November 25, 2020

2021 NHL Draft: 5 Finnish players to watch

One Finnish player could make history in the 2021 NHL Draft.

The 2021 NHL Draft could very well see the first-ever Finnish player selected No. 1 overall in the NHL’s history. There are a number of players right on his heels, if not slightly ahead, but this player is very much in the mix right now. After him, there are some very intriguing names that should be scattered through the first two rounds of the draft.

Related: FCHockey’s Top-10 Preliminary Rankings – Finland

As FCHockey flips the page from the 2020 NHL Draft to the 2021 edition, our scouts agreed on five Finnish draft-eligibles that are must-watches ahead of the upcoming draft. In what looks like a forward-heavy class from Finland, there are some very intriguing prospects to keep tabs on this season.

Here are FCHockey’s five Finnish prospects to watch this season:

Samuel Helenius, C, JYP

You can’t miss Samuel Helenius on the ice. Standing at six-foot-six, 183 pounds, the towering centerman is pretty easy to pick out. The two-way forward should gain some considerable attention for the 2021 NHL Draft since it looks like he’ll be playing the majority of the 2020-21 season on JYP’s Liiga squad, the top league in Finland.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft: 5 under-the-radar Finnish players to watch

Last season, Helenius spent the season with the Jokerit U20 squad in the Jr. A SM-liiga, playing 51 games and collecting 13 goals, 11 assists, and 24 points. He is a very dependable center that should be one of the safer picks in the first two rounds of the 2021 NHL Draft. In 2018-19, he played in the U18 SM-sarja with Jokerit’s U18 group, putting up 13 goals, 15 assists, and 28 points in 43 games. He may not make too many highlight reels but his reliability is extremely intriguing.

“Decent acceleration and possesses powerful strides,” said European scout Dennis Schellenberg. “Surely, his size and offensive skills make him a promising player. Competes and plays a rough type of game, does not shy away from physical contact, obviously at his size. However, he’s a long-term project and needs to mature his game. Tends to over-compete here and there.”

The centreman looks like he should be a strong contender to dress for Team Finland at the 2021 World Junior Championships, which should only help his stock rise.

Verner Miettinen, C

Another promising two-way center, Verner Miettinen might just bring a bit more offensive potential to his game than Helenius. The Kiekko-Espoo U20 forward hasn’t cracked the Liiga yet but could see some action in the top league before the season is out.

The five-foot-11 forward spent 2019-20 playing in the Jr. A SM-liiga with Kiekko-Espoo U20, playing 49 games with the squared. He scored 14 goals, adding 22 assists for 36 points. He also dressed for Team Finland in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, collecting three goals and an assist in five games. That came after spending the 2018-19 season with the Blues U18 in the U18 SM-sarja, potting 13 goals to go along with 19 assists for 32 points in 41 games.

“Miettinen’s start for the season has been disappointing compared to expectations,” said Finnish scout Miika Arponen. “He hasn’t been able to create offence and his two-way game – which he is known for – hasn’t been nearly as good as it was last year.

“He looks to be lacking self-confidence and probably needs some kind of a shake-up to get his game back on track.”

Miettinen looks like a second-round option at this point, but a strong season could help to put him into first-round consideration.

Aatu Raty, C, Karpat

The cream of the crop for the 2021 Finnish class, Aatu Raty is a name that most hockey fans have likely already heard of. While the 2021 NHL Draft looks wide open at this point, Raty has long been in the conversation of the top prospect in this class. His resume with Karpat and internationally help to keep him in that discussion.

In 2018-19, the centerman played in the Jr. A SM-liiga for Karpat U20, scoring 17 goals, 14 assists and 31 points in 41 games. He really came into his own in the playoffs, adding another four goals, eight assists and 12 points in 10 games. On top of this, he dressed for Finland in both the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and the World Under-18 Hockey Championships. He had three goals en route to a silver medal in the U17 tournament and added one assist in the U18s.

Last season, Raty spent the majority of his season in the Jr. A SM-liiga with Karpat, racking up two goals, 19 assists and 21 points in 30 games. He also got his first taste of Liiga action, playing in 12 games, adding two goals and two assists to his campaign. The six-foot-one forward also played for Team Finland in the 2021 World Junior Championship, earning the title of youngest player to play in the tournament.

“I like his combination of skill and strength and size,” said Schellenberg. “How he goes to the gritty areas with the puck. I like his compete level as well. He’s a real fine puckhandler who can be a treat to watch when in puck possession. Stood out to me as a double-underager when I saw him play at the U18 level.”

With how open the 2021 class is, Raty isn’t a lock like we’ve seen with past first-overall picks. He’ll need to have a very strong season to become the first-ever first-overall pick from Finland.

Samu Salminen, LW, Jokerit

Arguably the least known name on this list, Samu Salminen will be making himself known in the months leading up to the draft. Other than the last person on this list, Salminen might just be the most offensively-dynamic player coming out of Finland in this draft.

He put that on display last season in the U18 SM-sarja with Jokerit U18, scoring eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points in just seven games. That earned him a bump to the Jr. A SM-liiga with the U20 group, where he had another seven goals, 13 assists, and 20 points in 23 games. Along with Miettinen, he played for Finland at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, going a point-per-game with three goals and two assists in the tournament.

The year prior, Salminen dominated at every level he played at, collecting 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists) in 15 U16 SM-sarja Q games, 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) in five U16 SM-sarja games, and 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists) in 33 games.

“A big center with good skating, high hockey IQ and good two-way game is often a sought-after combination, and Salminen shouldn’t make an exception,” said Arponen. “The Jokerit forward has started the season very well in the U20s and has started to cement his spot in the first round already.”

Salminen might be one of the more underrated players, let alone Finnish players, in this draft class. He is already having a strong performance as the alternate captain of Jokerit U20 in the U20 SM-sarja this season and should be on your radar.

Samu Tuomaala, C/W, Karpat

Finally, we come to Samu Tuomaala. The five-foot-10, 165-pound forward is likely the second-best Finnish prospect in this class after Raty. He’ll mainly play at the U20 level this season but he does already have his first Liiga game under his belt from this season.

In 2019-20, Tuomaala played with Raty in the Jr. A SM-liiga for Karpat U20, recording 15 goals, eight assists, and 23 points in 40 games. He also dressed for Team Finland at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, matching Salminen’s output with three goals and two assists in five games.

The season prior, he played in the U18 SM-sarja with Karpat U18, playing 41 games and tallying 24 goals, 32 assists and 56 points. His performance earned him the Heino Pulli Award as the Rookie of the Year.

“Tuomaala is strong on his skates and showed good lower body strength,” said Schellenberg. “Good top speed and mobility as well… Due to his strong leg power, he was hard to knock off the puck and was decent along the boards in battles.”

Tuomaala looks to be a first-round calibre player and he will look to cement that status in 2020-21.

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