Finland has seen a huge boost in their prospect development over the last 10 years. From 2000 to 2009, only 18 Finns were selected in the first two rounds of the draft. Compare that to the last decade, when 24 Finnish prospects were taken in the first round alone, and another 20 were selected in the second. They’ve also become great at producing top prospects, with nine players selected in the top-10 between 2010 and 2019.
This year may seem like a downturn in that development, as no player in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft has as much hype as Kaapo Kakko, Patrick Laine, or Aleksander Barkov, and only one Finn is seen as a lock in the first round. But you’d be wrong to think this isn’t an very talented draft class. Several players are underrated due to one factor or another and many of them have a chance to sneak up to a hotly-contested late first-round pick.
There may be more risk in selecting these players this year than in previous drafts, but 10 years down the road, some fans may be wondering why they weren’t top selections. Years of international dominance have taught us not to sleep on Finland, so it’s anyone’s guess how good they will become. Here are the top Finnish prospects according to the NHL’s Central Scouting Service.
10 – Juuso Mäenpää
NHL Central Scouting Rank: 75th (among European Skaters)
Standing just 5-foot-7 and 141 pounds, Mäenpää is one of the smallest prospects eligible for the 2020 Draft. His stature has many concerned whether he’ll be strong enough to handle the North American game, but so far, he’s proven himself more than capable. He had 49 points in 52 games in the U20 Finnish Junior League last season and won the Yrjö Hakala Award as rookie of the year. He also lit it up on the world stage, scoring seven goals and seven assists in 14 U18 international contests.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
Not even the long summer break slowed him down, as he’s leading his U20 team with eight points in four games. He’s an incredible playmaker and puck handler, and although Mäenpää will not be a high pick, he’s worth keeping an eye on, especially after the third round.
9 – Veeti Miettinen
NHL Central Scouting Rank: 72nd (among European Skaters)
Another undersized forward, the 5-foot-9 Miettinen tore up the Finnish U20 Junior League last season, leading the league with 42 goals and 73 points in 52 games, and breaking the league’s single-season goal record. His competition wasn’t even close – he had a 12-point lead over the second-place scorer, and 14 more goals than the next highest total. His combination of speed and quick transitions make him very difficult to stop and a major threat on the power play.
Despite his offensive skill, Miettinen projects to be an early third-round selection, most likely because he played last season in the U20 league, which didn’t allow scouts to see him compete against more developed players. His biggest test will come in the 2020-21 season when he joins St. Cloud State University, where he’ll face some of the best players U.S. college has to offer. He has a lot of unknowns, but he’s well-developed in the key areas of skating, backchecking, and intelligence and projects to become an effective top-six forward if a team is willing to wait.
8 – Joel Blomqvist
NHL Central Scouting Rank: 3rd (among European Goalies)
Depending on who you ask, Blomqvist has been considered the second-best goalie behind Yaroslav Askarov. He’s been Finland’s go-to choice for international competition; he started in the 2017-18 U16s, the 2018-19 U17s, and for both the 2019-20 U18s and at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
He’s not just an international performer, though. In the U20 league, he put together a record of 26 wins in 34 starts and a 0.931 save percentage last season, helping Kärpät U20 rise to the top of the standings and earning him the Jorma Valtonen Award as the league’s best goalie.
Blomqvist is a very calm goalie and excellent positionally. His hockey sense and demeanor help him stay on top of his game and track the play exceptionally well. His game has no glaring weaknesses and is technically sound; the only way to beat him is to put the puck up high on the short side. As Kärpät’s starter, he’s only allowed three goals in the first two Liiga games this season, winning both and posting a 1.50 goals-against-average. Like most goalies, he’s still several seasons away from cracking the NHL, but if he does, he has all the tools to be a top starting goaltender.
7 – Kasper Simontaival
NHL Central Scouting Rank: 21st (among European Skaters)
Another undersized forward at 5-foot-9, Simontaival has one of the best shots among Finnish prospects. In 48 games with Tappara U20, he had 25 goals and 57 points, and he led all U18 Finns in 2019-20 international competition with eight goals and 14 points. On top of a deadly release, he is a great playmaker and moves very quickly with the puck, making him one of the best offensive players at the 2020 Draft. Yet, in all but a few projections, he’s considered a stretch to go in the first round.
Much of Simontaival’s ranking has to do with his consistency. Early in his career, he struggled with injuries that slowed his development. He made great strides last season, becoming a more well-rounded player and even clocking regular minutes on the penalty kill, but to some, he still isn’t a top prospect. Size and strength are also concerns, as they are with all undersized players, but he still projects to be a top-line scoring threat. He may be one of the most underrated prospects in 2020 – high risk, but incredibly high reward.
6 – Joni Jurmo
NHL Central Scouting Rank: 20th (among European Skaters)
Jurmo experienced one of the biggest jumps from the CSS’s final rankings, going from 43rd among European skaters to 20th, thanks to an excellent end to the 2019-20 season. He finished his first season in the Liiga with 28 points in 43 games, the ranked 10th among defensemen, and the highest point-per-game rate among all U18 defenders. He was also selected to play on the Finnish U19 Four Nations over higher-ranked defensemen Eemil Viro and Topi Niemelä, where he finished with three goals and six points in four games, the highest total among all draft-eligible Finnish defensemen.
Some have compared his puck-rushing style to that of Edmonton Oilers’ pick Philip Broberg, albeit at a lower skill level, but still a testament to his incredible offensive instincts. Jurmo’s size (6-foot-4) and skating ability is a rare combination and was used liberally by Jokerit U20 last season.
There are concerns over his defensive coverage and lack of physicality, which may prevent him from becoming a top-pairing defender in the NHL, and cause him to slide down in some rankings. But these concerns are nothing new for teenage defensemen, and if he finds himself in the right system, he may blossom into a talented offensive catalyst.
