Welcome to the Liiga report. Since October’s version was a very long deep dive into every Liiga team, this month’s edition will go detail some names I have been able to watch over the past four weeks. If you wish, you can also give me a follow on Twitter at @lassialanen. Without further ado, let’s get to some of my notes from the month of November.
Kristian Tanus, LeKi (Mestis)
Tanus is a very interesting name to me. He was (one of the youngest players) eligible for the 2018 draft, but did not get picked, which I found a bit surprising considering his great showing at the U18 Worlds. Tanus’ production last year at the Finnish U20 league was decent, not spectacular, but this season he has really come on strong. As I’m writing this article, he has 23 points in 17 games with Mestis team LeKi. If he keeps up that pace and does play the entire season with the team, he could easily break Mestis’ all-time U20 scoring record (Jarkko Immonen currently holds the record with 40 points in 41 games).
Tanus is a player who succeeds by always being one of the smartest players on the ice. He also has great puck skills and vision, which allow him to be very dangerous on the power play. This season he has also taken a step forward by shooting more, even though he clearly still is a pass-first forward. His foot speed is also not the best, and that is always a concern with smaller players (and Tanus is tiny at 5’8’’ and 159 pounds). I would expect him to be a third line center and a second unit power-play guy for Finland at the upcoming World Juniors.
Aleksi Heponiemi & Rasmus Kupari, Kärpät (Liiga)
Heponiemi and Kupari have continued their impressive seasons on Kärpät’s stacked team. They are first and second respectively in Liiga’s U20 scoring with Heponiemi having 18 points in 21 games and Kupari having 15 points in 20 games. They have been playing on the same line from the start of the season. Their underlying numbers are actually very good, as Kupari leads the team with 61.6 Corsi for percentage and Heponiemi is eighth with 58.9 Corsi for percentage.
I was probably a little bit higher on Kupari than most before the draft. He has always been a high-end skater with good skill, but I thought his decision-making in the offensive zone needed some work. Kupari has definitely taken big steps forward and his ceiling could end up being surprisingly high.
Heponiemi is a player I’ve always liked because of his borderline elite vision and offensive instincts. He is a supremely gifted playmaker, which allows him to be especially dangerous on the power play. I’m a bit worried if he has the speed to become an impact top six forward in the NHL, but I certainly can’t count that possibility out. I think it is safe to assume that Heponiemi and Kupari will form two-thirds of Finland’s first line in the upcoming World Juniors.
Mikko Kokkonen, Jukurit (Liiga)
Kokkonen has been quietly very solid for Jukurit. He has averaged 0.48 points per game in the 21 games he has played, which is a historically exceptional mark for a 17-year-old defenceman in Liiga. He has been out-producing the much more hyped about prospect Anttoni Honka by a quite large margin.
Kokkonen is not at all flashy. He plays a rather simple game but stands out by being very smart with the puck. He does not have the wow factor that Honka has, but is more sound defensively and makes fewer errors overall. While Honka might have more upside, Kokkonen is making a solid case for himself as the best Finnish defenceman eligible for the 2019 draft.