Welcome to January’s edition of the Liiga report, where I will be going over players from Liiga, Mestis, and Jr. A SM-liiga who have caught my attention lately.
You can always follow me on Twitter at @lassialanen and check out my Jr. A SM-liiga data tracking project, in which I recently added a four-game sample of Kärpät’s U20 team: https://public.tableau.com/profile/lassi.alanen#!/vizhome/Jr_ASM-Liiga-5v52018-2019/ShotContributions.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Kaapo Kakko, TPS
Kakko scored the game-winning goal with only 90 seconds left in the third period to lift Finland to a 3-2 over the United States to claim gold at the recent World Juniors. The consensus top-two prospect for the upcoming draft had a very good tournament as a 17-year-old, putting up two goals and three assists in seven games playing in Finland’s second line together with 2020 top prospect, Anton Lundell.
With his recent play, Kakko is really starting to push Jack Hughes for the first overall pick for the upcoming draft. He has high-end skill and hockey sense, good frame and the ability to score goals and make excellent passes. Kakko has also recently played as a center with TPS and I can definitely see him eventually playing down the middle in the NHL.
Ville Heinola, Lukko
Heinola was playing on Finland’s top defensive pairing together with Chicago Blackhawks prospect Henri Jokiharju. Unfortunately, he suffered a tournament-ending knee injury in the quarterfinal match against Canada and is reportedly out for 6-8 weeks, which may end up hurting his draft status. Heinola looked decent at the tournament considering his age and the role he was given.
Heinola’s skating is very good and he was able to evade pressure well against strong, older competition. He made few errors with the puck in his own end, but positioned nicely and defended competently despite being outsized and outmuscled. Right now, I think there is a chance Heinola gets picked in the first round, but the most likely scenario is that he gets taken in the second. There is a solid case to be made for him as the best Finnish defenceman eligible in the draft.
Patrik Puistola, Tappara
Puistola has been splitting time mostly between Tappara’s Liiga team and Mestis squad LeKi. In Liiga, he has almost solely played on the fourth line, getting five to eight minutes of ice time per game. In 16 games with Tappara, Puistola has only one assist, but I’m not very surprised by that considering his very limited minutes.
In Mestis, Puistola has been excellent, putting up 10 goals and 14 points in 14 games playing often together with undrafted Kristian Tanus and 2020 top prospect Kasper Simontaival. Puistola has high-end puck skills combined with great release and vision. He could be a bit quicker, but his pure skill level is very high. Like Heinola, I could see Puistola getting picked in the late first or early second round.
Leevi Aaltonen, KalPa U20
After starting the season six games with KalPa’s Liiga team, Aaltonen has been one of the best players for KalPa’s U20 team. He is a high-end skater with a fluid stride and excellent agility combined with very good work ethic and puck skills. At 5’9’’ and 154 pounds, size is pretty much the only thing keeping Aaltonen from playing in Liiga at the moment. He will likely play in a big role for Finland at the U18 Worlds after winning gold in a smaller role with last year’s team. I see Aaltonen as a potential third-round pick at the moment.
Tuukka Tieksola, Kärpät U20
I mentioned Tieksola in the December edition of the Liiga report, but he has looked so good lately that I have to mention him again. The 5’10’’ winger has 10 points in Kärpät’s first five games in the upper Finnish U20 league. Tieksola is a good skater with fluid stride, but what really impresses me about him is his playmaking and offensive instincts. He rarely misses passes or makes bad decisions in the offensive zone. I would like to see Tieksola playing for Finland at upcoming U18 Worlds, but his role might be quite limited depending on how stacked of a team they can gather.
Antti Tuomisto, Ässät U20
Standing at 6’3’’ and 176 pounds, Tuomisto is a two-way defenceman with some intriguing qualities. He is big, opens the game well from the backend and has heavy shot from the point. Playing for Ässät’s U20 team, Tuomisto has put up five assists in five games in the lower Finnish U20 league in 2019. He has also looked good at the international games he has played with Finland’s U18 team this year and I predict he will play in a top 4 role in the U18 Worlds. Tuomisto’s feet are a reasonable concern, but many of the people I’ve talked to really like him. I could see him getting drafted in the third or even late second round.