenheim has been known to struggle with finishing throughout his brief career. With a firmer grasp of what is going on around him, it is possible too that he get better control over scoring opportunities. He also proved a capable and fitting support for center Alexei Yashin in 2006, reinforcing the hopes that he will enjoy a career on a scoring line in the NHL.
12. (NR) Jesse Joensuu, LW – New York Islanders
Team in 2006-07: Ässät (FIN)
The former prodigy already had 110 pro games behind him on his draft day. Because of Joensuu’s early development, he has gained more attention and praise than his potential warrants, and so he has been falling steadily in rankings. A look at the big picture reveals that it doesn’t reflect the momentum of his development. With potential for slow and late development in the mold of Mikko Koivu, Joensuu projects to a good second liner in the NHL.
Ässät already had a scoring line position for Joensuu in 2005-06. The situation will be the same in 2006-07, although now he will be more ready for what is to come. Along with gathering experience and poise, the next few years will be spent refining his coordination. Joensuu must now take his time to develop, something the forward who debuted in the pro league at the age of 15 hasn’t done so far.
13. (13) Lauri Korpikoski, RW – New York Rangers
Team in 2006-07: Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL)
Korpikoski’s time in SM-liiga came to an end as he moved to Hartford for the last games of the 2005-06 season. His total of 13 points in 92 regular season games left people wanting more after each of the two years. The expectations were justified especially in the latter season, as he was effectively 14th among the team’s forwards in scoring despite holding a spot on the third line for most of the time.
Korpikoski’s season was saved by a good performance in the WJC. However, even there the hard-working speedster couldn’t hide his most severe flaws. After two years of pro hockey he is still as clueless as any rookie as to what is going on in the offensive end. While performing impressive dekes or fighting in traffic, he loses sight of his linemates and constantly misses the best opportunities for playmaking. Despite good all-around abilities and physique, Korpikoski looks like a late bloomer. Even when he does live up to his exceptional talent, though, his weaknesses will only improve so much, leaving him limited when it comes to scoring in the NHL. He is a player, but the shadow of his top 20 draft pick will always loom over him.
14. (15) Sami Lepistö, D – Washington
Team in 2006-07: Jokerit (FIN)
Lepistö’s 2005-06 season came close to ruin while playing on a dysfunctional team. Fortunately, he managed to develop even amidst the chaos of the Jokerit squad. The team was preparing to lose its top defenseman to Washington, but the Capitals didn’t feel the need to rush their prospect and so Lepistö will stay in Finland for another year. While it may seem that new AHL scenery would be the best for a defenseman who needs to solidify his defensive game, the tutelage of Doug Shedden that proved good for young talent in the IFK organization last year, is a good option too.
In the long run, Lepistö has shown development in his defensive game as well as his abilities of a power play quarterback and puck-carrying defenseman each. He showed outstanding flashes of his ability on the power play in Euro Hockey Tour games in 2005 and is just baby steps away from becoming a top quarterback in all of Europe. Over the past season, Lepistö has also developed when it comes to moving the puck from the own end into the offensive zone, a skill ever so important in the new NHL. Whether his overall play is good enough to make him a specialist player or a genuinely valuable defenseman remains to be seen.
15. (NR) Pekka Rinne, G – Nashville
Team in 2006-07: Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)
By 2004, Rinne was past his years of junior hockey without international experience and backup to Niklas Bäckström, one of the best goalies in Europe. The Predators sent scouts all the way to his native town of Oulu to see him on the ice in pre-game warmups only. That is why it was a surprise when Rinne was picked in the year’s draft and Bäckström wasn’t. Rinne would spend another year as a backup and then left for North America.
Then, in just one year, Rinne’s status in the Predators system turned from your everyday eighth-round pick to the first in line to join the NHL team. The big netminder has made the necessary improvements to his fundamentals that top level North American hockey requires. Time is against the 24-year-old, though, especially as the expectations set on him are based more on recent achievements than raw abilities. Rinne will fight for the Predators’ backup post in 2006-07 but will have a hard time against veteran Chris Mason.
16. (10) Teemu Laakso, D – Nashville
Team in 2006-07: HIFK (FIN)
Laakso’s 2005-06 season was another difficult one for him, with some health issues and not being able to secure a regular shift in SM-liiga at some points over the year. He did deliver at the pinnacle of the season, playing up to high expectations in the Finnish bronze-medal squad of the World Junior Championships.
