The number of players drafted from Finland will likely never again reach the record numbers prior to the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Since that time, NHL clubs have tended to see how players from Finland and other European countries develop and then sign them as free agents rather than drafting youngsters.
But after hitting a post-lockout low of four players in 2007 the number of players drafted from Finland has steadily increased, with at least one Finnish-trained player being taken in the first round in each of the last three drafts.
That trend should continue this year as 17-year-old Tappara forward Aleksander Barkov could be one of the top five players picked, while TPS defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is expected to follow shortly after. The Hockey's Future staff mock draft has Barkov going to Carolina with the fifth pick and Ristolainen going to Philadelphia with the 11th pick.
As in past years, the prospects after the top two are a bit less clear.
Goalie Juuse Saros is the top-ranked European goalie in Central Scouting's final rankings but at this point there is some conjecture as to whether any goalies are picked in the first round (the HF Mock Draft had no goalies taken in the first round).
Despite his less-than-ideal height for an NHL goaltender, however, Saros should hear his named called sometime during the early rounds of the draft.
KalPa forward Artturi Lehkonen is another player who had success in Finland's SM-Liiga as a 17-year-old and skated in both the 2013 U20 and U18 World Junior Championship tournaments.
Like other European countries, Finland has lost some of its top prospects to Canadian junior hockey, with forwards Henri Ikonen (Kingston) and Jonatan Tanus (Peterborough) both playing in the Ontario Hockey League. Former Espoo juniors defensemen Ahti Oksanen, passed over in two previous drafts, impressed as a freshman at Boston University.
All three are considered "North American" prospects according to the criteria at Hockeys Future.
There are several Finnish players eligible for the draft for the first time who will draw late-round interest while others such as Espoo Blues forward Miro Aaltonen and defenseman Simo-Pekka Riikola of SaiPa could be taken with a late round flier after being passed over in previous drafts.
Here are the top 10 Finnish players eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft:
1. Aleksander Barkov, C, Tappara Tampere
6'2”, 205 lbs., 9/2/95
The son of former Russian national team player Alexander Barkov, the big forward suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during the SM-Liiga playoffs which kept him out of the 2013 U18 World Junior Championship. The injury, however, should not affect his draft status.
After appearing in 32 games in Finland's SM-Liiga as a 16-year old in 2011-12, Barkov was Tappara's second-leading scorer in his second season, behind former NHL player Ville Nieminen. Barkov scored 21 goals with 27 assists in 53 games and was +18 with 8 penalty minutes.
Barkov plays with anticipatory abilities and hockey sense that is advanced for his age and has the size and skill level to suggest he can be a top line forward.
He skated for Finland at the 2013 U20 World Junior Championship tournament in Ufa, where he scored three goals with four assists in seven games.
Barkov is the top-ranked European skater in Central Scouting's final rankings and is likely to be the fourth straight Finnish forward taken in the first round, following Mikael Granlund (Minnesota, 2010), Joel Armia (Buffalo, 2011) and Teuvo Teravainen (Chicago, 2012).
2. Rasmus Ristolainen, D, TPS Turku
6'3”, 205 lbs., 10/27/94
Like Barkov, Ristolainen made his SM-Liiga debut as a 16-year-old in 2011-12 and plays with a poise and maturity that is well beyond his years.
Already possessing the size that suggests he can make the jump to pro hockey, Ristolainen first impressed North American scouts at the 2012 U20 World Hockey Championship, stepping up and playing a key role for Finland after the team's top defenseman, Olli Maatta, was injured in the opening game of the tournament.
This season he was again one of the top defensemen for Finland at the World Junior Championship — scoring two goals with four assists and finishing +5 with 20 penalty minutes in six games — and played a key role for TPS in an otherwise disappointing season for the Turku club.
Ristolainen scored three goals with 12 assists and was -7 with 32 penalty minutes in 52 games. TPS finished 13th in the 14-team league.
Ristolainen is ranked fourth among European skaters in the CSS final rankings.
3. Juuse Saros, G, HPK A Junior
5'10”, 180 lbs., 4/19/95
Saros has been the dominant goalie in Finnish junior hockey the past two seasons and was impressive in Sochi, Russia during the 2013 U18 World Junior Championship.
The only European goalie invited to the 2013 NHL Combine, Saros is a bit shorter than prototypical goaltending prospects but his skill level and production are top rate. No goalie has matched his level of play at the junior level and he seemingly never gives up on stopping a scoring chance.
