Liiga Report – September 2019

Juha Rapanen

2019-09-18

 

The new season in the Finnish Liiga has started. We are going to cover how the most interesting NHL prospects in Finland will progress during the season. In this first report, I will give an overall look of the players, and will make projections for the upcoming season on their playing and development.

 

Liiga has worked wonders for many of today’s NHL players like Mikko Rantanen, Sebastian Aho and Aleksander Barkov. All of them have benefitted from playing on a professional level against men at a young age. Learning to play an all-around game and be a reliable two-way player will always be a good thing. The trend seems to be the same with more and more Finnish players getting drafted.

 

Leevi Aaltonen, W, KalPa (New York Rangers)

 

Aaltonen, a fifth round pick this summer, is a left-handed winger who is a high-end skater and has a nose for the net. Aaltonen is more of a goal-scorer than a playmaker but he can also make nifty passes. He was thought to be a potential first-rounder earlier in his career but his game instincts have not developed as well as his skating and other abilities. He is a smaller sized player but Aaltonen does not shy away from physical battles. He is not the best at protecting the puck but his speed gives him an advantage to avoid most of those situations. As he gains more strength and muscle, I believe he is going to do well on that area too with the hard work attitude he has.

 

The biggest “issue” I have with Aaltonen is his decision-making. Aaltonen has shoot-first mentality and he usually ends up rushing plays too often. For example, on the power play, he ends up shooting from too far, and puck-possession is lost too often on weak scoring chances. Aaltonen needs to get his confidence up because he has all the tools to compete with his speed and puck-handling skills. I’m expecting that he cracks himself into a top-six role as the season progresses. If Aaltonen stays healthy, he should be able to put up around 10 goals and 15 assists. He won’t be ready for the NHL until after a couple of pro seasons in Europe.

 

Joni Ikonen, C, KalPa (Montreal Canadiens)

 

Ikonen, a second-round pick from 2017, is a right-handed center who can outsmart players in the rink to make beautiful plays and get his team going. His last season was a letdown but not because of bad playing. Ikonen had a broken season because of many injuries he had after being drafted. Those have affected his stock in a negative way for certain, and his development has slown down since he hasn’t been able to play enough games. Most of his time has gone to conditioning and he has put up enough hours in the gym for now. Still, the hockey smart to make great decisions on the ice is there. In terms of his future, the upcoming Liiga season will have a huge impact on his future. Ikonen will start as second line center, like he did last season. In 13 games he played, Ikonen scored impressive five goals and five assists.

 

Ikonen has always been a very smart player and that will be a key for his success in the future. He really has to stay healthy in the future and start to produce points more consistently. Although he might not be able to keep up the same points-per-game pace he had last season, I believe he should get close to 40 points over a full Liiga season.

 

Jesse Ylönen, W, Pelicans (Montreal Canadiens)

 

Ylönen, a second-round pick from 2018, is a speedy right-handed winger with great skills to finish plays by h