November 12 2012 12:56PM
While we've spent some time talking about Mikael Backlund's exploits in the Allsvenskan so far, not much has been said about Joni Ortio and Markus Granlund, both of whom play for HIFK in the sm-liiga (Finland's top pro league). Luckily, eliteprospects' contributor Matias Strozyk was able to shed some light on how both guys have been performing so far.
By Matias Strozyk
HIFK has been one of the worst underachievers of this season. They have a decent roster, but the overall level of their play is sub-par. They took a big step backwards when they let their head coach move to the KHL right before the season and replaced him with his assistant, who clearly isn't capable of leading them to success.
Granlund's struggles in context
HIFK's troubles have had an obvious effect on Granlund. He's had a farily stable position in the wing of a line centered by Joakim Eriksson, who should be a Top 30 point-scorer in Finland. Granlund's numbers (4-7-11 in 19 gp) aren't spectacular but you can't expect a 19-year-old playing his 2nd full professional season to carry a team that is failing to perform at its expected level.
HIFK's designated goal-scorer Kimmo Kuhta has 0 goals after 17 games, their captain Ville Peltonen has just 8 points and they lack the star-power and elite skill of Mikael Granlund, who was capable of winning the odd game or two on his own. Mikael's absence shouldn't be a big factor in Markus' season and, like I said, he's far from being the reason for HIFK's issues.
Markus should be able to play in HIFK's 1st line next season and right now, with the team performing the way it has, I'm more interested in following whether he's kept on the wing or given a chance as a center than whether he suddenly lights up alongside the rest of the team. He's not ready to be their 1st line center next year and it would be suicidal to even attempt to suddenly turn him into one, but should be a top consideration for the wings. 4 goals and 7 assists are a decent achievement in a team like this autumn's HIFK.
Onthe other hand, Joni Ortio has been the team's best and most valuable player. Sometimes he's been the only reason HIFK have gotten any points and there's no doubt that without Ortio, HIFK wouldn't 8th in the league, not even in the Top 10.
I recently chatted with Urpo Ylönen, Ortio's former goalie coach who has also been responsible for developing Miikka Kiprusoff, Atte Engren, David Leggio, Antero Niittymäki etc., and even he was slightly surprised by how well Ortio has handled the move to Finland's most followed sports team. Signing with HIFK is a big move for a goaltender and sometimes a make-or-break for any young player, but Ortio has embraced it and put on pretty solid numbers.
Of course there have been some inconsistencies, like with every goalie. In some games he's allowed a couple of quick goals early on and he still gives up too many rebounds. Behind solid defensive corps who would clear those rebounds a bit better he would look very good.
It's going to take a little longer to see what direction HIFK and Ortio are heading and whether Ortio has just looked better than he should with the rest of the team performing so badly. Ortio hasn't been super consistant and is clearly still a young goalie developing into a professional, but performing at his own level after a move to (a worse than average) HIFK and being one of their better players is a positive sign.
Thanks again to Matias for the scouting report. You can follow him on twitter here.