Today’s Prospects News & Rumors column is going to take a field trip all the way to the beautiful country of Finland. Two Finnish prospects and recent NHL draft picks will begin their 2020-21 season playing in their home country. Plus, we take a look at the best prospect out of Finland heading into the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Leskinen Loaned to Finnish Liiga
The Montreal Canadiens are continuing the recent trend of NHL teams having their European prospects start the 2020-21 season in their home countries. They announced on Monday morning that defenseman Otto Leskinen will be loaned to KalPa Kuopio in the Finnish Liiga, for the start of the 2020-2021 season.
Leskinen was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Canadiens in 2019. The 2019-20 season was his first in North America. He had an impressive rookie season in the American Hockey League (AHL) with two goals and 22 points in 57 games with the Laval Rocket. His whirlwind season also included making his NHL debut and playing in five games for the Canadiens.
The 23-year-old defenseman will return for training camp, whenever it begins in the late fall. He will have plenty of competition to make the NHL roster as he will battle it out with youngsters like Alexander Romanov, Josh Brook and Cale Fleury.
Kotkansalo Stays Home
Boston University defenseman and Detroit Red Wings prospect Kasper Kotkansalo announced on Monday, via his Instagram account, that he is staying to play in Finland for the 2020-21 season. He will forego his senior season and play for Porin Ässät, in the Finnish Liiga, due to COVID-19 concerns.
Kotkansalo was drafted by the Red Wings in the third round (71st overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He had two goals and 25 points for Boston University, in 112 NCAA games, over the past three seasons. While his offensive game did not progress like many had hope, he did develop into a very reliable defenseman.
Hockey East, which Boston University is a part of, announced last week that they plan on playing a full 2020-21 season. However, they did not release any start date and did imply that the season will be just within the conference to limit travel.
Prospect of the Day – Anton Lundell
Since Finland is the unofficial theme of the day, we will stay there to take a look at their top prospect heading into the 2020 NHL Draft. Lundell is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound center that one of the most well-rounded players in the entire draft class. He is the fourth-ranked European skater by NHL Central Scouting and THW’s Larry Fisher has him ranked 11th overall.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
Lundell did not look out of place as a teenager playing in the top professional league of his home country. He had 10 goals and 28 points in 44 games for HIFK of the Finnish Liiga during the 2019-20 season. His possession numbers were some of the best in the entire league including a 62.8 Corsi for percentage (CF%).
While he skates well, speed is not his top asset. However, he makes up for this with his brain as he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. It is his awareness on the ice that has NHL scouts so high on him. While he may never be the flashy goal scorer that earns the spotlight, he has the foundation to be a great two-way center in the NHL.
Based on the rankings and mock drafts, Lundell should go anywhere between the fifth and 15th overall pick. Our own Chris Faria feels he will be an NHL player, but exactly where he slots into a lineup will be up to him.
Depending on who you ask, Lundell’s ceiling is either first- or second-line center, with the floor likely around the third line. It remains to be seen if he can improve his skating and add a touch more offensive flair, which would make him a likely first-line lock.
Lundell has many of the traits NHL teams want out of their centers. He is a very smart player with a good shot. He has excellent vision and passing skills to set up his teammates. He is also very hard to get off the puck when he possesses it. He will have to work on getting faster on feet and add some more creativity to his offensive game if he wants to reach his full potential.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.