Welcome to the Liiga report. Since October’s version was a very long deep dive into every Liiga team, this month’s edition will go detail some names I have been able to watch over the past four weeks. If you wish, you can also give me a follow on Twitter at @lassialanen. Without further ado, let’s get to some of my notes from the month of November.
Kristian Tanus, LeKi (Mestis)
Tanus is a very interesting name to me. He was (one of the youngest players) eligible for the 2018 draft, but did not get picked, which I found a bit surprising considering his great showing at the U18 Worlds. Tanus’ production last year at the Finnish U20 league was decent, not spectacular, but this season he has really come on strong. As I’m writing this article, he has 23 points in 17 games with Mestis team LeKi. If he keeps up that pace and does play the entire season with the team, he could easily break Mestis’ all-time U20 scoring record (Jarkko Immonen currently holds the record with 40 points in 41 games).
Tanus is a player who succeeds by always being one of the smartest players on the ice. He also has great puck skills and vision, which allow him to be very dangerous on the power play. This season he has also taken a step forward by shooting more, even though he clearly still is a pass-first forward. His foot speed is also not the best, and that is always a concern with smaller players (and Tanus is tiny at 5’8’’ and 159 pounds). I would expect him to be a third line center and a second unit power-play guy for Finland at the upcoming World Juniors.
Heponiemi and Kupari have continued their impressive seasons on Kärpät’s stacked team. They are first and second respectively in Liiga’s U20 scoring with Heponiemi having 18 points in 21 games and Kupari having 15 points in 20 games. They have been playing on the same line from the start of the season. Their underlying numbers are actually very good, as Kupari leads the team with 61.6 Corsi for percentage and Heponiemi is eighth with 58.9 Corsi for percentage.
I was probably a little bit higher on Kupari than most before the draft. He has always been a high-end skater with good skill, but I thought his decision-making in the offensive zone needed some work. Kupari has definitely taken big steps forward and his ceiling could end up being surprisingly high.
Heponiemi is a player I’ve always liked because of his borderline elite vision and offensive instincts. He is a supremely gifted playmaker, which allows him to be especially dangerous on the power play. I’m a bit worried if he has the speed to become an impact top six forward in the NHL, but I certainly can’t count that possibility out. I think it is safe to assume that Heponiemi and Kupari will form two-thirds of Finland’s first line in the upcoming World Juniors.
Mikko Kokkonen, Jukurit (Liiga)
Kokkonen has been quietly very solid for Jukurit. He has averaged 0.48 points per game in the 21 games he has played, which is a historically exceptional mark for a 17-year-old defenceman in Liiga. He has been out-producing the much more hyped about prospect Anttoni Honka by a quite large margin.
Kokkonen is not at all flashy. He plays a rather simple game but stands out by being very smart with the puck. He does not have the wow factor that Honka has, but is more sound defensively and makes fewer errors overall. While Honka might have more upside, Kokkonen is making a solid case for himself as the best Finnish defenceman eligible for the 2019 draft.
Anttoni Honka, JYP/KeuPa HT (Liiga/Mestis)
Honka had a very solid start to the season but has cooled off noticeably after that. JYP recently announced that until the World Juniors, Honka would play in Mestis with KeuPa HT and that he would practice with both teams. While I consider JYP’s decision-making here to be very odd, Honka has not been on top of his game recently and his trip to Mestis might boost his confidence, as he will get top-pairing minutes and lots of time on the power play.
Niklas Nordgren, HIFK (Liiga)
Injured at the start of the season, Nordgren has looked good with HIFK’s Liiga squad after eight warm-up games with their U20 team. Even though he is probably best-known as a sniper (eight goals in seven games at U18 Worlds last spring), his playmaking might be his best asset overall. He can be very deceptive with the puck and often finds passing lanes really well. Nordgren’s skating continues to be his biggest downfall, but I would say it has improved steadily from last season.
Patrik Puistola, LeKi (Mestis)
Puistola is a player who I have had on my radar for a while now. He started the season with Tappara’s U20 team and has been playing on a loan with LeKi (together with Tanus and 2020 eligible Kasper Simontaival) for the past 10 games in which he has seven goals and a total of 10 points. Those are some impressive numbers for a U18 player.
Puistola stands out as maybe even the most skilled Finnish player in the draft alongside Kakko. He has great hands and very good release. Puistola also is very dangerous in one-on-one situations. He had very good showing with Finland’s U18 team in the recent Five Nations tournament. Puistola is currently a second-round pick in my books and The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler had him as high as 28th in his recent rankings.
Aku Räty, Kärpät U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)
Räty is a player who has not received a lot of love from the public until recently when FinnProspects ranked him as the 15th best Finnish player for the 2019 draft. His production at the U20 level has not been mind-blowing (18 points in 24 games), but his skill set has really stood out to me in my every viewing of him this season.
Räty has very good offensive skill set: good skating, very good hands, and puck-skills and great offensive instincts. His stride is clean and he surprises defenders with his speed. Räty has put up really good numbers in every level he has played and when bulks up and gather more experience, he could end up being a very interesting prospect with NHL potential.
Aarne Intonen, TPS U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga)
Like Räty, Intonen is another name eligible for the 2019 draft you probably haven’t read a lot about. He is another player who has been able to produce constantly throughout his junior career and currently has 10 goals and 20 points in 25 games with TPS’ U20 squad.
Intonen is a small winger with very good skill and puck-handling ability. Currently, his skating lacks a bit of explosiveness, but that will probably change as he develops physically. Intonen has also surprised me with a solid two-way game and he has been featured regularly on the penalty kill. He is also rather young for the draft (born in late July).
Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen)
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