Tournament Review: Finland at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup 2019

Finland’s performance at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup was very much a mixed bag. At the tournament opener, they got steamrolled by Canada 0-6 and it looked like they hadn’t practiced at all. In the other group stage games, they did beat the Czech Republic and Switzerland pretty convincingly, but that was to be expected with this roster. The semifinal game against Russia was a rather disappointing effort by the top line (shot attempts at even-strength were 2-12) and Yaroslav Askarov was excellent in the net. Finland did control the bronze medal game for the most part, but the bounces did not go their way and Sweden was deadly-efficient with their chances.

Forwards

Shot Contributions Forwards.png
Shot Contributions Bar Forwards.png
Screenshot 2019-08-16 at 17.48.59.png

Finland’s top line for a big part of the tournament consisted of Roni Hirvonen, Oliver Suni, and Roby Järventie, although they did shuffle their forward lines in few occasions. The three also played together at the U17 World Hockey Challenge last year.

Hirvonen was arguably the top forward on the team, finishing with team-leading six points in five games. At even-strength, he had the most primary shot contributions (shot attempts and primary shot assists per 60) out of any forward on the team and his zone entry numbers were good as well. Hirvonen isn’t very flashy, but effective nonetheless. His offensive skill set is rather well-rounded, but I’m not sure if he has a dynamic element to his game. Hirvonen is an agile skater, but his speed could be a bit better for his size. He should be considered a late first/early second-round pick at this point.

hirvonen PP onetimer.gif

Suni, who’ll play for the Oshawa Generals next season, had an ok tournament. I liked how he set up plays for Hirvonen and Järventie in the offensive zone, showcasing good vision and stick-handling in tight areas. Suni has a good frame and he was able to power through on few zone entries nicely, although his acceleration could use work at this point.

suni pass to hd slot.gif

Järventie didn’t have the best tournament, finishing dead last in shot contributions at even-strength. He does have an intriguing offensive skill set (and his measurements had increased pretty significantly from last year) and his numbers last season were really good but he left me wanting more here.

The second line, mostly featuring Aatu Räty, Brad Lambert and Jesse Seppälä, was Finland’s best combination at even-strength. The two under-agers, Räty (eligible in 2021) and Lambert (eligible in 2022), were Finland’s top forwards not named Roni Hirvonen. Räty was a monster in transition, creating by far the most zone entries on the team (his controlled entry percentage was also the highest). He also recorded a good mix of shots and shot assists. Räty’s speed and puck skills looked excellent, and his two-way play looked pretty solid to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up spending a big chunk of next season with Kärpät’s Liiga team (which would be impressive given how stacked team Kärpät is every year).

räty end-to-end hlinka.gif

Lambert was the second youngest player in the tournament and showed exactly why he is a special prospect. His skating looked elite, particularly his ability to generate speed using crossovers stood out in this tournament. Lambert was second in shot contributions at even-strength, his shot share numbers were very good and he did generate zone entries at an above-average rate and high efficiency. Not eligible until the 2022 draft, Lambert will likely make his Liiga debut with HIFK this upcoming season. Matthew Savoie and Shane Wright are elite talents for the 2022 draft, but you could argue that at the moment, Lambert’s international resume gives him an edge over both of them.

lambert gif.gif

Seppälä, the recent import draft pick of the Edmonton Oil Kings, was clearly a supportive player on this line and it shows in his more advanced metrics. He didn’t do much in terms of transporting the puck up the ice or shot contributions (although he did have the best CF% on the team), but his linemates probably had an impact in that. Seppälä is a pretty smart winger with and without the puck, but he is small and doesn’t skate very fast.

Juuso Mäenpää, who was centering the third line, was easily the biggest positive surprise of the tournament for me. He displayed very good skating ability throughout the tournament and was able to beat defenders with pure speed on many occasions. Mäenpää also showed good playmaking ability, setting up shots consistently and playing in a big role on the power play. At even-strength, he was Finland’s fourth most frequent shot contributor and had the third-most controlled zone entries per 60. At 5-foot7, Mäenpää is tiny, isn’t much of a shooting threat and needs to get better defensively, but this tournament got me excited about him going into this season.

juuso mäenpää rush and royal road pass.gif

Mäenpää’s most common wingers were Oskari Luoto and Veeti Korkalainen, who both had pretty mediocre tournaments. Luoto started the tournament as the 13th forward but quickly carved himself a spot on the lineup. He used his shot a lot, but most of his attempts came from low-danger areas. Korkalainen played with a lot of different linemates and looked ok in every role he was put in. I’ll expect that they both will put up decent numbers in the U20 league next season.