With Saros in the net the past two seasons, HPK's junior team, normally a middle of the pack club, won the bronze medal in 2011-12 and this past season was the top team in Finnish junior hockey. Saros played 43 games in 2012-13 and was 24-13 with four shutouts – posting a 1.86 goals against and .933 save percentage. He was 9-2 in 11 playoff games and had a 2.09 goals-against and .923 save percentage.
Saros is the top-ranked European goaltender in the CSS final rankings.
4. Artturi Lehkonen, W, KalPa Kuopio
5'10”, 155 lbs., 7/4/95
Obtained by KalPa after playing 20 games in the SM-Liiga with TPS in 2011-12 as a 16-year-old, Lehkonen was the club's second-leading scorer, finishing with 14 goals and 16 assists in 45 games and adding two goals with one assist in four playoff games.
Like Barkov, he skated for Finland in both the U18 and U20 World Junior Championship tournaments.
In January at the U20 event he struggled to produce offensively at times, at least partially due to the injury to his linemate Aaltonen, who broke his ankle in the first game against Latvia. That injury forced Lehkonen into more of a checking role and was also a key factor in Finland missing the medal round.
Lehkonen was one of the top playmakers for the bronze medal-winning U18 team, scoring three goals with six assists and was +2 with 12 penalty minutes in seven games.
Lehkonen, at this point, is a highly-skilled offensive player with scoring instincts and the technical skating, stick handling and passing/shooting skills to support his mental game. Still developing physically, he is not overly combative but his high-end talent should attract interest.
Lehkonen was ranked 9th among European skaters in the CSS final rankings.
5. Juuso Ikonen, Espoo Blues
5'9”, 170 lbs., 1/3/95
Finland's U17 and U18 teams this past season featured several highly-skilled, speedy but under-sized forwards capable of creating scoring chances and using their passing and skating talents to great affect. No relation to Kingston's Henri Ikonen, Juuso Ikonen is arguably the most talented of this group.
His stature is an obstacle for him at times in small spaces, or in "dirty" area play, though he has shown a willingness on occasion to carry the puck into those areas to create scoring plays. His skill set makes him a valuable power-play asset.
Ikonen made his SM-Liiga debut in 2011-12, and played in 15 playoff games as the Blues reached the playoff semifinals and lost in the bronze medal game. Ikonen got off to a fast start for Espoo in his first full season this year – averaging 14 minutes of ice-time – but faded a bit offensively. He finished the year with 13 goals and 13 assists in 57 games, with 20 of his 26 points coming before January.
Ikonen was an assistant captain for the bronze medal-winning Finnish U18 team. In seven games he scored two goals with five assists. He also led Espoo's U20 team to a silver medal in domestic play – scoring three goals with 10 assists in 10 playoff games.
Ikonen was ranked 23rd amongst European skaters in the CSS final rankings.
6. Janne Juvonen, G, Pelicans Lahti/Peliitat Heinola (Mestis)
6'1”, 185 lbs., 10/3/94
Overshadowed by Saros amongst Finnish goaltending prospects, Juvonen split the season between Lahti's men's and junior teams as well as skating for Peliitat in Mestis.
A product of the Jokipojat junior program in eastern Finland, Juvonen moved from Joensuu to Lahti during the 2011-12 season, eventually making his SM-Liiga debut as a 17-year-old. After playing in two regular season games, he was called on to play for the Pelicans in the playoffs due to a nagging hip injury to starter Niko Hovinen. Juvonen was 0-2 in the playoffs, but stopped 42 of 46 shots to finish with a 2.43 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
According to Erno Laisi, who coached Juvonen during his junior days with Jokipojat, he is a "very calm goalie, good with the puck, and he can clear his mind very fast after a bad play."
With veterans Jere Myllyniemi and Joonas Kuusela handling the bulk of the goaltending for Pelicans, which finished a disappointing 11th in the 14-team SM-Liiga this past season, Juvonen appeared in four games and was 1-3 with a 3.51 goals-against average and a .884 save percentage. In 17 games for Peliitat he had a 3.18 goals-against and a .902 save percentage.
Juvonen was with Finland's U20 team at the 2013 World Junior Championships. He appeared in one game as the backup to Blue Jackets' prospect Joonas Korpisalo, stopping all 15 shot he faced in an 8-0 win over Germany in the relegation round.