Laakso was only 16 years old when his performance in the U18 WC was only the team’s success short of all-star quality. Ever since, Laakso has been expected to be a top prospect. However, in the challenging environments of the following two years he hasn’t had a realistic chance to dominate. That may change in his final year of international junior hockey, as he is ready to assume the status of the true No. 1 defenseman of the Finnish U20 team. He was the team’s captain and point leader in the season’s first tournament in Lake Placid. Provided that he play like a star once more, he can look forward to a long and glorious NHL career.
17. (14) Mikko Lehtonen, RW – Boston
Team in 2006-07: Blues (FIN)
Lehtonen, originally a third-round pick in the 2005 draft for his raw skills, has begun to show those skills according to schedule. In the 2005 preseason he was already crashing the net with Espoo Blues professionals and scored some beautiful goals that year. As he tries to establish his presence in SM-liiga a year later, Lehtonen is showing scoring instinct and tremendous puckhandling ability. The way he holds the puck and uses his quick hands is so effective that one day he could be a better puckhandler in small spaces than any other Finn.
Lehtonen’s game is still set back by serious inconsistency and poor cooperation with his linemates when in the offensive. He would do well to mature quickly, as the Bruins need him signed by 2007 lest they want to discard their uncut diamond. The requirements of the AHL differ from those of his native organization, and the Finnish U20 national team would also welcome a more complete Lehtonen in the near future. All in all, with the way he can score, a breakout is just baby steps away in 2006-07.
18. (18) Karri Rämö, G – Tampa Bay
Team in 2006-07: Springfield Falcons (AHL)
Following the great improvements witnessed in Rämö’s game over 2004-05, the young netminder moved to a new organization in 2005 and proved that his breakout was no fluke. Although having to settle with the status of the championship-winning team’s 1B goalie, Rämö had a successful season, as indicated by a GAA of 2.16 and a save percentage of .929 in 24 games. The Lightning offered him a contract after the season, and so Rämö is on his way overseas.
Rämö needs a few years in the AHL before being ready to move up. These seasons may be marked with uncertainty, as the Lightning is juggling an abundance of goalies in their system. Ultimately his greatest competition may be the Bolts’ recent first-round pick Helenius, but Rämö has the head start by being almost two years older. He may not quite have the poise and quickness of a future franchise goaltender, but his butterfly style is good for enough consistency and game-breaking ability to be a starting goalie in the NHL.
19. (NR) Joonas Lehtivuori, D – Philadelphia
Team in 2006-07: Ilves (FIN Jr A)
Although barely 18 years of age, Lehtivuori is a veteran in the Ilves organization with over 12 years of experience. The years with Ilves have granted him experience in winning. He has Finnish Jr C gold from the year 2004 and Jr B gold from 2006. The next challenge will be to crack the pro squad, which is boasting more capable defensemen in 2006-07 than it can dress.
Lehtivuori is at his best while carrying the puck. Some offensive defensemen are largely power play quarterbacks, whereas Lehtivuori represents the true value of the puck-moving defenseman in the neutral zone and the early stages of a rush. Tactics-wise, that is exactly what a team needs when it is lacking puck skills among defensemen — players like Lehtivuori are needed to play modern two-way hockey with all units. He has the tools in the fields of skating and stickhandling to keep developing his skills onto a strong NHL level, although he is lagging in physical training at this point.
20. (NR) Juhamatti Aaltonen, LW – St. Louis
Team in 2006-07: Kärpät (FIN)
Aaltonen was a long shot when picked in the ninth round of the 2003 draft. His gift for offensive hockey hadn’t blossomed into a complete package, and even after the draft he continued as a lone sniper in Kärpät juniors, still not ready for professional hockey. He was an in-between in the 2004-05 season when he played some pro games and achieved very little new in juniors. Everything changed in 2005-06 when he suddenly became a scoring threat. Twenty-five points would have been enough for the SM-liiga rookie of the year award in a season without Perttu Lindgren.
Skating, shooting, decisive poise and especially stickhandling are what make Aaltonen so special. When with the puck, he reminds the spectators of Pavel Datsyuk, completing even the most difficult of tricks. Aaltonen seems to have the abilities for very fast development in the coming years, but on the other hand a season like his 2005-06 would be the longest developmental stride in the careers of most prospects. Either way, Aaltonen will remain one of the most intriguing and entertaining figures in Finnish hockey, hopefully one day in NHL hockey as well.