The most frequent fourth line consisted of Joel Määttä, Eetu Liukas, and Eero Niemi. Määttä was probably the most effective of three (and the oldest with Liukas and Niemi being not eligible until the 2021 draft), as he was able to create enter the offensive zone with possession consistently and create some chances for the other two. Valtteri Karnaranta, also not eligible until the 2021, ended up playing the least amount of minutes out of Finland’s forwards.

Defenders

Shot Contributions Defenceman.png
Shot Contributions Bar Forwards.png
Zone Exits.png
Shot Shares Defenceman.png

Unlike the forward lines, the defensive pairings stayed the same throughout the entire tournament. The top pairing consisted of Kasper Puutio and Eemil Viro.

Puutio, the recent top pick of the CHL import draft, had a bit of an inconsistent tournament for his standards. He had flashes of brilliance when breaking out the puck, but unusual amount of odd fails as well. Actually, only about 58 percent of his exit attempts ended up with the team retaining the possession. Overall, I’m still pretty high on Puutio as a modern puck-moving defenceman, and I think he’ll be an important part of the Swift Current Broncos next season. Viro was the more consistent of the two with the puck. I mostly liked his play away from the puck as well, as he was able to defend the blue line relatively effectively.

The second pairing featuring Topi Niemelä and Luka Nyman was Finland’s best at even-strength. Niemelä was the most frequent shooter of the team, had the most primary shot assists and created the most controlled exits. He keeps his game simple when needed, but is more than capable contributing offensively as well. Given that Nyman plays for the Red Bull Academy of the Czech U19 league, I have only seen him at international events. In this tournament, I really liked him. Nyman had the second-most controlled zone exits. He isn’t that explosive of a skater, but displays good mobility and lateral movement. I also liked his decision-making in the defensive zone (one example below).

luka nyman breakout.gif

Ruben Rafkin and Rami Määttä formed the third defensive pairing. I must say that Rafkin was a bit of a disappointment to me at this tournament. Alongside Puutio, he might have the explosiveness in his game and skating, but I was left off questioning his decision-making. He had the least amount of controlled exits per 60 out of all the top 6 defenders. Many times Rafkin ended up just dumping the puck out when there was no pressure to do so. In the offensive zone, he did record a ton of shot attempts, even too many for my liking (as they were very low-percentage shots for the most part). Rafkin does have the physical tools you want from a defenceman, so we’ll se how his decision-making improves in the future.

Määttä was clearly the more supportive player on the pairing, but I thought he managed to be very effective doing so. He had a very low amount of individual shots, but good amount of shot assists and a very good success percentage on his exits. Määttä showcased good mobility and instincts on both sides of the puck. He is only 5-foot-10 and not much of a treat in shooting or physical departments, but I’m pretty excited about him going into the season as a potential late round pick for 2020 draft.

Valtteri Koskela was the seventh defenceman for the entire tournament and got some shifts on most of the games. He did perform relatively well when he was on the ice, but the sample size is way too small to make any definitive statements.

Goalies

Joel Blomqvist ended up playing in all five games, recording a .905 save percentage and allowing 2.21 goals per game. I thought that his tournament was alright, when you take into consideration that playing five games in six days is a very heavy work load for a goalie. Blomqvist has a good mix of athleticism, technique and size, and he is still one of the better European goalies eligible for the 2020 draft after Askarov.

blomqvist glove save hlinka.gif

Projecting Team Finland for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup 2019

The annual Hlinka Gretzky Cup is, at least for my money, the second-best U18 tournament of the year and a great start to the scouting season. Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the Czech Republic will be rolling out their best talents and while the USNTDP won’t participate, it isn’t as big of a blow as it was last year (the team isn’t as stacked this year).

