With many faces like Aleksander Barkov and Sebastian Aho becoming superstars in the NHL, Finland has become an even bigger hot spot for NHL talent. There are currently 59 active players from Finland in the NHL, which equates to 5.8% of the league, the fifth most from any country.
With the 2021 NHL Draft nearing, there will most certainly be more Finnish players hearing their name called on July 23. Here are the 10 best Finnish players available in this year’s draft.
10 – Viljami Marjala (LW, Quebec Remparts)
The only player on this list coming from a North American team, Viljami Marjala, had an impressive season for the Quebec Remparts in his draft year. In 30 games, the playmaker had 27 points (five goals, 22 assists) in his lone QMJHL season. Prior to that, he played for Karpat’s SM-Liiga junior teams in 2019-20 in his home nation of Finland. At the U18 level, he scored 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) in 20 games, while at the U20 level, he only scored eight points (three goals, five assists) in 20 games.
Marjala is very potent at making plays offensively, knowing how to create space and passing lanes to find his teammates. The two biggest concerns that come with him are that he is very one-dimensional and has struggled to create his own shot at times and that he currently weighs in at 154 pounds at 5-foot-11. He needs to put on more muscle to be able to compete at the NHL level while also needing to be able to keep defenses honest with a solid shot.
9 – Eetu Liukas (LW, TPS)
Eetu Liukas is one of the interesting options who will be available in the mid-rounds of the draft, as he has experience playing against grown men – 19 games of it, to be exact. In 19 games with TPS of Liiga, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound winger scored just one goal and three points. However, those numbers come with a grain of salt because he was playing against grown men at the ripe age of 18, and he plays more of a defensively-minded game.
He also uses that 205-pound frame to his advantage, laying the body and using it to build a presence in front of the net. Carrying a deadly one-timer on top of that, Liukas remains a very interesting option for teams to take a flier on, especially since his size and game are more NHL ready than it looks on paper, making his arrival sooner than most third-fourth round picks.
8 – Aleksi Malinen (D, JYP)
Spending his entire season playing against professionals, Aleksi Malinen held his own as an 18-year-old defenseman. In 30 games, he had three points (two goals and one assist) and a plus/minus of minus-30. Despite the lowly numbers, it should be noted that he was playing on one of the worst teams in the league, as JYP finished with the third-worst record in the league. Despite that, Malinen still passed the eye test.
Malinen is very athletic for his 6-foot, 185-pound frame. He is very agile and explosive, which makes him very versatile on both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. He is able to blow by forecheckers after collecting the puck and using his great playmaking ability to start runs offensively. He is great in the transitional game and should be an asset in both facets of the game if his game is able to translate to the NHL level.
7 – Aleksi Heimosalami (D, Assat U20)
In his junior career, Aleksi Heimosalami has proven to be a solid two-way defenseman who is a very swift skater. He already provides a lot of offensive value, as he scored 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) in 35 games at Finland’s U20 level. On top of that, he added eight points (two goals, six assists) during the U18 World Junior Championship for Team Finland.
The 18-year-old currently stands at 5’11, 168 pounds, giving him a lot of mobility at the back end. He is an expert in positioning and is always in the right place to make plays both offensively and defensively. He skates with a lot of power, yet he is still very fluid in his motions, giving him both the acceleration and agility he needs to keep up with forwards at the NHL level in a few years.
6 – Oliver Kapanen (C, KalPa U20)
Oliver Kapanen is one of the more intriguing forwards in this draft, putting up impressive numbers at the U20 level as a 17-year-old. In 37 games for KalPa U20 of U20 SM-sarja, the 6-foot-1, 179-pound center scored 41 points, with 25 of them being goals. He also played five games on loan with Kalpa of Mestis, another professional league in Finland, scoring five points (three goals, two assists) in five games.
Kapanen is a very smart player in the offensive zone, knowing exactly where to be at just the right times. He couples that positioning ability with a lethal shot and a knack for potting goals in front of the net. He’s able to recognize when the opposition makes mistakes, and for a 17-year-old, he has the Hockey IQ for a player who has been around for decades. On top of that, he’s able to use the gravitation his finishing ability creates to make plays as well, being a huge asset in the offensive zone.
