Welcome to the second season of the Liiga update. During the next seven months we will go through the most promising Finnish prospects. Our main focus will be on the 2018 NHL Entry Draft eligible players, but we are not forgetting the recently drafted young stars that are yet to make the leap to North America. The Liiga’s regular season is already in full swing, so let’s get to it.
The 2018 NHL Entry Draft is projected to have great depth and elite top-end talent. However, there was only one Finnish player, Rasmus Kupari, who received the A-grade in the NHL Central Scouting’s list.
Kupari has already scored two goals in eleven games with Kärpät. Besides the big offensive potential, he plays a reliable two-way game. The soft handed forward is a terrific skater with quick acceleration and agility. At 5’11” and 163lbs, he isn’t the biggest guy on the ice but he can hold his own against men.
Kupari snipes one home for his second goal of the season.
Ässät 2018 draft eligible, Jesperi Kotkaniemi recently scored his third goal of the season and has been one of the best players in his team. The young Finn is a great puck-handler even in tight spots and can create offense by positioning himself around the offensive zone and using his dangerous shot, or by dishing the puck to his teammates. Defensively, he is reliable and possesses a very active stick, clogging up passing lanes. At 6’2, Kotkaniemi has a decent frame but like almost every player at his age, he needs to fill out.
HIFK’s 2018 draft eligible, Niklas Nordgren had a three goal night in his first pro game at the Champions Hockey League. After the CHL ended, he had a short stint with HIFK in the Liiga, three games no points, and now he is playing with the HIFK U20 team. He has three goals and seven assists in eight games.
Nordgren’s three goal pro debut
The Dallas Stars 2017 first round pick, Miro Heiskanen returned to the ice Oct. 5th, after suffering a concussion earlier this summer. The Stars general manager, Jim Nill hoped that Heiskanen would have a great season in Finland and that he would gain some strength. In three games, Heiskanen has scored two goals and an assist. He is averaging 23:44 minutes per night on the top pair and in all situations, while looking calm and confident as ever.
Heiskanen’s solo effort
Another recent high draft pick, Olli Juolevi of the Vancouver Canucks returned to Finland, to play for TPS Turku. He didn’t make the Canucks team straight out of the camp and his options were to go back to the OHL or to come back to Finland. Juolevi is close to meeting the Canucks requirements, but he still needs to further improve his physicality and strength. TPS is a good team for Juolevi to continue his development under the wings of former Canucks great, Sami Salo. I could see Juolevi wearing a Canucks jersey as early as the next season if all goes well.
Otto Koivula has had a strong start to the season, including a four-point night. He is a fourth round, 120th overall pick of the New York Islanders. He is a big body at 6’4” and 220 lbs. Last season he had ten goals and twenty assists in 50 games and is now up to nine points in fifteen games. He did his damage mostly on the power play by using his wicked wrister or by jamming pucks in from the front of the net. I am hoping we see his production improve on five-on-five this season.