Finland’s roster for the tournament looks pretty good overall, even with a few unfortunate injuries. Most notably, Kasper Simontaival missed the entire camp and won’t play in the tournament, although he should be good to go when the season starts. He would have played on the top line and first power play unit and provided high-end goal-scoring ability at this level.

Samu Tuomaala was on the original camp roster but according to some, he got injured there. For the purpose of this article, I’m operating under the belief that he won’t be able to play in the tournament. Tuomaala would have likely played in a top 6 role and been a key piece on the man-advantage as well. He will be eligible to play in the tournament next year, though.

With these two being out of the tournament and assuming everyone else from the original camp roster is healthy, here is how I would construct the lineup.

Forwards

Roby Järventie – Aatu Räty – Brad Lambert

This would be an extremely talented and fun top line. It also features three players who are all eligible in different drafts. Brad Lambert will become only the tenth player in the history of the tournament to participate in his D-2 year (and only the second Finn to do it). He is an extremely talented offensive player with dynamic skill and playmaking ability.

Despite not being eligible until the 2021 draft, Aatu Räty will likely be the top center on this team. He looked very capable at the U18 Worlds three months ago. He is a very intriguing blend of speed, skill, and strength.

Roby Järventie is the oldest player on this line (only by a few months, though) and will play the role of a sniper. He produced very well on a bad U20 team last season and was unstoppable at the U18 level. He has also looked good at the international level. Järventie’s puck skills are very good, and he is likely the best goal-scorer on this team with Simontaival and Tuomaala missing.

Jesse Seppälä – Roni Hirvonen – Oliver Suni

The second line brings a lot of skill and smarts to the table. Roni Hirvonen is listed as the second-line center in this projection but he very well could swap places with Räty. Hirvonen was the top center of this age group at the U17 World Hockey Challenge last year and put up massive numbers at the U20 league. He is a very smart playmaker and will likely run one of the power play units from the half wall. Size and skating are two of the biggest concerns.

Oliver Suni, who will play for the Oshawa Generals of the OHL next season, played on the top line together with Hirvonen at the U17 WHC and I thought the two played quite well off each other. Suni is a big-bodied winger with good puck skills who can both create and finish plays. His top speed is good, but acceleration and agility could use some work.

Recently reporting to the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, Seppälä is a tiny winger with great senses and passing ability. He has been a regular fit on the top two lines for this age group and could be a great complementary player for this unit.

Valtteri Karnaranta – Joel Määttä – Eero Niemi

On the third line, I have Joel Määttä and Eero Niemi who both will play for the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL next season. Määttä is eligible for this year’s draft, while Niemi has a late birthdate and is eligible for the 2021 draft. Määttä’s point production wasn’t very impressive last year but he is a solid fit for a third-line role. You could say the same thing about Niemi. They both played mostly on bad U20 teams last season and I could very well see them both putting up 30+ points in the USHL next year.

Valtteri Karnaranta is another late birthdate eligible for the 2021 draft. He played on the same team with Niemi last season, and I thought he looked promising at the U17 WHC. Listed at only 5-foot-7, Karnaranta is tiny, but he is very agile skater with very good hands and vision. He has the tools to produce at a high rate in the U20 league next season.

Eetu Liukas – Veeti Korkalainen – Oskari Luoto

In this projection, I went for a more skilled fourth line, but the actual final roster could feature different names here. Veeti Korkalainen has many similarities with Karnaranta, in that they are both very small but agile and skilled forwards. Korkalainen was noticeable at the U17 WHC tournament last year and can play well down the middle.

Oskari Luoto, younger brother of Winnipeg Jets prospect Joona Luoto, was not on the U17 WHC roster but had a very strong season with Tappara in the U18 league (finishing fifth in points). He fits well in a fourth-line role with his high effort level. Eetu Liukas, another late birthdate eligible for the 2021 draft, is the 12th forward on my roster. I liked his skill and speed last season.

Defencemen

Joona Lehmus – Kasper Puutio

On the top defensive pairing, I have two high picks from the recent CHL draft in Kasper Puutio and Joona Lehmus. Puutio, who was selected first overall by the Swift Current Broncos, is a skilled two-way defenceman who excels in transitions and can run Finland’s top power play unit. Lehmus, who was picked sixth overall by the Saint John Sea Dogs, has many similar capabilities. If I remember correctly, the two played together on the top pairing in the U17 WHC as well.

