With two teams remaining in the fight for the Stanley Cup, the majority of teams and their fans have shifted their focus to the offseason. And now that we’re about two weeks away from the draft, it’s the perfect time to start the speculation. Finland wasn’t overly well-represented at the 2021 NHL Draft, with no Finnish players getting selected in the first round and none selected until the Carolina Hurricanes drafted Aleksi Haimosalmi at 44th overall.
This year, the amount of top-heavy Finnish talent is still relatively thin, but there are still a handful of players who could see themselves taken in the first round. Although there’s no Patrik Laine or Kaapo Kakko projected to be a top-two pick, here are the top ten Finnish players in the 2022 NHL Draft.
10. Topias Leinonen, Goalie, JYP U20 (U20 SM-Sarja)
NHL Central Scouting: #1 (among EU goalies)
There was a time when Finland ruled the league in the elite goaltender department. And while the days of the Miikka Kiprusoffs and the Tuukka Rasks dominating the league are over, Topias Leinonen is Finland’s best chance at developing an elite goaltender, at least in this draft class. The 18-year-old Jyvaskala native dipped his feet into all three major leagues in Finland this season but spent most of his time playing for JYP’s junior team. In 21 games, he finished with a 2.28 goals-against average (GAA) and a .916 SV% (save percentage), despite a 9-10-0 win-loss record. He was also one of only three goalies to be invited to the draft combine this year, which has to mean something.
As mentioned, Leinonen did see some time with the pro teams in his organization, appearing in four SM-Liiga games and two Mestis games (Mestis is Finland’s second-tier pro league). However, he struggled in his limited pro experience, managing a SV% of only .825 and a GAA of 5.02 in those four SM-Liiga games. The potential is definitely there for Leinonen, and standing at 6-foot-5 and 234 pounds, he takes up a lot of the net already. He needs to work on his poise and rebound control, but so long as the team drafting him can afford to wait and doesn’t need a goalie immediately, he could be well worth the long-term project.
9. Miko Matikka, Right Wing, Jokerit U20 (U20 SM-Sarja)
NHL Central Scouting: #39 (among EU skaters)
Although Miko Matikka spent his entire junior career in his home country of Finland, he will follow in the footsteps of already-drafted Finns such as Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Veeti Miettinen and Colorado Avalanche draft pick Sampo Ranta and take the NCAA route next season. Committed to play for the University of Denver, Matikka’s talents include a heavy shot and natural goal-scoring ability to go along with it. He finished the 2021-22 season with 19 goals and 33 points in 30 games for Jokerit’s U20 team.
Not only is the offensive skill already there, but Matikka also has good size already, standing at 6-foot-3 and 187 pounds. NHL scouts love that combination of size and skill, and the only thing keeping him from being a surefire top-64 pick is his hockey sense. He could use some improvement in that area, but then again, so could most prospects at his age. He should still easily be a player worth a look in the third round.
8. Otto Hokkanen, Center, SaiPa (SM-Liiga)
NHL Central Scouting: #55 (among EU skaters)
Unlike most of the Finns ranked in the mid-rounds of the 2022 draft class, Hokkanen spent the majority of the season playing in Finland’s top pro league. Since European pro teams are focused on icing the best rosters possible the same way NHL teams are, it’s seldom that you should pay attention to points when evaluating young European prospects. This applies to Hokkanen, as he only managed a single goal, which also happened to be his only point, in 32 games of SM-Liiga action.
However, the offense was there in Hokkanen’s limited junior action, scoring six goals and recording 16 points through 14 games for SaiPa’s U20 team. The fact that he spent the majority of the season with SaiPa’s pro team tells me that his hockey IQ is already good for his age, and it’s perhaps the reason why I’m higher on him than NHL Central Scouting is. And seeing that he’s a 6-foot-2 centre who has an extra year of playing against the pros under his belt, it’s a safe bet to say a team will take a look at him in the middle rounds.
7. Topi Ronni, Center, Tappara (SM-Liiga)
NHL Central Scouting: #31 (among EU skaters)
Another centre with decent size for his age, Topi Ronni brings a lot in his two-way game that will make him an attractive target for teams looking to add players with strength in that area. While he didn’t spend the majority of his year in the SM-Liiga as Hokkanen did, he did get 19 games of Liiga action with Tappara, who ended up winning their league’s championship, tallying four points along the way.
While those four points in 19 games aren’t eye-popping, the ice time wasn’t necessarily there for Ronni, which is to be expected for a pro team looking to secure a championship. His production was certainly there in his time with Tappara’s U20 team, recording 29 points in 30 games, and you’d have to imagine that he’ll have a bigger role for Tappara’s pro team next season. He could use some work on the offensive aspects of his game, such as shooting and stickhandling, but his speed and two-way game are already very mature for his age.
6. Otto Salin, Defense, HIFK U20 (U20 SM-Sarja)
NHL Central Scouting: #23 (among EU skaters)
While some people prefer their team’s defensemen to be big, burly, and physical, the speed of today’s NHL demonstrates that there’s a place for puck-movers, especially if you’re right-handed. Just ask Colorado Avalanche star Cale Makar, who just won the James Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman, or New York Rangers star Adam Fox. While comparing Otto Salin to either of these players would be unfair, he’s certainly the type of player whose game is reminiscent of these players.
Salin spent the majority of this season with HIFK U20 of the Finnish junior league, and although the sample size was small, it was an impressive one with 12 points through 11 games. He also played in six games for HIFK’s pro team, tallying a single assist. Standing at 5-foot-11 and 192 pounds, there’s lots of room to grow physically, and although he could use some work on the defensive side of the game, there aren’t any issues that can’t be corrected through a couple of years of development.
