NHL Draft Scout Series: Finland

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Finland will play a starring role this Friday, with two of the top three players expected to be chosen at the 2016 NHL Draft. 

To elaborate on those two players, and the entire Finnish draft class, is former FutureConsiderations scout and current OverTheBoards.net contributor Marco Bombino.

CR: With Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi and Olli
Juolevi all potentially being selected within the top five, along with the great
depth later in the draft, might this draft class have a chance to be the best
Finland has ever produced?

MB: I
certainly believe so. Laine, Puljujärvi and Juolevi are special prospects, but
as you mentioned, there’s some impressive depth as well and players who could
be picked even higher than anticipated: such as Henrik Borgström, Janne
Kuokkanen, Kasper Björkqvist and Markus Niemeläinen.

CR: Patrik Laine’s stock has fired through the
roof in the second half of the year. Are you as high on Laine as everyone else
is and do you buy the Ovechkin comparisons?
 

MB: Laine’s
progress was very impressive this season. His skating and defensive game have
rapidly gotten better, even though there’s still work to be done. Obviously he’s
got a ton of upside because of his NHL-level shot, high-end puck skills and
ability to find quiet areas of the ice. I partly agree with Ovechkin
comparisons, mainly in the sense that Laine is also an outstanding scorer with
an excellent one-timer and shot selection.

CR: Before Laine’s massive surge, it was Jesse
Puljujarvi battling it out with Auston Matthews atop the draft rankings, and
now there’s talk of him falling out of the top three altogether. How do you
evaluate Puljujarvi and does he project as a future star in your eyes?

MB: I’ve
been a big fan of Puljujärvi’s game since I saw him play in the U16 league
against his peers. A very polished prospect – explosive skater with really good
offensive instincts and shot. Long reach is an asset both with and without the
puck. He’s known for his goal-scoring ability but he can set up chances equally
well. To me Laine does have a better shot but Puljujärvi is more advanced as a
two-way player. In my eyes Puljujärvi has the makings of a star player in the
NHL.

CR: It seems producing skill forwards with size
is Finland’s M.O. this draft, with Janne Kuokkanen (6’1), Aapeli Rasanen (6’0)
and Markus Nurmi (6’3) all from Jr. A SM-Liiga being ranked in and around the second round by FC. What’s your take on the trio?

MB: Kuokkanen
is a very skilled player with playmaking ability and high hockey IQ. Has lots
of poise with the puck, some creative dekes and a quick shot which he could use
a bit more frequently. He’s a smooth skater and his work rate is good at both
ends of the rink. He’s a third round prospect for me.

Räsänen is a competitive
center who’s solid away from the puck and in the face-off dot. In my viewings
of Tappara U20, he played a rather simple game and didn’t display any clear
strengths. He’s not particularly quick and could improve his foot speed. He did
finish the season with an excellent U18 World Championship tournament.
Regardless, in my opinion his offensive upside is somewhat limited due to the
lack of skill.

Nurmi finished third in
scoring for TPS U20, which was solid considering he didn’t have a ton of
support in my viewings. Excellent reach which he utilizes well in the corners
and along the boards while protecting the puck. Has an accurate wrist shot with
good velocity. Showed fairly good puck handling skills in tight. Skates also
pretty well, needs to improve acceleration and first steps to become more
explosive. Nurmi is a prospect that could really emerge in the next couple of years.

CR: I was somewhat surprised that Veini
Vehvilainen went undrafted last year and he’s followed up that snub by posting
a .925 SV% in 25 Liiga games this season. Was he as impressive as his numbers
indicate as an 18-year-old goaltender and would you take him as a second time
eligible? 

MB: Vehviläinen
had a very good regular season for JYP, but on the other hand he really
struggled in the playoffs, allowing too many soft goals. And he certainly didn’t
have the World Juniors people were looking for, losing the starter’s job to
Kaapo Kähkönen. However, he’s a technically sound goalie with impressive
quickness. I still have him as the best Finnish goalie for the draft and I do
think his chances to be drafted are good.

CR: Continuing down the goaltending road, Finland
has been a factory of elite goaltending the past few decades. Are there any
other young Finn netminders poised to continue the trend? 
 

MB: I
think the other goalie who might have a fairly good chance to be picked is
Karolus Kaarlehto from TPS U20. He showed plenty of promise in my viewings this
season. He’s a good-sized goalie with excellent reflexes and athleticism that
really stood out to me. He’s also positionally sound, has strong footwork and
covers lower corners well. Kaarlehto stole some points for his team this
season. He’s not a surefire draft pick but I think he could be worth drafting
in the last round. He recently signed a three-year Liiga contract with TPS.

Also, Niilo Halonen had a
good season playing for Jokerit U20 and U18 teams. He’s 6’2, moves smoothly and
is patient, not committing to the butterfly too early. He’s a solid goalie with
potential. Christian Heljanko is a consistent goalie with good lateral
quickness and a quick glove-hand. He had an impressive postseason for Jukurit
at the second highest men’s level, winning the league champion. However, at
5’11, he’s small for today’s goalie. I did like his development a lot this
season.

CR: Which Liiga draft eligible has most
surprised you this season? 

MB: Pelicans
forward Sebastian Repo was a pleasant surprise to me in Liiga, even though I
didn’t see him a ton I came away impressed. He has a heavy, high-velocity shot
and good instincts in the offensive zone. He plays a straight forward game and
has strong reach and physical tools. Apart from his goal-scoring ability, he
doesn’t really have any high-end skills. Regardless, I think he has certainly
improved and become a more complete player after coming back to Finland from
the USHL.

CR: If you
had to choose the most overrated and most underrated Finnish draft eligible for
the 2016 NHL Draft, who would they be? 

MB: HPK
U20 right wing Eetu Tuulola didn’t progress in the way I was hoping to see this
season. He’s a physical, rugged forward but is currently lacking considerable foot speed. He does have a good shot and thus can score some goals but his puck
handling skills are rather average. I don’t see him being a huge contributor
offensively at the next level – more of a bottom six forward.

I think Blues U20 forward
Kasper Björkqvist is still somewhat underrated, despite having a fantastic
season for Blues U20 and winning a U20 gold medal. A strong kid with smarts and
the ability to play multiple roles. Great along the boards, smart in possession
and reliable in the defensive zone. Björkqvist’s a great pick-up by Providence
College.

CR: Finally,
who is your favourite Finnish draft eligible this year? 

MB: I have
to go with Olli Juolevi. He was excellent at the World Juniors. I also really
enjoyed watching him play for Jokerit U20 in 2014-15. He’s a very special
defenseman – great skater with speed and agility. Makes quick and smart
decisions with the puck, possessing excellent vision. He can impact the game in
all three zones and is a very capable puck mover on the power play. He has a
very bright future ahead of him in the NHL.


A big thank you to Marco for the insight. Finland has been pumping out quality juniors for a few years now as they rearm that men’s national team that has lagged the past few years. You can follow Marco on Twitter here.

NHL Draft Scout Series