5 – Ville Koivunen (RW, Karpat U20)
Ville Koviunen had an absolutely dominant season at both the club level and the international level this season. With Karpat U20 of U20 SM-sarja, he scored 23 goals and 26 assists, equating to 49 points in 38 games. He added four more assists in five playoff games as well. In the U18 World Junior Championship, he continued his dominance, scoring four goals and 10 points in seven games for Team Finland.
The 6-foot, 165-pound right winger is an absolute game-breaker in the offensive zone. He has an unrelenting motor, attacking the defense at full force, and with his high-end IQ, he knows how to break down an opponent. He is a great playmaker, he knows where to find his linemates on a rush, and he has a nice finishing touch that nets a lot of goals. He has a large box of tools, and a lot of them look to project very well at the NHL level.
4 – Samuel Helenius (C, JYP)
While his numbers don’t jump off the page, registering just 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 54 games, it’s worth noting that Samuel Helenius was playing in Finland’s top league at the young age of 18. Standing at 6-foot-6, 201 pounds, he has size that we haven’t seen enter the league since Zdeno Chara and has been unheard of for a forward.
Helenius plays a very physical game, being a huge force on the forecheck. He’s able to throw the body, separate defenders from the puck, and do anything else you would expect from someone of his stature. He also has a very refined defensive game, being a huge presence defensively. He’s able to make plays a lot of defenders can’t because of his massive wingspan, being able to break up passes and trap the opposition. If he is able to refine his offensive game, he could be a huge steal in the second or third round.
3 – Samu Salminen (C, Jokerit U20)
While only playing 17 games this past season, Salminen lit up the U20 level, scoring 26 goals (10 goals, 16 assists), serving as the alternate captain of Jokerit U20. He also served as the captain of Finland’s U18 team in the U18 World Junior Championship, and he turned heads at the international stage as well, scoring seven goals and nine points in seven games.
Salminen is one of the smartest players in this draft, and his offensive game is very multidimensional. He has a knack for finding his teammates in the right spots, and he has a goal scorer’s touch. He’s able to get into position in the right areas and unload his shot, being a threat with or without the puck. He’s able to use the space around him to cause havoc and create plays, being a great asset to have in the offensive zone.
2 – Samu Tuomaala (RW, Karpat)
Samu Tuomaala put on a show at the U20 level scoring 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points in 30 games. He also added a goal and three assists for four points in five playoff games. He played well enough to play in Finland’s top league with Karpat, not registering a single point in five games. He also tore it up at the international level, scoring five goals and six assists, equating to 11 points in seven games.
Standing at 5-foot-10 and weighing in at 176 pounds, Tuomaala’s game revolves around his game-changing speed. He is able to drive play and burst past defenders, using his quick release once he’s in the clear to pot the puck past the goaltender. He has a wicked wrist shot, and he will make defenders pay if they let him get behind them. His elite speed is some of the best in this draft and could get him drafted late in the first round.
1 – Aatu Raty (C, Karpat)
While Aatuu Raty had his struggles this season, scoring just three goals and six points at Finland’s highest level, he still has all of the intangibles to be one of the best players in this draft. He was able to show that in his stint at the U20 level scoring three goals and seven points in eight games. He also showed off his playmaking ability in 2019-20 at that same level, racking up 19 assists in 30 games.
What makes Raty one of the best players in this draft is his size and versatility. At 6-foot-1, 181-pounds, he has the size to be the prototypical offensive centerman you need. He has the height to be able to screen the goaltender, and he has the tools to be an elite playmaker and a sniper if need be. He possesses an elite stickhandling ability and is able to create space to make the right plays. He also possesses a powerful wrist shot that has proven to be very accurate. Although he may be a late first-rounder, he may be one of the steals of the draft if he can recover from the tough season he had this year.
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a senior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as a social media manager and photographer for FAU Owls Nest. Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer. He also served as Editor-In-Chief for FAU’s University Press.