The Finnish 2015 draft-class wasn’t considered a good one for the Scandinavian country. They only had Mikko Rantanen being drafted in the first round. The last time a Finn made it into the top three was in 2013 when the Florida Panthers have selected Aleksander Barkov at second overall. Before Barkov, no Finn was picked in the top three for over 10 years when the Dallas Stars picked Kari Lehtonen second overall all the way back in 2002.
Puljujarvi vs Laine
However, in next year’s draft you can expect two Finnish players getting drafted in the top ten, one of them maybe even within the top three. With Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine, Finland has two of the top prospects of the 2016-class.
#Liiga: LW Patrik Laine (2016/1998) got hurt right around the time Jesse Puljujarvi got hot. Finns view them (deservedly) as 2016's McEichel
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) October 21, 2015
Generally said, next year’s Finnish draft class is considered to be one of the better the country saw in years. While Auston Matthews continues to make a strong case with Swiss team ZSC Lions to be first overall, as of now it also looks like Sarnia Sting defenceman Jacob Chychrun will be second overall if you want to believe most of the pre-draft rankings. After those two players the race for the third position looks to be quite open, but both Puljujarvi and Laine seem to have a legit chance to make it into the top three. Both players are playing in the Finnish Liiga and will face each other in head to head matchups. Laine saw his good start into the season coming to an end with an injury, but should be back in the coming days.
If you want to read more about Laine and his rising stock, you can find a detailed article and scouting report here:
Puljujarvi Already Producing with Karpat
Big forward Puljujarvi, listed at 6’3” and 196 lbs, is already in his second season with Finnish top team Karpat Oulu. He managed to play in 21 games last year with the team and had 11 points. He is off to a good start this season with scoring eight points in 16 games so far, four goal and four assists. One of his goals was a real beauty which you can see here.
In our THW 2016 preliminary rankings we had him at number three. Our draft experts Christopher Ralph and Eldon MacDonald described Puljujarvi the following: “Puljujarvi is simply the big winger that all NHL teams covet – huge, elite offensive talent, lethal shot, excellent skating, and very good passing. In short, this is a player who can do it all and is a leader when he is on the ice”.
Can't argue w/ assessment of Laine; he's good. That said, Puljujarvi has shown maturity, taken great strides this yr https://t.co/4PXKXEhVPe
— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) October 22, 2015
Indeed that sums it up quite good. Puljujarvi brings an excellent package of size, offensive talent and skating to the game. I was really impressed when I saw him playing at the U18 Worlds, especially liked his drive to the net with a lot of speed and using all of his frame. He showed good work ethic and this might be an area where he is one step ahead of Laine. As of now, I still see Puljujarvi ahead of Laine, also because he shows a more complete game but Laine definitely closed in on Puljujarvi.
Both Laine and Puljujarvi were part of the strong Finnish team at the U18 Worlds this year which won the silver medal only falling to USA in overtime of the final game. Both found themselves in the tournament’s top 15 scorers, not too bad for two underagers in this tournament.
Don’t Forget About Juolevi
With the hype around Laine and Puljujarvi mounting, we should keep in mind that there is a third Finn who is a safe bet for the first round according to most rankings. It is defenceman Olli Juolevi from the London Knights. The first round pick of the 2015 CHL Import Draft passed through several junior teams of top team Jokerit Helsinki and joined OHL’s London Knights for this season where he scored eight points in nine games so far. Most scouting rankings see him getting picked in the top 15. With his playing style he draws some comparison to former Knight defenceman Olli Maatta. “That (a Maatta facsimile) is exactly what we’re hoping for,” London GM Basil McRae said. “He’s a highly-rated kid (in the first round of the 2016 NHL draft), so we’ll see.
Next to Puljujarvi, Laine and Juolevi there are a couple of other interesting Finnish prospects which could be drafted in one of the first three rounds as well. I liked Janne Kuokkanen at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament this summer and was also positively surprised by Otto Somppi, Otto Makinen and Markus Niemelainen. I do see them getting drafted in one of the top four rounds as of now. I have enjoyed particularly Somppi’s silk smooth hands and Kuokkanen’s great understanding of the game. Furthermore defenceman Tarmo Reunanen plus forwards Aapeli Rasanen and Eetu Tuulola should also get drafted. I was very much surprised no one picked up goaltender Veini Vehvilainen this year as he was outstanding in the U18 Worlds and could very well be drafted next year.
Quick Outlook for 2017
If we have a look at the 2017 draft class of Finland we have to mention the two defenceman Robin Salo and Juuso Valimaki. Salo already plays in the Finnish Liiga against men and Valimaki was part of the U18 Worlds roster. While Salo is a player who isn’t afraid to get involved physically, Valimaki is more of a puckmoving, two-way defender, but both played well at Ivan Hlinka. One player I also liked enjoy watching in Slovakia was forward Emil Oksanen, who possesses silk smooth hands.