21. (20) Aki Seitsonen, C – Calgary
Team in 2006-07: Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights (AHL)
A three-year career in the CHL is a path rarely trodden by Finns, but Seitsonen saw it to the end and earned an NHL contract in the process. Prince Albert wasn’t always an easy environment, and Seitsonen couldn’t improve his point totals very consistently in spite of being a reliable and well-rounded player. His versatility is reflected by the fact that he has played all forward positions, as well as power play blueliner for Team Finland in the WJC.
Seitsonen now needs time with the Knights in the AHL before knocking on the Flames lineup’s door. The question is what special skills he could offer the Flames in the future, although naturally, at Seitsonen’s age a player can’t change his tangible qualities that much any longer. He boasts in impressive shot but doesn’t have that strong sniper ability otherwise. Still likely to be an all-around player in the future, Seitsonen may be limited to the third line in the NHL.
22. (NR) Jan-Mikael Juutilainen, C – Chicago
Team in 2006-07: Jokerit (FIN Jr A)
Juutilainen was a national team key player from the start, leading the country in international scoring in U17 in 2004-05. His 2005-06 season was a disappointment in terms of points, but he ended the season on a very positive note as the captain of Finland’s silver medal team in the U18 World Championships. Juutilainen showed strong leadership and was the face of Finland’s units on the ice, which granted his future hopes significant credibility.
Juutilainen is a traditional finesse center. The explosiveness of his skating isn’t on par with most skill-oriented forwards of the NHL, but physical training alone may enable him to move faster more consistently. Patient maturation will bring him closer to the NHL, he definitely has the head and hands to play in the league. In the meantime, Juutilainen is looking to check out the NCAA rinks with the University of Omaha-Nebraska, starting in 2007-08.
23. (NR) Oskar Osala, LW – Washington
Team in 2006-07: Mississauga Ice Dogs (OHL)
At age 16, Osala was already 6’3 and weighed well over 200 pounds, which made it easy for him to stand out among his peers. He didn’t end up being only an early bloomer, as he maintained a status as a top 100 prospect in his draft class. Osala left for Mississauga for his draft year, eager to play the physical hockey of the Ontario Hockey League. He had a rough start, though, and not until the middle of the season did he start playing up to his potential.
If Osala can pick up where he left in the upcoming season, he has a chance to enjoy a better season than any other Finn in the CHL in recent memory. Still, perhaps the more interesting question is where he will spend his 2007-08 season. A three-year OHL career could be best for him, but his late 1987 birthdate complicates his junior status some. In any case, the Capitals need not worry about their prospect’s future, as it seems bright for the big and talented forward.
24. (25) Petri Kontiola, C – Chicago
Team in 2006-07: Tappara (FIN)
Kontiola first made a name for himself in the 2004 WJC as a two-way center of Finland’s third line, playing solid defense while occasionally displaying soft hands and a good vision of the ice. Since then he has assumed more offensive responsibilities with Tappara in SM-liiga and showed a different focus to his game. Kontiola already reached a pinnacle of sorts in 2005-06 as he led the league with 35 assists in the regular season.
The Hawks are bringing in young talent in abundance, so Kontiola is staying put for another season. His dekes, playmaking skill and knack for finding empty space on the ice are counted on to carry Tappara for another year. Kontiola’s main problem aside from very mediocre physical play is that he is a perimeter player who counts on the deficiencies of opponents to score. With scarce time, space and opportunities available in the NHL, he might face serious adversity in the NHL. However, if not, he stands a chance to outshine many top prospects in the offensive zone.
25. (NR) Robert Nyholm, RW – Columbus
Team in 2006-07: Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
The Swedish-speaking Finn moved from his native western coast to Helsinki to play hockey in his teens. He has truly impressed in some key international tournaments and domestic Jr A games, but the story of Nyholm’s career so far is being very dominant at times and suffering scoreless streaks at others.
Nyholm has the heart of a true power forward. As a strong skater, he blasts his way past defensemen, uses his strength well in corners and can hit fiercely at best. Explosiveness is his greatest asset and he has the speed and skillset to go with it. Although a good passer as well, he has a hockey sense that isn’t quite on par with the rest of his abilities. NHL forwards can maintain a smart game more consistently than Nyholm, so he still has a lot of experience to gain in order to overcome this obstacle in the way of his NHL hopes.
