Thoughts about Anton Lundell, Ville Heinola, Lassi Thomson, Patrik Puistola, Michal Teply, Mikko Kokkonen, Lenni Killinen, Antti Saarela, Matias Maccelli, Veeti Miettinen, Valentin Nussbaumer, and many others…
The 2019-2020 scouting season officially started for me on Monday when I went to Vierumäki for a short U20 level tournament. The tournament included teams from Switzerland and Czech Republic, and also two teams from Finland. Finland made their final roster decisions for the World Junior Summer Showcase (WJSS) based on this tournament. Here are my thoughts on some of the players who played there.
Team Finland (A squad)
Finland’s A squad won both their games, first beating Switzerland 8-1 and then the Czechs 6-5. So scoring goals didn’t seem to be much of an issue for the top team even though they were playing without center Rasmus Kupari who is busy with the Kings.
Even though he only had one point (a goal), make no mistake about it – this is Anton Lundell’s team. He’s the youngest player on the team but without Kupari, he’s the only returning forward from the team that won gold at the World Juniors last year. Lundell made a lot of high-end plays both offensively and defensively, and that strong two-way game is really his calling card and the reason he’s projected to become a top five pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
“He’s done his job very well, we’re very pleased with his play”, said Finland’s head coach Raimo Helminen about Lundell. “I’m doing everything I can to make sure our team wins. I think I’ve given my best in these games and played at a good level”, Lundell said.
Lundell was Finland’s top center in the Vierumäki tournament and will continue to hold that role at the WJSS as well, so I asked him what kind of pressure that creates: “No pressure, it’s only a good thing. Everything has to be earned. I’ll try to show in every game that I belong there, and that I can play at a good level, play in a big role and lead the team.”
I’ll share more quotes from my Lundell interview when I write a Deep Dive article about him later this season. If you’re not yet familiar with him, click on his name to go to his player profile.
Another top forward for the Finns will be winger Patrik Puistola (CAR) who had a great tournament as well, scoring three goals and four points in two games. His chemistry with center Kristian Tanus is amazing, and at times those two were making fools of their opponents because they always seem to know where the other one is. Tanus finished the tournament with four assists. It still baffles me how Puistola fell to 73rd overall in the draft because he has first round talent. I’m also amazed no team used a late pick on Tanus. The third member on that line was big winger Samuel Salonen who had three goals and four points as well. It’s pretty easy to guess those three will stick together as a line at the WJSS.
Another forward who really impressed in these two games was winger Lenni Killinen (CAR) who had two goals and three points in two games. Killinen used his size and strength very well and flashed some serious offensive talent which bodes well for his upcoming season in the Liiga. Killinen played with center Otto Kivenmäki (DET), and those two are also familiar with each other because they’ve played together on Ässät team in the Liiga.
The Tanus-Puistola and Kivenmäki-Killinen pairs will be crucial for Finland this upcoming season because of how well they play together. That leaves Lundell to carry his own line which means they should have three pretty strong lines with those building blocks.
Another forward worth mentioning is Antti Saarela (CHI) who only played in one of the games and was held pointless but he played perhaps the best game I’ve seen from him. Even though I project him to become a winger, he was used at center and actually looked pretty good there – better than he did last season. “Pretty good, got better as the game progressed”, said Finland’s head coach Raimo Helminen about Saarela’s game.
On defense, the two guys who really stood out in both games were 2019 first round picks Ville Heinola (WPG) and Lassi Thomson (OTT) who will be Finland’s top defenders at the U20 level this season. Both of them are offense-minded defensemen but because they can also be pretty reliable defensively, they were paired with purely offensive guys in Anttoni Honka (CAR) and Kim Nousiainen (LAK). These four guys are expected to be the primary puck-movers on defense but Honka and Nousiainen have to prove they can be reliable enough defensively. I think they did a decent job at that in this short tournament but going forward and into the World Juniors, they need to continue doing that throughout the season.
Because those four guys are so great with the puck, that means Toni Utunen (VAN) and Mikko Kokkonen (TOR) had to play a defensive role, and I think both guys did a good job with that. They’re solid puck-movers as well but not as good as the other four guys mentioned before, so they won’t get a lot of offensive opportunities. Utunen carried the ‘C’ in game one whereas Heinola was given that honor in game two, so it looks like those two will be expected to bring leadership into this group. Unfortunately Kokkonen was injured late in the second game and he will miss the WJSS because of it.
