This past weekend, I made a four-hour trip to the city of Lappeenranta because their organization SaiPa was hosting a tournament where 10 Jr. A SM-liiga teams were playing against each other in two arenas that were very near each other. Well, it was a tournament-like event but they were playing regular season games, so it’s a bit of a weird concept. Either way, I spent two days there and got to watch four full games and a few periods of some other games (the games overlapped), so here are some of my thoughts based on what I saw.
In my opinion, center Juuso Pärssinen (NSH) is the best player on the TPS U20 team, and I have no idea why he isn’t already playing at the Liiga level. He’s a very good two-way center with great size. He doesn’t really have high-end skill but he could definitely play a third-line role against men right now, and I think that’s the best case scenario for his future in the NHL as well. The Predators made a great choice in the seventh round.
Winger Eetu Liukas (2021) would have been eligible for the upcoming draft if he was born just 10 days earlier. But having his draft pushed back a year might be a blessing because that gives him more time to work on his skating which is not great right now. He’s a power forward, and already one of the strongest players in the league. It’s very difficult to stop him when he puts his head down and drives to the net. He throws punishing hits by the boards and is also a good defensive player. If he can improve his skating and show more offensive skill, he’ll be a coveted prospect at the draft.
Samuel Knazko (2020) and Eemil Viro (2020) are arguably the top defensemen on the TPS U20 team despite being just 17 years old. I have them both ranked as third/fourth round picks for the upcoming draft right now, and I’m flip-flopping between the two when ranking them. I need more viewings before I can have a definite answer but I like them both.
Another intriguing defenseman eligible for the upcoming draft is Juuso’s younger brother Jiri Pärssinen (2020). He played as the seventh defenseman for TPS U20 on Saturday but was promoted to their top pair on Sunday – that is, until he suffered an injury in the second period and missed the rest of the game. I was really hoping to get a proper viewing of him because he hasn’t played much this season but unfortunately that’s how it goes sometimes.
Jukurit U20 center Henri Nikkanen (WPG) looked as good as I’ve seen of him since the long-term injury he suffered almost a year ago. He missed a few months in the spring because of the injury and hasn’t really looked the same since then. But this weekend, he was starting to look more like the player he used to be. Hopefully he can get back to that level and make the jump to the Liiga level later this season.
Jokerit U20 center Juuso Mäenpää (2020) continued his incredible start to the season and looked great during the weekend. Mäenpää continues to lead the league in points – 26 points in 16 games – and even though Jokerit U20 is a high-scoring team, he isn’t getting those points because he’s lucky. He isn’t even getting optimal usage as he plays on the second line and on the second power play unit but he just keeps racking up points at incredible rate. It seems pretty obvious he has to switch to wing eventually because he’s only 5-foot-7 but I think he could be effective there as well because of his great skating ability, skill level and work ethic.
Forward Samu Salminen (2021) looks like a definite first-rounder for the 2021 NHL Draft. At 6-foot-2, he has great size and he’s already very good at using it to protect the puck. He has very good hands and a great mind for the game. His skating is not a strength but I think it’s good enough for his playing style. He is capable of playing down the middle but has been used at wing this season which is not surprising considering he’s only 16 years old and playing in the U20 league.
Ässät U20 defenseman Antti Tuomisto (DET) is just too good for the junior level (he has to stay there because he’s going to NCAA). He plays huge minutes and controls the game whenever he’s on the ice. I haven’t seen a better defenseman in the league this season – not even anyone who comes close, actually. He still makes mistakes at times, especially in the defensive zone. But the way he’s in total command of the game all the time is beyond impressive.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of NHL.com