Welcome to the March edition of the Liiga report, where I will be going over players from Liiga/Mestis/Jr. A SM-liiga who have caught my attention lately. You can always follow me on Twitter at @lassialanen. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Kaapo Kakko, TPS
Kakko has been on fire for the past two months. After putting up six goals and eight points in eight games in February, he has kept his impressive production going in March by scoring three goals and adding two assists in six games. Kakko is currently tied with Aleksander Barkov for most goals by a U18 player in Liiga history. Only Barkov and Mikael Granlund have had more productive U18 seasons in Liiga history.
There is a solid chance that Kakko will debut with the men’s national team in the upcoming IIHF World Championship tournament, depending on how his Liiga squad will fare in the playoffs. The race for number one spot between him and Jack Hughes is now very close. Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino was the first big name to have Kakko at the top of his list. I’m pretty confident that there will be others in the near future.
Ville Heinola, Lukko
Heinola has looked very good after returning to action after his knee injury, which he suffered at the World Juniors. There is a lot to like about his game, as he is very well-rounded for a defenceman who just turned 18. Heinola’s skating, hockey sense and skill get all good grades from me. He doesn’t have any standout skills but has the tools to become a modern puck-moving defenceman in the NHL.
Mikko Kokkonen, Jukurit
There is a lot of debate surrounding Kokkonen. His numbers from this season are really good. His 17 points in 55 games this season are the most by any U18 defenceman in 30 years. For example, Miro Heiskanen only put up 10 points in 37 games in his draft-eligible season with HIFK. I’m not saying that Kokkonen will be as good as Heiskanen in a year, but his production has been impressive nonetheless.
Kokkonen is very mature for his age and is the best defender out of all the Finnish draft-eligible players. His gap control is very good and he is difficult to beat in one-on-one situation. Kokkonen is only 5’11’’, but has already filled out his frame (190 pounds) and has the ability to compete physically against men. The big question is how much offensive upside he has. In my recent viewings, he has flashed good speed and some skill, but players like Heinola and Anttoni Honka are widely considered better offensively. I’ll be focusing on Kokkonen at the upcoming U18 Worlds.
Anttoni Honka, Jukurit
Honka was loaned from JYP to Kokkonen’s Jukurit in mid-February and has since then seen consistent usage in Liiga. He’s been averaging 18:38 minutes of ice time in 10 games with Jukurit compared to 13:52 minutes earlier this season with JYP. It is definitely good for Honka to be playing against men (he was with JYP’s U20 team before the loan), but the lack of progress in his game is pretty worrying to me. You could argue he lo