Finland’s number one goalie Justus Annunen (COL) played just the first game against Switzerland, and he was great in that. He wasn’t tested a whole lot but stopped 18 out of 19 shots.
Team Finland (B squad)
Even though he only had two points (both assists) in two games, winger Matias Maccelli (ARZ) was the best forward on this team. In my opinion, he deserved a spot on the top team because of how well he played in both games. He was consistently dangerous offensively and always looking to create opportunities. He didn’t seem to find a lot of chemistry with his linemates but that’s understandable early in the season. Maccelli was also responsible for running their second power play unit and did a great job at that.
At the opposing wing of Maccelli was 2020 draft eligible winger Veeti Miettinen who didn’t get any points but I liked his effort level. He’s an offensive winger but I also liked the way he battled for pucks and backchecked. I interviewed Miettinen after the first game against the Czechs, and he said they only had one on-ice practice together before the game. “Of course it’s the first game (of the season) and in July, so the start was not great. But it got better towards the end and we got the goals we needed”, Miettinen said. Miettinen is a potential first round pick next summer, and he confirmed he’s staying in the Finnish junior league for this season and “very likely” going to NCAA in 2020-2021.
Center Henri Nikkanen (WPG) and winger Leevi Aaltonen (NYR) played on Finland’s top line and on the top power play. They were expected to carry this team offensively but weren’t as good as expected. They flashed some nice things at times but didn’t seem to be on the same page most of the time. They both had just one assist in two games. This could be a really nice pair to keep together if they manage to find some chemistry later in the season.
Team’s top defensive pair of Antti Tuomisto (DET) and Santeri Hatakka (SJS) looked great in both games, and they are familiar with each other after playing on the same pair last year with Team Finland at the U18 level. Both guys were also used on the top power play, and I think both of them deserved consideration for the WJSS roster even though they had just one point each.
Another defender who looked impressive was Kalle Loponen (TOR). He was held pointless in both games but especially in the second game looked like Finland’s best defenseman. He also earned a spot on the second power play unit during the second game which was great to see – I think he should have been there from the start, though. I would still slot him behind Tuomisto and Hatakka when taking both games into consideration.
Team Czech Republic
The top forwards for the Czechs were center Petr Cajka and winger Michal Teply (CHI). They both had just one point in the first game but exploded with four-point nights in the second game. They were expected to carry this team offensively and they definitely delivered in the second game – although it wasn’t enough for a win. The Czechs scored a total of nine goals in the two games but lost the games 5-4 and 6-5, so they definitely have room for improvement in their defensive game.
Teply was the best player on the ice in that second game, and he showed what type of an offensive force he can be at his best. The problem with him is that he isn’t able to be at his best consistently. If he could play the way he did in the second game, he would be considered a top prospect. There’s a lot of upside if he can become more consistent.
2020 draft eligible Jaromir Pytlik was used at right wing in both games but he’s also capable of playing down the middle. Even at the U20 level, he can dominate with his size and strength but unfortunately he wasn’t able to show much offensively (zero points), and he finished both games with a minus-three rating which is not great.
Goalie Lukas Dostal (ANA) looked very rusty in the first game. He stopped 31 out of 35 shots but a couple of those goals were easily stoppable. But there’s no reason to be worried because of this, it’s just a friendly tournament in July.
Center Valentin Nussbaumer (ARZ) was by far Switzerland’s best player in this tournament. He scored the only goal in their 8-1 loss against Finland’s A squad, and then scored a goal and added an assist in a 3-2 shootout loss to Finland’s B squad – so in a tournament where Switzerland scored three goals, Nussbaumer scored two of them and assisted the third one. Winger Kyen Sopa was the only other Swiss player to get any points (he had a goal and an assist).
Both of Finland’s teams won both of their games, so it was a very successful tournament for the home teams. Their players got to play together a bit before the WJSS which should bode well for them. They got to play a tough physical game against the Czechs. “It was good preparation for North America, they will certainly play a tough game there”, said Finland’s head coach Raimo Helminen. So all in all, Finland should be well prepared for the World Junior Summer Showcase. Here’s their final roster for the WJSS:
And here’s my Team Finland lineup projection for the WJSS:
And finally, here are the top scorers from the tournament.
(Full disclosure: this was not an official tournament and it’s also not officially over yet because the Czechs and Swiss will play against each other two more times. But I wanted to write this article about the four games I got to see, so there you go.)
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.