NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — Finland always produces premier talent for the NHL draft, and this year should be no different. Although the Finns don’t have a 2020 draft prospect with the hype of an Aleksander Barkov or Patrik Laine or Kaapo Kakko, the overall depth of the class remains formidable from both the skill forward and two-way defenseman categories. In terms of first-round potential, only center Anton Lundell has that solidified, while opinions on the remainder of the group differ from analyst to analyst.
Below is a brief list of the more notable first-year draft eligibles who have played for Finland at international events and are considered the top players from a junior-age standpoint.
1. Anton Lundell Center | HIFK, SM-Liiga | 6’1, 185 | 10/3/01 | 31gp-7g-14a-21pts
A cerebral two-way center with an excellent shot, Lundell is the cream of a relatively thin crop of draft-eligible Finnish forwards. What stands out statistically is that he’s played each of the last two seasons as a regular for one of Finland’s most successful franchises. It’s not often you see a first-year draft eligible average close to a point a game in a men’s league, but Lundell has been on fire since returning from an elbow injury that shelved him during the under-20 world junior hockey championship.
Lundell projects to be a top-six center who can play on special teams and take key faceoffs. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that some teams may have Lundell as high as third or fourth on their internal draft boards. He’s intelligent, mature, and one of the more polished prospects available.
For a more detailed scouting report and video highlights, click here.
2. Kasper Simontaival Right Wing | Tappara U20, Nuorten SM-Liiga | 5’9, 177 | 1/11/02 | 41gp-20g-25a-45pts
Simontaival is pure offense. He’s one of the top scorers for Tappara and even produced in a small group of games in Finland’s adult-age Mestis league. He may not be the biggest kid on the ice, but Simontaival plays with intensity and is always looking to ram his offensive prowess right down his opponents’ throats. He spends a lot of time hovering near his own line in search of passes to pick off and turn into instant odd-man rushes.
Simontaival has been a threat anywhere he’s played. From a top-six role in the Mestis to a first-line winger at the junior and international level, Simontaival has been able to use his quickness and attack-first mentality to generate multiple chances for himself or his linemates. Creating time and space is rarely a problem for someone with quick feet and advanced puck control like Simontaival, and his anticipation off the hop is quite high. In the last U18 5 Nations tournament, Simontaival played alongside a pair of physical forwards in 2021 draft prospect Samuel Helenius and winger Eetu Liukas, and he was actively engaged in boards battles and fought for pucks before he dished them out for one-timers or chances near the net.
From a skating standpoint, Simontaival maintains a slightly hunched posture but can drop a quick first step. Having a low center of gravity might make one think his stride is short or choppy, but Simontaival’s stride is long and clean, and he can outpace pressure even from an equal starting point. He’s nimble and agile in tight spaces, and Simontaival is consistent in his ability to fake or juke an opponent to lean the wrong way and beat them to a spot for a clean look. He has very strong edges, and there are several stylistic comparisons to Chicago Blackhawks prospect Niklas Nordgren.
Hirvonen is an aggressive two-way center with quickness and tireless approach towards every shift while keeping his feet moving at all times. There are games where he will keep his foot on the gas from start to finish and maintain the intensity from start to finish. Even on power plays, Hirvonen stays in motion and will alternate sides of the ice. He handles the puck with ease and is agile in all directions, which helps him run the possession of a power play from the right half wall. Hirvonen also plays on the penalty kill and will pressure the points without overcommitting himself.
In terms of assessing the handful of SM-Liiga draft eligibles, one can make a strong argument that Hirvonen in comparison with Anton Lundell is more creative, has better vision, and his shot may be equally as deadly. He has spent the entire season with Assat’s top team and is one of the league’s leading minute eaters among rookies. Hirvonen is quick in open ice, calculated with his zone entries, and shows fearlessness when he’s taking the puck strong to the net. Although he can come across as a finesse forward at first glance, Hirvonen doesn’t mind getting dirty in the corners or knocking an opponent off balance in the low slot. He was one of the top players at the recent under-18 Five Nations tournament and was deserving og a spot on the under-20 world junior championship squad.
#U20: Nice look and feed by C Roni Hirvonen to find a cutting Mikko Kokkonen (TOR) and beat Askarov high blocker. Thought he played it well, so credit to Kokkonen for picking that corner. pic.twitter.com/D0qlP3eEcX
A no-nonsense puck mover who apparently has played more error-free games than any draft-eligible defenseman I’ve watched this season, Jurmo has to be considered one of Europe’s top two-way rearguards. He plays for a superpower in Jokerit, which relies on him to eat big minutes, play on special teams, and match up against opposing top lines.