Ruben Rafkin – Topi Niemelä

Topi Niemelä is the only player from this defence group who played at the U18 Worlds three months ago. He didn’t particularly stand out but played well and showed good poise under pressure. Niemelä might not have as much upside as Puutio but he is more polished, which is why he was trusted to play at the U18 Worlds as an under-ager. Ruben Rafkin has been a highly-touted player in his age group for a while and spent the past season in the USHL with the Tri-City Storm. Rafkin has offensive upside but also defends pretty well and plays with an edge.

Eemil Viro – Ville Ottavainen

My third pairing features a third right-handed Kärpät defenceman in Ville Ottavainen who was recently drafted by the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL in the import draft. Unlike Puutio and Niemelä last season, Ottavainen played the entire season in the U18 league and he is a candidate for a player who could explode this season. He is a smooth skater for his size, has above-average puck skills and a good shot from the point. Eemil Viro, on the other hand, is a mature two-way defenceman who can move the puck well. The defence core doesn’t have a single star player but all six have a good chance at getting drafted in the 2020 draft.

Goalies

Joel Blomqvist (Max Väyrynen)

There are no questions about who will be the starter for this team. Joel Blomqvist is one of the most intriguing Finnish goalie prospects in a while and you could argue that at this point, he is the second-best goalie (Jan Bednar and Nick Malik being two others) eligible for the 2020 draft after Yaroslav Askarov. Blomqvist posted supreme numbers in U18 and U20 leagues, although behind two strong Kärpät teams. He has good size, technique, and athleticism.

Max Väyrynen, Juha Jatkola, and Lukas Silvennoinen are the other three goalies on the camp roster, and you could make a case for anyone of them. For this projection, I went with Väyrynen who has played the most out of them at the international level.

Thoughts about Finns selected in the 2019 NHL Draft

Long, in-depth reports on my top 25 Finns for the draft can be read here

#2 New York Rangers: Kaapo Kakko (LW)

After Hughes being selected first by the Devils, the easiest pick of the draft was left for the Rangers to make. Kakko has all the tools to become a dominant winger in the NHL. He is physically incredibly dominant for his age and processes the game at a high level. Kakko can create offense for himself or his linemates and his puck skills are high-end. He has everything you like to see from a top forward prospect, expect blazing straight-line speed. Rangers would have liked to pick up a center here, but the gap between Kakko and the best available center prospect was way too big. Not to mention that there is a slight chance Kakko could play down the middle in the future.

#19 Ottawa Senators: Lassi Thomson (D)

Ottawa drafted my fourth-ranked Finnish player in Lassi Thomson 19th overall. While taking Thomson at this point was too high for me, he has many intriguing tools. Thomson is a good skater with a powerful stride and very solid top speed. He has decent hands, makes mostly good decisions in the offensive zone and has one of the heaviest slap shots from the point in the draft class. Defensively, Thomson is still a work in progress and playing with a sound defensive defenceman in Kaedan Korczak helped him a lot last season. I like the player but I wouldn’t have taken him this high.

#20 Winnipeg Jets: Ville Heinola (D)

Winnipeg got my second-ranked Finnish player and one of the better defencemen in the draft by taking Heinola 20th overall. Heinola’s game is based on his smarts. He makes good decisions in both ends of the ice which helped him to play in a top 4 role in Liiga as a 17-year-old. Heinola isn’t the fastest skater and has to improve his acceleration, but I really like his mobility. He moves the puck very well and has upside to become a PP2 guy. I like the value the Jets got here. He could be NHL-ready quicker than most of the defencemen drafted in this range despite being rather small.

#35 Detroit Red Wings: Antti Tuomisto (D)

Detroit took a swing at 35th overall by selecting Antti Tuomisto who was my 11th ranked Finnish player for this draft. I’m aware that some Finnish scouts and many teams were a lot higher on Tuomisto than I was. He is a 6-foot-4 defenceman who thinks the game pretty well. He makes solid opening passes, can play physically and put up good numbers in the Finnish U20 league. Tuomisto’s skating and puck skills are both average at best at this point, so he is very much a project pick.