5 – Roby Järventie
NHL Central Scouting Rank: 18th (among European Skaters)
Like Simontaival, Järventie has received some consideration as a potential late first-round pick but is generally projected to be taken sometime in the second round. However, it’s not due to his size – the modern power forward is 6-foot-2 and has been one of Finland’s top prospects for several seasons already. Rather, he has been overshadowed by bigger names thanks to where he has been playing. He made his debut in the Liiga early in 2019-20, but after five games, was loaned to Finland’s second-tier men’s league, the Mestis, which is not as well-scouted as the Liiga or Junior U20 leagues.
However, at just 17 years old all season and playing over 10 fewer games than most of his KooVee teammates, Järventie led his team with 23 goals. He may not be as well-rounded as some of his fellow draft-eligible Finns, but he is one of the youngest, leaving lots of room for development, and his speed is already top-notch. So, while he projects to be a complementary goal-scorer in the NHL, that could change within a year if he adds more strength and a more physical edge to his game.
4 – Eemil Viro
NHL Central Scouting Rank: 16th (among European Skaters)
Viro arrived on the scene at the 2019-20 Hlinka Gretzky Cup where he was a key part of his team’s defense, despite not registering a point. Scouts fell in love with his simple yet effective two-way style and saw all the little things he did perfectly. He’s a great skater with top-end speed, but is also very patient, never one to force a play or make a costly mistake. Offense isn’t his strongest area, but he can still make great breakout passes. He also needs to gain strength to win more battles, but his stick work is very good and is effective at cutting off an opponent’s chances.
If anything stands out, it’s his aggressiveness. He makes quick decisions and then sticks with them, seeing the play to the end. Pressure doesn’t get to him, and it’s made Viro one of Finland’s go-to defenders in international competition. Had the U18 World Junior Championships not been canceled, he would likely have seen his stock rise even further. Still, without that tournament, he looks like a future top shut-down defender in the NHL; not a high upside, but very effective at what he does.
3 – Roni Hirvonen
NHL Central Scouting Rank: 10th (among European Skaters)
If Hirvonen was just a few inches taller, he would likely be considered a lock for the first round. He led Finland in scoring at the 2019-20 Hlinka Gretzky Cup with five points and was one of the top scorers in his age class in international competition. Last season, his first in the Liiga, he put up 16 points in 52 games and received plenty of ice time along with some power-play usage. Primarily a playmaker, Hirvonen’s shot could be one of the best among Finnish prospects along with Simontaival and Anton Lundell.
But much like Simontaival, the 5-foot-9 Hirvonen is projected to fall just outside the first round. It didn’t help that he was cut for the 2020 World Juniors after making the preliminary roster, and because of his size, he probably will be moved from center to the wing in the NHL. He has been deployed regularly in that position in the Liiga.
That shouldn’t decrease his potential, though, as he’s shown a high level of aggressiveness and creativity, along with a refined defensive mindset and transitional game. He’s an incredibly projectable prospect, making him a very underrated pick in 2020.
2 – Topi Niemelä
NHL Central Scouting Rank: 8th (among European Skaters)
Niemelä won’t astound you with his offense; in 43 games last season in the Liiga, the defenseman scored just one goal and seven points. However, to jump right into the nation’s top professional league after just a single game at the U20 level is quite surprising. It’s not the first time he’s played far above his age class; in 2018-19, he played most of the season in the U20 league despite not turning 17 until March. He’s impressed at nearly every level he’s played, no matter his age, and he’s made a strong case to be the second-highest ranked European defenseman.
The Finnish defender has great speed and fluidity when he skates and keeps his head up, looking for a tiny opening to make a pass or an area in need of defensive coverage. Niemelä is an incredibly smart player, thinking the game several steps ahead of most players his age. He also doesn’t shy away from physicality, despite not being the biggest guy on the ice, and can throw giant hits on opponents much bigger than him. It’s led some to wonder if he could make the NHL earlier than some of his peers, not unlike Ville Heinola who debuted with the Winnipeg Jets last season after being drafted in the first round of the 2019 Draft.
1 – Anton Lundell
NHL Central Scouting Rank: 3rd (among European Skaters)
At the top of the list is Lundell, easily the best Finnish prospect available in 2020. He’s been called one of the most NHL-ready prospects available and that’s been evident over the last month at the beginning of the Liiga’s 2020-21 season. Although one of the youngest players on HIFK, he was named an alternate captain and looks somehow significantly bigger and stronger than he did in the spring. In his third season in Finland’s top league, there doesn’t seem to be anything that can stop him.
It’s a good sign for the center, who has recently slipped just out of the projected top-10 rankings. Much of that has to do with his slow return after an injury that kept him out of the 2020 World Juniors. After scoring 21 points in the 25 games leading up to the tournament, he managed only one more goal and two assists in the last eight games of the season. But, the long summer break looks to have helped him find his rhythm again and he’ll likely return to dominating at all ends of the ice. If Lundell falls outside of the top-10, he will be considered a steal.
Undersized but Not Under-skilled
Several of Finland’s top prospects are on the small side this year. Lundell, Viro, Blomqvist, and Niemelä are all around the 6-foot-0 mark, while Hirvonen, Simontaival, Miettinen, and Mäenpää are 5-foot-9 or smaller. Concern over their size and strength will likely see them slide down in the draft, but those who pass on them will likely regret it in the future.
This is a highly skilled Finnish group with lots of hockey smarts and incredible speed in all positions. Finland always produces top-tier hockey talent, and though there isn’t the hype this year as there was for Kakko, Laine, or Barkov, this is a group you won’t want to sleep on for long.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.