NHL Prospect Report

Finland Stock Watch: Konsta Helenius' production starting to catch up with his play

We're inching closer and closer to the midway point of the Liiga season, with many of its teams right on the cusp of the 30-game mark.

Tappara and Ilves – Tampere's two teams – are off to strong starts, both separating themselves from the rest of the pack in the standings. Both teams have gotten serious contributions from their younger players: Jani Nyman (Seattle Kraken) is leading the entire league in goals, while Oiva Keskinen (Columbus Blue Jackets) continues to impress in a top-nine role. Both players were featured in November's edition of this series.

However, the past month's most impressive prospect won't be draft-eligible until the upcoming summer.

Stock Rising 📈

Konsta Helenius, C, Jukurit (2024 NHL Draft)

Through the opening months of the season, I kept hammering home that Konsta Helenius has clearly outperformed his production. Well, now the points are starting to show up. He's added 14 in his last 14 games with Jukurit, now leading the team in both goals and points as a 17-year-old. 

Not much has changed in Helenius' game. He's still as solid as ever at both ends of the rink, being the primary play-driver on his line night after night. The skating continues to look better and the added confidence shows in his play selection, being more and more willing to experiment. However, the backbone of Helenius' game will always be his high-end sense and pace of operations.

In addition to having a great month in Liiga action, Helenius centred Finland's top line at the recent U20 Five Nations tournament and had a strong showing there, too. He's poised to fulfil that same role at the upcoming World Juniors. If he wasn't already getting serious top-five consideration, he will be now.

Jesse Pulkkinen, D, JYP (2024 NHL Draft)

It's been a while since Finland had an exciting overager, but Jesse Pulkkinen is going to generate serious NHL interest at this rate after being passed upon in 2023. The 6-foot-6 defenceman has had a massive offensive glow-up this season, going from 0.09 points per game to a whopping 1.56 points per game with JYP's U20 team. He's also produced well internationally with Finland's U20 squad and most recently made his Liiga debut with JYP, likely being due for many more outings in the upcoming weeks.

As a potential draft pick, Pulkkinen has clear upside. He has a solid defensive projection due to his massive reach and physical potential, but he's profiled himself as an offensive weapon in the juniors. Even last season, he was flashing skill and creativity despite barely registering any points. This year, he's turned up the heat even further, consistently looking for coast-to-coast opportunities, activating off the point and laying waste with his booming shot.

Pulkkinen takes a ton of risks and liberties with the puck, usually opting for a deke as the lowest man at least once or twice per game. He's also still adjusting to his frame, which means he lacks fluidity as a skater and can make odd handling mistakes that are followed by slick dangles. In a word, he can be very inconsistent. But the highs are high, and with his current development curve, he should generate serious NHL interest. A big showing at the World Juniors could help him boost his stock even further.

Stock Steady ↔️

Ville Koivunen, RW, Kärpät (Carolina Hurricanes)

After seeing his production stagnate last season, Ville Koivunen has taken the next step in his Liiga career after being loaned back to Finland because the Hurricanes don't have an AHL affiliate. He's been among Kärpät's top offensive weapons, currently sitting second in both goals and points. Interestingly enough, he's played some games as a centre, proving his versatility and importance for his team.

Koivunen's vision and ability to create off the boards through his playmaking have never been in doubt, but he's a bit quicker and stronger, which has helped his ability to create offence. His accurate outside leg wrister has also beaten goalies on the power play. He'll be in a better position to make an impact in the AHL upon arrival next season than he was previously.

Aatu Jämsen, LW, Pelicans (Los Angeles Kings)

Aatu Jämsen missed a month's worth of games between the mid-points of October and November, and his return has reminded me how important he is for the Pelicans, especially offensively. He's added three goals and four points in five games since coming back while logging top-line minutes. His points-per-game average is up to 0.93 compared to last season's already-good 0.74 points-per-game.

Players with Jämsen's creativity are a rarity in Liiga. In a league where systems and team-wide strategy are at the forefront, Jämsen stands out with his puck skills and a flair for the dramatic. He's a legitimate dual-threat weapon in the offensive zone, and has also made some slight improvements to his physical game; a necessity if he wants to try to conquer North America next season.

Stock Falling 📉

Tuukka Tieksola, RW, Lukko (Carolina Hurricanes)

Similar to Koivunen, Tuukka Tieksola also had to return to Finland on a loan after the Hurricanes were unable to retain their AHL affiliate. Unlike Koivunen, Tieksola hasn't had that much success and his scoring pace has gone down from what he was able to put up in the AHL last year. He's only managed nine points in 26 outings despite regular top-nine minutes.

In isolation, Tieksola should still have all of the necessary tools to create consistent offence in Liiga. He has the handling skill, vision and skating to do it, but for one reason or another, things just haven't clicked yet. The lack of physical skills is one of the main things holding him back, but even then, he should be able to take advantage of the open ice in Finland's larger rinks. 

Tuomas Suoniemi, C, Kiekko-Espoo U20 (2024 NHL Draft)

Tuomas Suoniemi generated significant draft buzz with his Hlinka Gretzky Cup performance, especially with his five-point showing against Canada, but hasn't been able to live up to the hype in league play. He's only managed three goals and 14 points in 20 games with Kiekko-Espoo's U20 program and hasn't exactly trashed the competition at the U18 level either. His showing at the recent U18 Five Nations was also a disappointment.

Suoniemi has soft skill as a handler and as a passer, but he's already having significant trouble at getting to the inside at the U20 level. He lacks the footspeed, pace and physical skills required from a legitimate NHL prospect, and his style of play is clearly better suited for the European ice. There's still time to change that notion with a massive second half of the season, but as things stand right now, I don't see him making our final draft board.

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Standout draft-eligible performances at the 2023 U20 5 Nations
Standout draft-eligible performances at the 2023 U20 5 Nations
This article is about:
NHL Prospect Report Jukurit JYP JYP U20 Kiekko-Espoo Kiekko-Espoo U18 Kiekko-Espoo U20 Kärpät Lukko Pelicans Liiga U20 SM-sarja U18 SM-sarja Konsta Helenius Aatu Jämsen Ville Koivunen Jesse Pulkkinen Tuomas Suoniemi Tuukka Tieksola
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