The 2020 NHL draft may not have the exceptional high-end talent coming out of Finland that we’ve seen in recent years, but there are a handful of skilled players worth mentioning.
IFK Helsinki centerman Anton Lundell is poised beyond his years. His success the past two years in the Finnish Liiga ranks among the best all-time for pre-draft eligible players. He doesn’t possess the flash that many of this year’s draft class exhibit. However, his play without the puck is exceptional, particularly for someone that young. One of the first eye-catching aspects of his game is just how remarkable his positioning is in all three zones. His work ethic is commendable, and he is a puck hound, both on the forecheck and while backchecking. He is decent in the face-off circle as well.
Offensively he displays a strong, accurate shot with a better-than-average release.
His creativity and playmaking skills are average, as is his agility and overall skating ability. For me, he projects to be a second-line shutdown type player rather than an elite point producer. Having already played two seasons of professional hockey, coupled with the responsible game he plays, should aid his transition to the NHL. However, his skating must improve for that to happen. The 6’1″ 183-pound forward has a high hockey IQ and is a probable top-ten selection in the upcoming draft.
Perhaps the most perplexing of all 2020 NHL draft prospects is Tappara right-winger Kasper Simontaival. Ranked as a sure-fire first-round prospect at the outset of the season, Simontaival slipped in the rankings steadily as the season progressed. Expectations were that he would spend the season in the Liiga after spending significant time in the men`s Mestis in the 2018-2019 season. However, deficiencies in his defensive game may have contributed to him remaining in junior for almost the entire 2019-2020 campaign.
There is no denying the offensive instincts and success Simontaival demonstrated at the junior level. His vision and playmaking skills are top-notch, as is the release on his shot.
I feel that his skating is average and will need to improve to have success at the professional level, particularly given his lack of size. I expect his selection to be in the 40-60 range in the upcoming draft but will likely need to remain in Europe for a couple more seasons and work on the areas of concern mentioned above.
Another undersized versatile forward (5’9″ – 163 lbs.), Roni Hirvonen played this past season with Assat of the Finnish Liiga. He received significant minutes there and was primarily used in a top-six role recording five goals and 11 assists in 52 games. Hirvonen is very creative with terrific agility and is an exceptional stick-handler. His attention to detail in the defensive zone is reasonably good as well as his overall hockey intelligence. Despite his size, Hirvonen isn’t shy about taking pucks to the net and getting to the dirty areas in front of the crease.
Where Hirvonen falls short is overall strength, which is very evident along the boards as he is taken off the puck rather easily. The lack of power also shows in both his skating stride and the velocity of his shot. Like Simontaival, Hirvonen projects as a mid-second-round pick.
An ultra-quick release with deadly accuracy and a powerful stride are the characteristics that stand out when watching Roby Jarventie play. The big-bodied winger (6’2″ 185 lb) spent the majority of this past season playing for KOOVEE in the Finnish Mestis. He amassed 23 goals and 15 assists in 36 games playing on the top line. Jarventie uses his size well in protecting the puck in the offensive zone. The pure sniper also displays good vision and above-average playmaking skills making him a constant threat.
The areas that he needs to improve are his defensive zone play and consistency. Jarventie could also stand to be more physical and intense in board battles.
To maintain NCAA eligibility, St. Cloud State University commit Veeti Miettinen remained in the SM-Liiga junior league rather than playing in the Finnish pro leagues. To say that he dominated that circuit is an understatement. Miettinen managed a league-high 73 points in 52 games, of which 42 were goals, 14 more than his nearest rival. At 5’9″ 159 lbs, Miettinen makes up for his lack of size with his tremendous skating ability. His quickness and agility, combined with his ability to see the ice make him very elusive. A quick release and an accurate wrist shot make him a bona fide goal scoring threat. Miettinen is responsible without the puck, although his best work is in the offensive zone.
Areas of concern that may factor into where he falls to in the draft are his lack of size and the fact that he is one of the oldest first time eligible prospects in the draft class. I am very interested to see how his game translates to the NCAA level for next season.
Rick Warman is a Vancouver Canucks and prospects contributor for Overtime Heroics. Follow him @statman1956 on Twitter
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