Jurmo has everything you would want in a potential top-pairing defenseman. He is an effortless skater with a long, clean stride who doesn’t buckle under the first sign of pressure. When it comes to the breakout, Jurmo utilizes quick thinking and a series of deceptive moves to either peel away from a forechecker or trap him with a bank pass. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Jurmo can be an intimidating presence as he powers through the zone at top speed. His decision making with the puck is more clean than it is creative, but he has excellent vision and will delay in the offensive zone to open up a line for either a hard shot or an on-the-tape seam pass. And good luck trying to dance around him in a one-on-one scenario — Jurmo closes on rushing forwards in a hurry and will neutralize an entry attempt with either a strong body check or well-timed stick-on-puck.
It’s hard to find fault in a young defenseman who has excelled at every level, although Jurmo is a bit of newcomer on the international scene. Like most gifted teenage blueliners, Jurmo tries to do everything on his own, specifically in the defensive end. Developing chemistry with his partner has not been a problem, but at times he can be caught chasing well away from the slot. Still, these observations are minor and certainly fixable. From a point-production standpoint, Jurmo is not a run-of-the-mill shoot-first defender, but Jokerit’s slew of talented forwards on their high-powered roster limits his opportunities to be creative. If he ever finds himself on a top-heavy squad, the potential for primary assists off the shot or pass will increase.
I seem to be a bit more bullish on Jurmo than most but I’ve been pretty transparent and descriptive when assessing his game. The fact is Finland chose Jurmo over Topi Niemela and Eemil Viro to play for the under-19 team at the recent Four Nations in Berlin, where he delivered an impressive performance (3 goals, 3 assists in four games). I see him going no lower than the third round of the draft.
5. Veeti Miettinen Right Wing | Blues U20, Nuorten SM-Liiga | 5’9, 161 | 9/20/01 | NCAA: St. Cloud St.
One of the most prolific scorers in all of Finnish junior hockey since the beginning of last season, the diminutive Miettinen may also be considered one of the purest of skill forwards in this draft. Take away the size equation and you’re still looking at a dynamic playmaker with an elite shot who plays in all situations. In fact, Miettinen might very well be the top shorthanded threat in any teenage league, let alone the premier Jr. A SM-Liiga.
It’s easy to point towards Miettinen’s aforementioned shot or his playmaking abilities — what scoring leader doesn’t possess at least one or both of those qualities? The most impressive aspect of Miettinen’s game, however, is the way he thinks plays two, three, sometimes even four plays ahead of everyone else. He’s constantly picking off passes near the opposing line or intercepting leads via the forecheck. Additionally, Miettinen is an inside player with excellent lateral quickness and edgework, and when he cuts inside he still gets a lot of mustard on his wrister, especially when going against the grain.
NHL Central Scouting was quite low on Miettinen in their midterm rankings (92nd among European skaters, which projects to be somewhere between a fifth to seventh-round pick, if drafted). I’m sure they have their reasons, but remember that Miettinen not only destroyed one of the toughest junior leagues out there, but also is committed to an excellent college program that develops NHL talent. The fact that Miettinen is willing to challenge himself in a physical North American league that mirrors the rigors of the NHL from a physicality standpoint speaks volumes about how seriously he’s taking his development. Additionally, any NHL club that drafts him can let him stay in college to bulk up, if that is an area of concern. I think he has serious point-producing potential at the highest levels.
#NuortenSMLiiga: RW Veeti Miettinen (Ranked No. 38) turns a lost draw on the PK into a SHG. Makes the right read, stick lifts for the turnovers, turns on the afterburners to gain space while drifting inside, then rifles one home from the left circle. Blues U20 trail Tappara 4-1 pic.twitter.com/qHsS7pKRWI
With Yaroslav Askarov getting all the praise, it’s easy to see why a poised and technically-advanced netminder like Blomqvist will get overlooked in the first half of his draft season. Granted, he may not be as unique a prospect as his aforementioned Russian peer, but Blomqvist has been nothing short of a brick wall in Finland’s top junior league, albeit for a superior defensive team. He’s a stand-up butterfly goalie who ensures every opening is as tight as possible during his lateral shuffle while staying perfectly squared to the puck.
Blomqvist is a calm, poised netminder who stays upright during the majority of his post slides and seems to avoid dropping to the ice via a complete butterfly. Rather, his crouch when facing break-ins or shots from the slot is incredibly low, which may be a byproduct of getting beaten five hole with frequency earlier in the year. Although he’s married to the blue paint and rarely challenges shooters outside of it, Blomqvist can run that risk because his angles are played to near perfection and he never seems to lose the net in the event of a cross-ice or cross-crease passes. In odd-man situations, Blomqvist properly angles towards the puck and is confident in his timing and quickness to get across and respond to a pass. It usually takes a snipe to beat him upstairs, especially short-side high.