#73 Carolina Hurricanes: Patrik Puistola (LW)

Carolina had a fantastic draft and Puistola might have been their best value pick at 73rd overall. He was my third-ranked Finnish prospect in the draft and has tons of offensive upside. Puistola’s puck skills are high-end, he can finish from different angles and his vision is very good as well. Offensively he is all in all very smart player. Puistola’s skating is ok, but not a strength. He was amazing value in the third round for my money.

#83 Carolina Hurricanes: Anttoni Honka (D)

Carolina took another Finn with high upside in the third round in Honka who was my sixth-ranked Finnish prospect in the draft. Coming into the season Honka was a consensus first-round pick, but his rather poor first half of the season affected his status a lot. Honka’s second half was better and in the Mestis playoffs he looked really good. He is a very mobile offensive defenceman with good vision and puck skills. He has PP2 upside due to his brain. Honka’s defensive game and decision-making are big question marks, but in the third round, he is good value for the Hurricanes.

#84 Toronto Maple Leafs: Mikko Kokkonen (D)

It is pretty funny that Honka and Kokkonen, two players who have been highly touted for a long time, went back-to-back in the draft. Kokkonen was my seventh-ranked Finn in the draft and good value at the spot Toronto got him. He is more of a defensive defenceman who can every now and then contribute offensively. Kokkonen is very mature for his age, defends well in front of the net and glues forwards to the boards. His skating is rather average which might limit his offensive ceiling.

#98 Arizona Coyotes: Matias Maccelli (LW)

Arizona took my tenth-ranked Finn in the draft in the fourth round by selecting Maccelli. He was the most difficult Finnish prospect for me to rank this year. Maccelli is offensively very gifted. He sees the ice well and can surprise goalies from distance with his wrist shot. Maccelli’s production in the USHL was excellent and he was relied a lot on by his team to make things happen offensively. His defensive game and engagement levels are red flags for me. His skating is ok, but he doesn’t play with a lot of pace. In the fourth round you want to gamble on players with upside, so in that regard, I like the pick.

#113 Winnipeg Jets: Henri Nikkanen (C)

Nikkanen was very high on many lists before the season but he had an injury-filled year and dropped heavily in every ranking. He was my ninth-ranked Finn in the draft. He has many desirable qualities, though. Nikkanen is big-bodied center who skates very well, flashing very good top speed at times. He has good puck skills and above-average vision. Decision-making has been a red flag for me. He is a good value bet in the fourth round if he stays healthy.

#119 Los Angeles Kings: Kim Nousiainen (D)

Nousiainen was my 20th ranked Finn in the draft but I don’t mind the pick the fourth round. He was one of the better defencemen in the Finnish U20 league last season. Nousianen’s biggest strength is his skating. He has good speed which allows him to create exits on his own. He runs a power play well, although I’m not sure if he has that kind of upside at the NHL level. Nousiainen is pretty raw in his own end and I’m not sold on his decision-making either.

#121 Carolina Hurricanes: Tuukka Tieksola (RW)

For my money, Tieksola is the second-best value pick in the draft after Puistola and Carolina happened to get them both (which is not a coincidence). Tieksola was my fifth-ranked Finn in the draft. He oozes offensive skill and potential. Tieksola’s playmaking, skill, skating and decision-making all get good grades from me. He is a raw prospect and needs to develop physically, but he is amazing value in the fourth round.

#123 Chicago Blackhawks: Antti Saarela (LW)

I had Saarela ranked 13th among the Finns but I know some who were more optimistic about him. Saarela was very good for his age in the top men’s league in Finland. His speed and ability to drive play are both good. His puck skills are also pretty noticeable. Saarela has played center at the lower levels but projects as a winger in my mind. He could become a solid third-line forward who drives results at even-strength if he hits his ceiling.

#130 New York Rangers: Leevi Aaltonen (LW)

The Rangers made an excellent value pick in the fifth round by taking my eight-ranked Finn in Leevi Aaltonen. Aaltonen is an elite skater, one of the best in the entire draft class. His acceleration, top speed, and edge work are all fantastic. Aaltonen has a solid release, good vision, and some skill, although I’m not sure how high-end that skill is. His decision-making with the puck could be improved as well, but I’m not too concerned about that. Aaltonen adds value on both special teams due to his speed.