5. Aleksanteri Kaskimaki, Center, HIFK U20 (U20 SM-Sarja)
NHL Central Scouting: #25 (among EU skaters)
A teammate of fellow Finnish draft hopeful Salin, Kaskimaki led his team in scoring this year and did so despite having played fewer games than most of his teammates. He had 40 points in 31 games and even earned a small taste with HIFK’s top pro team, where he tallied one goal and one assist in four games. He’s an exceptional playmaker and already has strong decision-making ability for his age.
The few fallbacks in Kaskimaki’s game include his defensive awareness and his engagement. There are times when he’ll get stuck on a long shift and get caught puck-watching. But his offensive skill is definitely there, and he’ll get a true opportunity to show his worth next season, as he’s expected to take on a full-time job with HIFK’s top pro team. The rest of his game is promising enough to say he could easily be a third-round pick and possibly even sneak into the second round.
4. Kasper Kulonummi, Defense, Jokerit U20, (U20 SM-Sarja)
NHL Central Scouting: #29 (among EU skaters)
One thing is clear when you’re watching Kasper Kolunummi. He loves to help people score goals. In 40 games for Jokerit’s U20 team, Kolunummi registered 29 points, with 26 of those points being assists. He’s also a strong power play quarterback, tallying 11 primary points and 18 points total on the power play. Some teams may see this as a red flag, seeing that a good chunk of his production came with the man-advantage, but to me, it just showcased one of his big strengths.
Like most of his fellow players on this list, Kulonummi will likely have a full-time job in the Finnish pros next season. Despite spending the entirety of his junior career with Jokerit, it’s Tappara that will be giving him a shot in the pro leagues next season. His hockey IQ is already in a good spot for his age, and he doesn’t often make snap decisions. His consistency could use some work, but overall, his brand as a puck-moving right-handed defenseman will likely ensure a team takes a flier on him at the draft.
3. Jani Nyman, Left Wing, Koovee (SM-Mestis)
NHL Central Scouting: #24 (among EU skaters)
Not only is Nyman one of the top Finnish prospects in this draft class, but he’s also arguably a top ten left winger in this class, as he took the No. 8 spot on my list of left wingers. And for good reason, too. He has a booming shot, and when you combine that with his size at 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, he’s an intimidating player to play against. The goal-scoring ability has followed him throughout his entire career and was on display yet again this season with 18 goals in 34 games for Koovee of the Mestis League (Finland’s second-tier pro league).
While most Finnish prospects spend their draft season in the Finnish junior league (or the pro league if they’re skilled enough), Nyman is in the happy medium known as the Mestis league. He’s set to join Ilves of the SM-Liiga next season, and given that he already has a year of pro experience under his belt, it could make his transition to the top league a lot smoother. Either way, his size and shot will be the attributes that earn him a selection.
2. Brad Lambert, Center, Lahti Pelicans (SM-Liiga)
NHL Central Scouting: #10 (among EU skaters)
When it comes to the Finnish prospects in this draft class, there’s a very sizable gap between the top two prospects and the rest of them. Lambert could be argued as a top ten pick, while Nyman would be lucky to crack the first round. However, despite Lambert’s talent, it’s been a season to forget for the Finnish-Canadian. Once regarded as the next-best name in this class after Shane Wright, Lambert really didn’t make any strides between last season and this season.
Lambert registered 15 points in 46 games for JYP of the SM-Liiga last season and also had four points in seven games for Team Finland at the 2021 World Juniors. This season, however, he only managed six points in 24 games for JYP. He spent the second half of the season with the Lahti Pelicans, but his production didn’t improve, with only four points in 25 games.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
The skill is there for Lambert; there’s no doubt about that. And who knows, maybe his production issues are just a one-off. He did have five points in two games at the 2022 World Juniors before the tournament was postponed due to COVID-19, so maybe he just needs a fresh start. Despite consistency issues preventing him from being a top-five pick like he was originally supposed to be, his skill should ensure that he’s a top-15, at absolute worst, a top-20 selection. He could slip the same way New York Islanders prospect Aatu Raty did last season, but I can’t see it happening.
1. Joakim Kemell, Right Wing, JYP (SM-Liiga)
NHL Central Scouting: #2 (among EU skaters)
With the combination of Kemell having a strong rookie season and Lambert slipping in people’s rankings, the Jyvaskalin Mlk native has entered the discussion for players who could round out the top five. While he’s certainly on the smaller side at 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds, his skill is too prominent to keep him out of these discussions. He scored in his only game for JYP last season, and while he didn’t stay at that goal-per-game pace this season, his ability to find the back of the net was on display all season, with 15 goals and 23 points in 39 games.
While it might be in Kemell’s best interest to return to Finland for another year of development next season, he’s likely the only Finnish player in this draft class who could make a legitimate case to play in the NHL next season. He’s already got a season of pro experience under his belt and made sure to make the best of his opportunity in the pros this season.
Having said that, Kemell likely won’t go straight to the NHL unless he has an outstanding training camp with whichever team drafts him. But however long it takes him to get to the NHL, it will be worth the wait. He has an elite shot and elite puck handling skills and was able to hold his own physically despite his small frame. Whether he goes in the top five or the top ten, he will be making an NHL team very happy on July 7.
The Final Word on the Finns
While this draft class lacks the top-end Finnish talent we’ve seen in years past, there are still lots of intriguing prospects to keep an eye on come draft day. Kemell and Lambert are both more-or-less guaranteed to be first-round picks, and names like Nyman, Kulonummi, Kaskimaki, and Salin could easily find their way into the top 64. Other Finnish names who didn’t make my top 10 to keep an eye on include Kasper Lundell, Samu Bau, and Elmeri Laakso. And two weeks from now, we’ll find out which players these NHL teams will value the most.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2015 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.