NHL Prospect Report

Finland Stock Watch: Viljami Marjala taking off in his first full season of Liiga action

We're nearing the end of the regular seasons at every level of play in Finland. Most Liiga teams have around five games left, and many of the games will have big-time consequences for the playoff race. 

In exciting news, the Finnish Ice Hockey Association made an announcement regarding upcoming structural changes to the Finnish U20 league. Previously, Liiga organizations' U20 teams have had an advantage in that they couldn't be relegated to the lower level irrespective of their results.

With the removal of this rule, there will be more meaningful games and organizations like Ilves, who have neglected their U20 team and been consistent bottom-feeders over the past few years without punishment, will have to change their priorities. The league will consist of 18 teams during the 2024–2025 season, which is still too much and will make the league less competitive, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Stock Rising 📈

Viljami Marjala, C, TPS (Buffalo Sabres)

Viljami Marjala's first full Liiga season has been a big-time success. He already flashed his playmaking ability and handling skill last season, adding nine points in 15 games while spending the majority of the year dominating at the U20 level. This year, Marjala has been the spearhead of TPS' offence, leading the team in both goals (17) and points (39) after 56 games. 

February was Marjala's biggest month of the season, seeing him adding eight goals and 13 points in nine games, ranking third among all skaters in the league during that timespan despite playing fewer minutes (surpassed 17 minutes in just three of the eight games) than almost all of his counterparts with similar production.

Marjala's playmaking has always been his core strength, but he's turned into a more well-rounded offensive threat by becoming a better finisher from mid-range and using his smarts to time his movements to the slot. The skating remains a below-average NHL projection, though. He recently signed a one-year extension with TPS; another big year could earn him an ELC from the Sabres.

Ville Koivunen, LW/RW, Kärpät (Carolina Hurricanes)

Sitting comfortably in the top-10 in league scoring, it's been a historically strong season for Ville Koivunen. Since Kärpät's coaching change in mid-December, Koivunen leads the entire league in scoring with 30 points in 24 games. In February, the 6-foot winger added a league-high 12 assists in 10 games.

When looking at the past ten years, Koivunen's 52 points is the new single-season record for a U21-aged player. He's putting up superior counting stats to what current NHLers Matias Maccelli, Eetu Luostarinen, and Valtteri Puustinen accomplished at the same age.

Koivunen always had the potential for this type of breakthrough. His skating flaws don't matter as much in Liiga, while the overall intelligence and playmaking skill were always bound to translate. Whether his feet can keep up with the higher pace will likely determine his faith in North America, but he's never been in a better position to succeed.

Oliver Kapanen, C, KalPa (Montréal Canadiens)

After starting the campaign with just one point in the first nine games, Oliver Kapanen has managed to pull off a total 180 on his season. His ice time never wavered, and the points have started to come recently, too. As a reward, he made his men's national team debut in February's Euro Hockey Tour event, also adding his first point in the process.

Interestingly enough, the majority of Kapanen's production has come in spurts. Over the past two months, he's had two four-point games and six multi-point games, but he's also gone through some colder stretches. On the positive side, the vast majority of Kapanen's production has come at even-strength instead of on the power play.

As a scorer, Kapanen still does most of his best work from the net-front through getting open at the right time and playing well off his teammates. He goes to the dirty areas and regularly finds deflections and loose pucks from rebounds. However, he's also steadily improved his two-way reliability. With Kapanen's contract being up after this season, you wonder whether he's going to make the jump to North America next fall.

Stock Steady ↔️

Konsta Helenius, C, Jukurit (2024 NHL Draft)

Konsta Helenius seems to be appearing in at least every other edition of this series, but what can I do; he just keeps steadily impressing. February was yet another productive month for the 17-year-old who added five goals and nine points in 10 games, both being high marks on the team.

With a handful of games left in the regular season, Helenius still has time to improve his standings in the all-time draft-eligible scoring. With 36 points, he's just two points away from tying Kaapo Kakko's draft-year output. Mikael Granlund, with his 40 points, isn't out of Helenius' reach either.

Even if he ends up going pointless, Helenius' draft-eligible season will still be placed amongst the best in the league's history.

Stock Falling 📉

Joni Jurmo, D, KooKoo (Calgary Flames)

A lot has been going on with Joni Jurmo over the past few months. After seeing his minutes significantly diminished with Ilves from the end of October onwards, the two parties decided to part ways, and Jurmo subsequently signed with KooKoo. At the start of February, his NHL rights were moved by the Vancouver Canucks to the Flames in the Elias Lindholm trade.

The move to KooKoo boosted Jurmo's minutes at the start, but it seems he's slipping lower and lower in the hierarchy with his new team, too. Over the past five games, he's played under 10 minutes in two of them, just over five minutes in his most recent appearance and being out of the lineup on Wednesday.

Though there have been better and worse stretches, Jurmo's puck-rushing style hasn't fully translated to the professional ranks and particularly his defensive game remains a weak point. At this point, it seems very unlikely that he'll get signed to an ELC. It's a big miss for us as we had him ranked 46th back in 2020.

Roope Vesterinen, RW/LW, HPK U20 (2024 NHL Draft)

Roope Vesterinen entered the season as one of the more hyped-up Finnish forwards for the 2024 draft, having historically been a top point-getter for the 2006-born age group internationally and having already appeared in a handful of Liiga games. However, Vesterinen struggled to make a big-time impact during the first stretches of the season at the U20 level before being out for close to three months with an injury.

Vesterinen returned to play in early January, but has continued to struggle. He has just nine points in 24 games at the U20 level, having recently bounced between HPK's U20 and U18 teams. One should still cut Vesterinen some slack as he hasn't fully recovered from his injury, but the fact remains that it's now looking more likely than not that he's going to go undrafted this year.

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This article is about:
NHL Prospect Report Buffalo Sabres Calgary Flames HPK U20 Ilves Jukurit KalPa KooKoo Kärpät Montréal Canadiens TPS U20 SM-sarja Liiga Konsta Helenius Joni Jurmo Oliver Kapanen Ville Koivunen Viljami Marjala Roope Vesterinen
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