#139 Vegas Golden Knights: Marcus Kallionkieli (LW)

In Kallionkieli the Golden Knights selected my 16th ranked Finn for the draft in the fifth round. I don’t have a problem with the pick. Kallionkieli put up good numbers during his first season with the Sioux City, although his production was boosted by Bobby Brink and Martin Pospisil. Kallionkieli has a decent frame, speed and he has a knack for scoring. He could become a complimentary winger at the NHL level with good development.

#151 Arizona Coyotes: Aku Räty (RW)

Räty was my 12th ranked Finn for this draft and I think Arizona got a good value pick in him in the fifth round. Räty has a versatile tool kit. He has good speed and plays with a lot of pace. His playmaking skills and shot are both above average in my opinion. Räty doesn’t have high-end skill, but he can handle the puck at high speeds. He could become a nice middle six forward who can drive the play at even-strength and maybe contribute on power play if everything goes right.

#184 San Jose Sharks: Santeri Hatakka (D)

San Jose used a sixth-round pick on Hatakka who was my 19th ranked Finn for the draft. Hatakka logged big minutes in the Finnish U20 league as Jokerit’s top defenceman. He is a very good skater, especially going forward. He can jump on rushes and carry the puck out of the defensive zone. Hatakka is solid in the defensive zone by maintaining good gap control and punishing opponents physically. His other tools are all rather average, but I like him as a project pick in this range.

#185 Boston Bruins: Matias Mäntykivi (C)

In Mäntykivi the Bruins got my 21st ranked Finn for the draft. He is someone I had trouble ranking and you could make a case that I had him too low. Mäntykivi was one of the better forwards on his team and in spring he got promoted to play second-tier pro hockey in Finland. His raw tools are exciting. Mäntykivi has very good hands and vision. He can make things happen by himself in the offensive zone. My main worry with him is his skating, as his stride is rather heavy. If you bank on him fixing that he could be a player.

#197 Minnesota Wild: Filip Lindberg (G)

Minnesota selected 1999-born Lindberg in the seventh round after taking a swing at another goalie Hunter Jones in the second. 6-foot-0 Lindberg had a good season with UMass in the NCAA, posting a .934 save percentage in 17 games. He was also a part of the gold-winning U20 team, although he only played in a single game (which was a shutout). I’m not sure if Lindberg is a legit NHL prospect but you never know with goalies. He wasn’t in my top 25 for this draft.

#203 Pittsburgh Penguins: Valtteri Puustinen (RW)

Pittsburgh used their seventh-round pick on Valtteri Puustinen who also wasn’t among my 25 best Finns. Puustinen is a double over-ager who played 47 games with HPK’s Liiga team putting up 10 goals and 13 points. He was also part of the gold-winning U20 team, posting three assists in six games. Puustinen is a 5-foot-9 winger who plays a responsible two-way game. He is a pretty quick skater, but I’m not sure there is much upside with him.

#204 Toronto Maple Leafs: Kalle Loponen (D)

In Loponen the Maple Leafs selected my 17th-ranked Finn for the draft. He is a very good value pick in the seventh round for me. Loponen is a right-shot defenceman who split the season between Jr. A and Mestis. He is a good skater with decent puck skills and a very good shot from the point. Loponen moves the puck well and I mostly like his decision-making in the offensive zone. He struggled defensively against men, but isn’t afraid to play physical and laid a couple of beautiful open-ice hits this season.

#210 Nashville Predators: Juuso Pärssinen (C)

With their seventh-round pick, the Predators took my 18th-ranked Finn in Juuso Pärssinen. He played with TPS’ U20 team and made a brief appearance in Liiga as well. Pärssinen is a versatile player who can play up and down on your lineup. His speed and puck skills are both fine, but nothing special. He is a very responsible two-way player for a forward at his age, though. I’m not sold on his offensive upside but he could become an effective bottom six center.

#211 Pittsburgh Penguins: Santeri Airola (D)

The Penguins selected Santeri Airola with their seventh-round pick. Airola wasn’t on my top 25 rankings but I thought he could get picked late in the draft. He had an excellent season in the Jr. As an over-ager, putting up 31 points in 41 games. Airola moves the puck relatively well and flashes good speed at times. I’m not sure how good his skill level is, though. Next season will tell us a lot with him.