Blomqvist is not jittery but certainly is engaged and attentive. He will leave his net to fetch pucks without hesitation and has shown good puck-handling skills to head-man or reverse to his defensemen. When facing an opposing power play, Blomqvist will stay deep in his crease but keeps his body upright, and his catching glove is positioned with his palm facing out and square to the puck. Additionally, his glove will start out centered close to his body but thrusts quickly towards any direction. Blomqvist’s rebound control for any shot towards the lower half is outstanding and even high-danger chances are kept within proximity of stick reach.
A skilled two-way defenseman who earned a permanent job with a contending Karpat squad, Niemela is one of the more poised defenders available for the draft. Not only is he aggressive with his pinches and forays deep into the opposing zone, but he also isn’t shy about using his hard shot from just about anywhere. Niemela is a very good skater who doesn’t hesitate when the opportunity to join the rush presents itself, but he’s also smart enough to read play development and hold his own in low-slot coverage.
Niemela is an effortless skater and accurate puck distributor who can take matters into his own hands when the chips are down in his own end. Defensively, he displays a strong upper body and can win one-on-one-battles behind the net, and Niemela is more than willing to engage and fight for positioning — He definitely is NOT a pushover against bigger forwards. Niemela looks to cover slot while using hard shoves or an active stick to ensure the opponent he’s battling.
Two things Niemela can deliver at a high level are puck rushing and shooting. If he isn’t skating the puck out on his own, Niemela will deliver crisp stretch passes or catch a forward in stride with a bank pass. Once the puck is off his stick, Niemela puts his head down and motors up ice in search of a gap to exploit or a rush to join. Inside the offensive end, Niemela likes to hammer pucks from just about anywhere, and he’s comfortable dropping down into the circle for a one-timer. He may not present a big windup but Niemela still generates a significant amount of power on his slapper, which he rarely hesitates to use. Overall, he is consistent in how active he stays in the offensive zone, and if he isn’t looking to fire a puck on net, he’ll activate well below the faceoff dots to battle or keep plays alive.
The more time a defenseman spends with the puck in the offensive zone, the more susceptible he becomes too rapid counterattacks that trap him up ice. As good a skater as Niemela is, he sometimes gets too involved in a given possession and is unable to retreat in time to even out the numbers. Niemela also seems to attempt high-risk passes, albeit with an acceptable completion percentage.
A smooth-skating defenseman with an incredibly high compete level and the desire to make his presence felt in the defensive end, Viro has been a go-to defender for TPS and Finland’s junior teams at multiple tournaments. The hype surrounding this fast riser appears to be real, and a recent promotion to the elite SM-Liiga has yielded positive results. Viro’s one-on-one defense can look technically advanced most of the time, as he keeps his feet moving with proper stick-on-puck technique and body positioning without presenting the opponent with a window to take him inside or out. His hands are incredibly soft, and having proper stick positioning in conjunction with those mitts and sharp instincts allows him to pick off seam passes and dart up ice all in one motion. Viro’s stays within himself and rarely tries to do anything fancy. If there’s an opening, he’ll attack it with speed or exploit it with a pellet of a stretch pass. Viro also seems partial to the high flip, which is timed perfectly to either buy his mates time for a line change or bypass traffic in the neutral zone and landing on a forward’s stick.
Viro does not like to give up an inch of ice. He stands firm at his line and will deliver a hard check or shove to opponents who try to bypass him. His timing during these instances is advanced for a teenage defenseman, and his quick first step and powerful stride gets him back in the play in the event he overcommits and needs to retreat. Another noticeable aspect of Viro’s game on or off the puck is his decisiveness — he will make a decision and stick with it. Right or wrong, that sort of confidence is not common in a neophyte; one who is earmarked to handle tough assignments and has a high success rate in winning 50/50 battles.
Although he sees time on the top power play unit, Viro is more of a shoot-first point man than a playmaker or fourth forward. Most of his deliveries are safe, clean, and to the nearest option available. His owns a hard shot that he keeps low but seems willing to acquiesce to forwards for shooting responsibilities. In fact, you can say he’s more noticeable and active in the penalty kill than he is on the power play. Viro is an excellent crease defender and will get in the way of a lot of cross-crease or seam passes.
Naturally, playing with this much aggressiveness will land Viro in hot water. He takes a lot of risks and can be overconfident. The good news is that these hasty decisions usually involve play off the puck rather than forced passes or rushed shots into a pressing checker. From a long-term standpoint, Viro has the potential to anchor his own top pairing with a focus on shutting down opponents rather than piling up points.
9. Oliver Suni Right Wing | Oshawa, OHL | 6’1, 188 | 2/13/02 | Shoots Right | 34gp-9g-19a-28pts
Suni is one of the more versatile wingers in this draft because he can beat you in a variety of ways. Although he’s known more for his offense, Suni is dependable on or off the puck and rarely puts himself or his teammates in a position to fail. His size is ideal, and Suni is strong on the puck along the boards, behind the net, and in open ice. By keeping possession of the puck for long periods of time, Suni can maneuver at multiple speeds, each designed to keep the opponent guessing. He was one of the OHL’s top rookie scorers before an injury forced him out of January’s CHL Top Prospects Game, but Suni has since returned and continues to stand out on a loaded Oshawa roster.
