Rounds two through seven of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft will take place on July 24, 2021. The Calgary Flames currently possess a total of six picks in those rounds, having acquired the Edmonton Oilers’ third-round selection before trading their own fourth to the Los Angeles Kings.
In this “Draft Dark Horses” series, our team of writers will evaluate some of the notable prospects projected to be available in the later rounds of the draft.
Samuel Helenius is a massive Finnish centre who acquitted himself well in a full season playing against men in the Liiga. Very few players in this draft class offer the same combination of size, skill, and defensive ability.
Helenius is a 6’6″, 201-pound pivot who plays a mature two-way game. He led all first-year draft-eligible Liiga players in virtually every offensive category last season, with his impressive size undoubtedly playing a part in his smooth transition to the professional level.
Unsurprisingly, Helenius has some issues with mobility and puck control. He has a relatively unrefined stride and needs to work on his balance and overall agility. He’s also a physically dominant player who has good instincts at both ends of the ice.
Writing for The Athletic (paywall), Scott Wheeler endorsed Helenius as “worth a mid-to-late round gamble” because of his combination of skill and size:
There are things about Helenius’ game that you expect out of a player as big as he is. There’s the negative: Lots of arm movement and a torso that bounces aggressively through his stride plus boots that can stomp through his recoveries. And there’s the positive: Good puck-control skill, a hard shot. Then there are the things you don’t usually expect, including chief among them — good hesitation and hands for a player his size. I’ve seen him make a lot of delay plays I didn’t expect him to. He’s also a coach’s favourite who is by all accounts a good teammate, a leader, and some coaches feel they can trust him to win battles and play reliably defensively.
Future Considerations’ draft guide (order it here) describes Helenius as a “defense-first forward” who can stand to improve his “awkward, unbalanced” skating:
The enormous size is an undeniable perk, and his straightline top gear in open ice is alright. There’s enthusiasm and competitiveness to his game as well. He can be menacing when he comes bearing down on opposing defenders on the forecheck with some momentum behind him. He also gets marks for being a center who can kill penalties. Understands the importance of backchecking and will hustle to his defensive zone. He knows when to drop down and support the defenders, jumping into the corners and using his long reach to pull the puck out of scrums, get in passing lanes, and pokecheck pucks away. He’s able to pin opponents and rub them out along the boards, but in open ice and when trying to hit there is still very much a learning curve. The rest of his game is a big work in progress.
Marco Bombino praised Helenius’ overall game in his profile for McKeen’s Magazine (paywall):
Samuel Helenius has been one of the few bright spots for JYP in the Liiga this season. He brings energy and physicality each night, plays well on the penalty kill and can chip in offensively. He also played really well as a fourth-line center at the World Juniors. The massive forward moves well and can reach a good top speed. He has smoothed out his stride and his mobility has improved. In his own end, he clogs passing lanes, applies stick pressure and plays with his head on a swivel. He reads the game well and shows awareness of his surroundings. In the offensive zone, he knows where to go to be effective.
Only six first-year draft-eligible players appeared in at least 30 games in the Liiga last season. Among them, Helenius ranked first in the following categories:
- Games played (54)
- Goals (7)
- Assists (7)
- Points (14)
- Shorthanded goals (2)
- Even-strength primary points (9)
- Shooting percentage (14.00)
- Points-per-game (0.26)
Yes, Helenius even ranked ahead of consensus first-round pick Aatu Räty in nearly every way. The two tied with 50 shots, although Räty played 35 games to Helenius’ 54.
According to Pick224, Helenius averaged 14:46 per game as an 18-year-old in the Liiga. He typically slotted in as JYP’s third-line centre and ranked seventh on the team in average ice-time. With Helenius on the ice at even-strength, JYP scored 20 goals and allowed 38. Without Helenius, JYP was outscored by a 103-68 margin.
Only one first-year draft-eligible Finn appeared at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton: Samuel Helenius. (Räty made the 2020 squad but was cut in his draft year). Helenius looked fantastic at the World Juniors, tying for third on Team Finland with two goals and fifth with four points in seven games.
Helenius is one of the older players only becoming eligible for the draft this year. He was born on Nov. 26, 2002, placing him just two months after the cut-off for the 2021 draft.
Availability and fit
Helenius is a big, responsible centre with NHL bloodlines (he’s the son of former Flames defenseman Sami Helenius). Teams tend to love players with those qualities. Calgary, in particular, is extremely short on promising centre prospects and, with Darryl Sutter back in the bold, might be looking to prioritize players with size at the draft.
Here’s where a collection of the top draft forecasters rank Helenius in the 2021 draft class:
McKeen’s Hockey — 70th
Future Considerations — 118th
TSN (Bob McKenzie) — 43rd
The Athletic (Corey Pronman) — 69th
The Athletic (Scott Wheeler) — 74th
Recruit Scouting — 74th
NHL Central Scouting (European Skaters) — 15th
Elite Prospects — 102nd
Smaht Scouting — 74th
Draft Prospects Hockey — 79th
The Puck Authority — 50th
Depending on who you ask, Helenius could go in the mid-second round; alternatively, he could fall down into the triple-digits.