Juvonen was not among the ten European goaltenders in the CSS final ratings.
7. Aleksi Mustonen, C/LW, Jokerit/Kiekko Vantaa (Mestis)
5'8”, 150 lbs., 3/28/95
The team captain for Finland's bronze medal squad at the 2013 U18 World Junior Championships, Mustonen would likely be more than a middle-to-late round pick if judged solely on his talent, tenacity, and ability to play in all situations. Like Juuso Ikonen, he is a small player but makes up for that with outstanding skating ability and a willingness to compete all over the ice.
He spent the bulk of the season competing against older players with Kiekko-Vantaa in Mestis, while also skating in three SM-Liiga games for Jokerit and playing for Jokerit's U20 and U18 teams.
Mustonen was scoreless in his brief SM-Liiga stint. He scored five goals with 10 assists in 26 Mestis games for Kiekko-Vantaa and was -6 with 6 penalty minutes. In seven games at the U18 WJC he scored three goals with two assists and was +3. Mustonen played 10 games for Jokerit's U20 team during the regular season and had 14 points in seven playoff games for the Jokerit U18 squad.
Mustonen was ranked 49th among European skaters in the CSS final ratings.
8. Miro Aaltonen, F, Espoo Blues
5'10”, 165 lbs., 6/7/1993
In four of the last five NHL Drafts, clubs have taken a late-round flier on a Finnish player who has passed through the draft at least once. If that is the case once again this year we have a strong feeling it will be Aaltonen.
Aaltonen has passed through two drafts, most likely due to his lack of size, but the two-way forward took his game to another level this season before suffering an horrific ankle injury in Finland's first game at the 2013 World Junior Championship which kept him out of the tournament and the rest of the SM-Liiga season.
A dominant scorer for Jokipojat and with Finland's U17 and U18 teams during his junior days, Aaltonen proved he could score at the professional level, as well, scoring 11 goals in just 32 games for Espoo after seeing limited ice time in 26 games with the club a year earlier. He had five assists and was -2 with 22 penalty minutes, showing an abrasiveness to his game that some scouts felt was lacking previously.
Aaltonen returned for the Blues' U20 team during their playoffs and in eight games scored four goals with nine assists, finishing +6 with four penalty minutes.
Aaltonen, ranked 69th among European skaters by CSS in 2011 and 33rd in 2012, was ranked 22nd in the mid-term rankings this season but slipped to 40th in the final 2013 rankings after the injury.
9. Atte Makinen, D, Tappara Tampere A Junior
6'3”, 205 lbs., 5/17/95
Makinen is a no-nonsense, defense-first defender with the size and disposition of a prototypical physical defenseman. The latest in a recent run of big-bodied defenders from Finland, Makinen does not appear to have the offensive components of players like Ristolainen or 2012 first round pick Maatta, but does make smart plays with the puck and can unload a shot from the point
Makinen played in four Mestis games with LeKi (one goal, +3, four penalty minutes), spending most of the season with Tappara's U20 team. An assistant captain, he scored five goals with nine assists in 40 games and was +7 with 71 penalty minutes.
Makinen was an assistant captain for Finland's U18 team in Sochi. He had one assist and was +3 with 8 penalty minutes in seven games as Finland captured a bronze medal.
He was rated 42nd among European skaters in the CSS mid-term rankings but was at 89 in the final rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft. .
10. Joose Antonen, C, JyP-Akatemia (Mestis), JyP Jyvaskyla A Junior
6'2”, 180 lbs., 4/28/95
Possessing the size that some of the other second-tier Finnish forward prospects lack, Antonen's strengths are his two-way game, skating and all-around play. While not a pure goal scorer or flashy offensive player, he is willing to do all the intangibles like blocking shots and back checking.
A product of the Ilves junior program in his hometown of Tampere, Antonen moved to Jyvaskyla this season, skating in Mestis with JyP-Akatemia and playing for the JyP junior team. In 30 regular season Mestis games he scored five goals with six assists and was +6 with 20 penalty minutes. He had 13 points in 15 regular season games for the JyP U20 team and in six A junior playoff games was +1 with one goal and three assists.
Antonen was part of the bronze medal-winning Finnish U18 team at the World Junior Championship in Sochi, Russia, scoring four goals with one assist in seven games.
He was rated 51st among European skaters in CSS final rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft.