Suni combines size, strength on the puck, and skills that have made his transition to North American hockey appear seamless. He can wire the puck with authority but also serve as a playmaker behind the net, a one-time option from the circle, or an immovable slot present in front. Suni’s deceptive speed and aforementioned change of pace makes him a threat off the rush as well, and playing alongside a dependable set-up man like Allan McShane has forced him to keep his feet moving in order to slip into high-danger scoring areas. He’s adequately nimble and elusive in tight spaces, which serves his well when deployed to the top power-play unit. Suni’s agility for his size is more than acceptable and he is willing to stickhandle inside the opposing line in order to draw attention away from the middle of the ice.
Defensively, Suni positions himself properly and uses an active stick. Having a long reach and anticipating opposing intentions leads to a lot of takeaways that he quickly turns into counterattacks. Suni turns quickly and keeps his head in the play at all times. He isn’t very physical and could stand to use his upper-body strength to his advantage, and you rarely see him on the penalty kill.
10. Juuso Maenpaa Center | Jokerit U20, Nuorten SM-Liiga | 5’5, 141 | 4/29/02 | Shoots Left | 45gp-11g-34a-45pts
A super shifty and elusive buzzsaw in any zone, Maenpaa is one of the driving forces behind Jokerit U20’s potent attack. Maenpaa may be listed at 5-foot-5, but he’s always hounding opponents no matter the situation. Once the puck is his, Maenpaa is capable of executing a host of ankle-breaking moves and agility in any direction, and he doesn’t require much space to do so. Maenpaa is a calculated center, one who knows his limits and will reassess situations on the fly. When he peels back and recalculates with the time and space he created, Maenpaa will find the best option to sling a tape-to-tape pass, especially trailers and cutters across the ice.
Maenpaa and serve as a pass-first playmaker or a shooter from anywhere between the circles. He saucers passes forehand or back; uses the boards to bank the puck away from pressure, and will terrorize an indecisive or poorly positioned defenseman in an odd-man rush. One thing to consider is that Jokerit’s top line is made up entirely of 19 and 20 year olds, yet he’s equally as dangerous on the second unit and has produced just as frequently despite playing less. Maenpaa is a power-play specialist who has rotated between the first and second units, and has even seen time at the point. His zone entries can be a work of art regardless of strength on the ice, and he will attack the smallest of gaps and still come away unscathed.
Maenpaa is a very responsible checker who presses defensemen on the forecheck and utilizes a quick stick to loot them from behind. He’s also used to take (and win) defensive-zone draws and plays on the penalty kill, where he obviously can be a threat to score while shorthanded. The thing I love the most is just how obvious it is that Maenpaa can’t wait to get on the ice and that he never loses the desire make his presence felt.
11. Roby Jarventie Left Wing | KooVee, Mestis | 6’2, 184 | 9/8/02 | Shoots Left | 28gp-18g-11a-29pts
A pure sniper with one of the best shot-release combinations in the draft, Jarventie is a well-balanced winger who has spent the majority of his draft year as a top-line winger for one of the leading teams in Finland’s adult-age Mestis. Jarventie plays as mistake free a game as a teenager can play and most of his decisions and movements on or off the puck seem calculated. Although Jarevntie can score goals in a variety of ways, his most impressive skill is the way he slings rockets off his blade within nanoseconds. Not only does his shot look pretty, but it has knocked goalies off balance from distances above the circles.
Jarventie is able to sniff out the perfect opportunity to motor up ice. While he certainly has benefitted from playing consistently with a leading scorer like center Janne Seppanen, Jarventie brings a diverse skill set to his line beyond setting up for rifle shots at the net. He’s dependable carrying the puck in open ice and will stickhandle through or around traffic, and he’s capable of trapping checkers up high once he’s inside the offensive zone. Jarventie also is an excellent passer who puts the right touch on his deliveries dependent upon the situation and distance to target. His dual-threat capabilities when coupled with his constant movement in all three zones makes him difficult to contain, and it even seems as though KooVee designed set plays off faceoffs specifically for him.
Jarventie is a powerful skater with excellent balance and decent agility for a player his size. He’s more of a North-South skater who uses his anticipation and smarts to gain that initial separation, and he can protect the puck as well as anyone once he’s moving at top speed. Depsite his physical gifts, Jarventie plays a relatively clean game and will only engage in battles when necessary. He spends a lot of time on the periphery but stays in motion and reacts properly to puck travel rather than gaze from a static position. Although he has been used in late and close situations in either end of the ice, Jarventie is not a penalty nor should be considered an above-average checker.