26. (24) Masi Marjamäki, RW – NY Islanders
Team in 2006-07: Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL)
One year ahead of Seitsonen, Marjamäki was the first Finn to complete three seasons in the CHL and move on to an NHL organization. He was expected to spend the season with the Sound Tigers in the AHL, which he did. His ability to perform at that level was not so easy to predict, and Marjamäki did struggle with scoring against professional players. A total of nine goals and 22 assists isn’t a whole lot for one season.
Marjamäki is a tenacious player and brings many intangibles to the table, but checking game alone won’t provide him with many years in the NHL. His puck skills are far from exceptional, yet with few weaknesses. Their development will certainly require a lot of time and effort, neither of which Marjamäki lacks. The AHL regular season showed that he is still a long way from realizing his dream, although his offense did pick up in the team’s short playoff run. The Islanders’ staff showed faith in Marjamäki at the end of the season by calling him up to appear in the last NHL regular season game.
27. (26) Juho Mielonen, D – Detroit
Team in 2006-07: Ilves (FIN)
A shoulder injury made 2005-06 a difficult season for Mielonen. He conquered a surprisingly big role with Ilves pros, but was limited to 17 games because of the injury, also missing the WJC tournament. When on the ice, Mielonen was a positive surprise in overall. He still keeps making rookie mistakes, but that is understandable of a player of his age.
Mielonen still doesn’t have a lot of mass for a 6’2 player, but he uses he strength well already. This bodes well for the results of his future physical training; he could become a force in the defensive zone, also thanks to his good mobility. Chances are the Red Wings want to hold on to their prospect and sign Mielonen in 2007, which would take him from his hometown Tampere to the AHL. The defense-oriented two-way blueliner is a good candidate to become a third-pairing defenseman in the NHL.
28. (NR) Niko Hovinen, G – Minnesota
Team in 2006-07: Jokerit (FIN Jr A)
Standing at over 6’5, Hovinen is a towering presence even in butterfly stance. He is the biggest Finnish goalie of his generation but still its typical member as far as movement goes. Despite his immature but big body, he has what it takes to dominate shooters with a butterfly style. He is calm but timid in his style of play; he doesn’t lunge toward the puck forcefully enough and surprisingly gets pushed around. His ability to read the game is still undeveloped, which also hinders his puckhandling. Hovinen has fantastic game-breaking ability and possesses tools for development with few boundaries for his potential.
Hovinen enjoyed no breakout season in his draft year and was picked as a project, not a top prospect. He was facing 40 shots per game behind the Jokerit Jr A defense and didn’t have much on which to base a solid season. Continuing to practice and play with Jokerit in Finland, Hovinen has his future still very open, even to an early breakout.
29. (NR) Petteri Wirtanen, C – Anaheim
Team in 2006-07: Portland Pirates (AHL)
Wirtanen needed to dominate Finnish Jr A for a season before being ready for the pros, a breakout and a draft pick in 2005-06. He played fantastic two-way hockey throughout the season and captained Finland to a WJC bronze. A two-way center with limited offensive upside, Wirtanen has excellent two-way smarts complemented by strong leadership and exceptional penalty-killing skills.
A recent Ducks signee, Wirtanen didn’t waste any time trying to become an NHL player. His two-way abilities can make him ready for the fourth line in the NHL surprisingly early, although not immediately, which Wirtanen himself has proclaimed his goal to be. Also, in the past he has proved a good center to more talented wingers, which can help his case in the future.
30. (NR) Miika Wiikman, G – free agent
Team in 2006-07: HPK (FIN)
The Swedish-born goalie of Finnish descent made his way to Finland in 2003, which wasn’t early enough to reach the spotlight of international junior games. Now Wiikman has debuted on the Finnish men’s national team, and as the recent playoff MVP of SM-liiga, a possible NHL future is topical for him.
Wiikman already sought to move to North America in 2006. With the NHL transfer deadline already passed, he signed with the Hartford Wolf Pack, but it turned out that he couldn’t waive his contract with HPK for an AHL deal. The contract dispute was eventually settled and Wiikman prepares for another season with the defending SM-liiga champions. Although he is officially an unrestricted free agent, it may be that he will join the Rangers organization once it becomes possible again in 2007. He had also attended the Rangers’ prospect camp earlier this offseason.
A hybrid-style goalie standing 6’0, Wiikman isn’t the typical big, dominant butterfly netminder. His movement is impeccable and he has game-breaking ability, but so far he has suffered from inconsistent play. A goalie with his potential would still be a welcome addition to any team’s prospect pool.
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