Other draft-eligibles (listed in alphabetical order by position)
Ville Husso, HIFK Helsinki A Junior
6'1”, 185 lbs., 2/6/95
Saros' backup on Finland's U18 team, Husso possesses the size that the HPK goalie lacks but was inconsistent at times in international play.
He played well in the domestic junior league, appearing in 41 games and finishing with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. In five playoff games he posted a 2.23 goals-against and a .926 save percentage.
Husso was ranked sixth among the 10 European goalies in CSS final rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft.
Ville Runola, TPS A Junior
6'0”, 165 lbs., 1/4/93
A bit of a late bloomer, Runola has spent the past two seasons in Turku under the tutelage of top goaltending mentor Urpo Ylonen. He appeared in 29 games for the TPS U20 squad with a goals-against of 2.73 and a .905 percentage and handled the bulk of the goaltending in the playoffs – appearing in nine games.
Not ranked among the 10 European goalies in the CSS final rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft.
Oskari Setanen, Lukko Rauma A Junior
6' 0", 175 lbs., 4/28/94
The goaltending in Rauma's junior program has generally been a one-man operation in recent years and Setanen was that goalie this year, appearing in a league-high 45 regular season games and 10 playoff contests for Lukko. The 18-year-old also played in five games for Finland's U19 team.
He was not among the 10 European goalies in the CSS final rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft.
Mikko Lehtonen, TPS Turku/ TPS A Junior
5'11”, 180 lbs., 1/16/1994
Passed over in his first year of draft eligibility in 2012, Lehtonen's 2012-13 season was a mirror image of his previous year. He saw limited ice time on the TPS blueline with Ristolainen, appearing in 13 SM-Liiga games, and was one of the better offensive defensemen in the U20 league.
Ranked 30th in the final rankings by CSS in 2012, he was not among the 130 European skaters in the final rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft.
Aleksi Makela, Ilves Tampere/Ilves A Junior
6'2", 190 lbs., 2/8/95
Not to be confused with the 20-year-old defenseman with the same name who played for Karpat, this Aleksi Makela played in seven regular season games and three relegation series contests for last-place Ilves in the SM-Liiga and skated for the club's U20 and U18 teams. He had one goal with one assist and was -2 in the regular season and was +2 with one assist in the series against Mestis champion Jukurit.
Makela played 37 games for the Ilves U20 team and skated for the Finnish U18 team in international competition, but did not participate in the World Junior Championship tournament.
Makela was ranked 96th among European skaters in the CSS final rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft.
Janne Palve, Karpat A Junior
6'2", 185 lbs., 10/8/92
Another late bloomer, the 20-year-old Palve plays in northern Finland and has never been a part of the Finnish junior national team program. But his size and offensive production make him a candidate for a late round “reach” pick. He led all junior defensemen with 43 points, including 10 goals, and was +21 with 41 penalty minutes in 44 games for Karpat.
Not among the 130 European skaters in the CSS final rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft.
Rasmus Kulmala, C, TPS A Junior
5'8”, 160 lbs., 6/21/94
Was highly-ranked but not not selected after an impressive U18 World Junior Championship tournament in 2012. To his credit, the under-sized Kulmala established himself as a professional in Finland's SM-Liiga, appearing in 49 games for TPS as an 18-year-old. His offensive numbers were limited compared to his high-scoring junior totals – three goals with five assists – and Kulmala was +3 with 8 penalty minutes.
Kulmala was not among the 130 European skaters in the CSS final rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft.
Thomas Nykopp, LW/C, HIFK Helsinki/HIFK A Junior
6'3”, 190 lbs., 3/6/93
Nykopp returned to Finland after playing for the USHL's Tri-City Storm in 2011-12 and made his pro hockey debut, appearing in 32 games for HIFK as a rookie. While his skating and mobility are issues, he opened eyes, particularly at the 2013 U20 World Junior Championship, with his willingness to do all the dirty jobs, block shots and effectively use his size to his advantage.
Nykopp had four assists in 32 games for HIFK and was -4 with 28 penalty minutes. He played two playoff games and was scoreless and -2. Skating for Finland in Ufa, Russia he had four assists and was +3 with six penalty minutes.
Now 20 years old, he was not among the 130 European skaters in the CSS final rankings prior to the 2013 NHL Draft.
Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @HockeyNJ12