Wild European prospects review 2009-10

By Peter Prohaska

After making the astute selection of Mikko Koivu out of TPS Turku at sixth overall in 2001, the Wild have not had much success with their European scouting. They have European-born players such as Erik Haula and Alexander Fallstrom playing in North America, however.

The Wild currently have a small cluster of players in Finland, one in Switzerland, and one in Sweden.

Jere Sallinen, LW — Espoo Blues (SM-Liiga)

(6th Round, 163rd Overall, 2009)

Sallinen is a decent sized left wing (6’0 183) now playing with the Espoo Blues of the SM-Liiga. Sallinen took a crushing blueline check at the 2010 World Juniors from Russia‘s Evgeny Timkin and missed the remainder of that tournament. Sallinen returned to his team, none too much the worse for the wear. Noted for a physical style of game, Sallinen will have to learn to protect himself to succeed at this level and the next.

This season Sallinen scored only 11 points (five goals), but did it in 38 games, so his points per game are not all that far off the pace of the older pros (such as Jarko Immonen) on his team. Sallinen’s 11 points were also good for fourth in under 20s point production for the SM-Liiga, but his total is also more than 20 points behind Mikael Granlund (2010-eligible). At the junior level, Sallinen had eight points in six games this year.

Sallinen is close to ready for a stint playing in North America. Currently involved in the SM-Liiga playoffs, he assisted on his older brother Tomi’s game-winning triple-overtime goal recently against Oulu. He has two points in three games.

Eero Elo, LW — Lukko Rauma (SM-Liiga)
(5th Round, 145th Overall, 2008)

Elo was born in Rauma, and played at all levels of the Lukko Rauma system. Tall and thin (6’3", 189 pounds), he is a scorer with a physical game. Elo has begun this year to put up some numbers against good competition in the SM-Liiga. His seven goals and 10 points in 19 games put him in the top five for under-20s in the SM-Liiga. He turns 20 next month. At the Jr. A level this year, he had 36 points in 19 games, and with the World Junior team, three points in six games.

If Elo can pack on a few more pounds of muscle, he would have the requisite size to compete on a regular basis in North America. He seems to possess a bit of edginess, and a scorer’s touch. His favored shot is a quick wrister, which is accurate enough for now. He will get a chance for some playoff hockey; his team meets TPS Turku in the quarter-finals. He has three points in four games in the playoffs.

Morten Madsen, RW — MODO (SEL)

(4th Round, 122nd Overall, 2005)

The enigmatic Dane who put up astounding numbers in his North American début with Victoriaville of the QMJHL just never seemed fully on board for the NHL. His first professional season with Houston wasn’t completely awful (20 points), but he scored only three goals and got demoted, something which seemed to derail him personally. Madsen got back with the program the next season, but just didn’t improve enough (56 games and 22 points) to get a chance with the big club. After competing with the Wild at the Traverse City Tournament, he took a bigger paycheck and greater geographical familiarity and currently plays with Modo of the Swedish Elite League. There he seems to be quite comfortable. If Madsen ever comes back to North America, it will likely be as a member of another club, or as part of Denmark‘s national team.

He finished his regular season with with 11 goals and nine assists and 58 penalty minutes in 45 games. He seemed to play the role of a checking line or third line right wing, but he did shoot often (96 shots on goal) so perhaps his offense looks better with some luck next season. His Modo team does feature some excellent talent in former NHLers Peter Forsberg, Mats Naslund, Niklas Sundstrom, and Dan Hinote, as well the Norwegian star Mats Zuccarello-Aasen.

Julian Walker, RW — Ambri-Piotta (NLA)
(6th Round, 162nd Overall, 2006)

Walker is a big Swiss-born winger (6’2", 209 pounds) currently playing for Ambri-Piotta of the Swiss League along with former Wild prospect and Minnesota native Erik Westrum and former Houston Aero Kirby Law. In 48 games this season, Walker tallied six goals and 22 points. Walker does not seem to have the skill level necessary for playing in North America. He did serve as an assistant captain for his team, an impressive honor considering he is just 23.  He did not quite make the cut for the Swiss Olympic team for 2010, but he was at least strongly considered for the honor. Walker’s Ambri-Piotta won their consolation playoff series against EHC Biel (Bienne) to cap a season in which they finished dead last in the Swiss League.

Harri Ilvonen, D — Tappara Tempere (SM-Liiga)
(6th Round, 170th Overall, 2007)

Ilvonen is a defender of serviceable size (6’2", 187 pounds) and possessing of a degree of offensive skill (six goals and 19 points over 54 games this season), but like so many of the prospects in Minnesota’s system, is just not considered high-end enough to crack an NHL lineup on a regular basis. Nonetheless, a sixth rounder who develops into a dependable defenseman would be considered a big win for the Wild. Ilvonen is one of the Wild’s more interesting prospects, given their relative dearth of offensively gifted defensemen. For a 21-year-old playing in a men’s league, Ilvonen would seem to be holding his own rather well. His -6 isn’t great, but considering his role and the middling strength of the squad, it passable. Ilvonen scored a goal the other night as Tappara eliminated Jokerit in the SM-Liiga playoffs.

Niko Hovinen, G — Lahti (SM-Liiga)
(5th Round, 132nd Overall, 2006) 

At first glance, Hovinen seems like a goaltending prospect who is quite likely to succeed in the NHL at some point. He possesses enormous size (6’7", 200 pounds) and came up with Jokerit. Hovinen made steady progress through the divisions, putting up a notable 2006-07 season with a 2.71 GAA and .917 save percentage in Junior A. The next year saw Hovinen bouncing between Junior A and the big club, but showing a very poor progression with his numbers (2.74 GAA and .905 save percentage in Junior A). Hovinen’s numbers in the Finland‘s top league were not worthy of optimism, and he was traded to the Pelicans of Lahti the next season. There he labored as a backup and put up a 2.92 GAA and .896 save percentage over 21 games. There is not much to report for 2009-10 as he stayed in the same occasional backup role, posting a .911 save percentage in 16 games in the SM-Liiga and .912 in the second division. Hovinen is a player with the basic tools to have success, but there’s not much reason to think his success will be with the Wild. Hovinen’s Pelicans failed to qualify for the playoffs.