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Thursday, January 13, 2011

WJC Scouting Reports: Finland

Welcome to the second part of the post-WJC wrap with individual scouting reports on 2011 draft-eligible players on Team Finland. I'll also comment on 2012-eligible defenseman Olli Maatta, who joined some select company (and damn impressive names) in Finnish hockey history as the youngest player on the team. As you'll see, one of the comments I got from an NHL scout who watched his debut against Slovakia in the final preliminary round game (he was a scratch the rest of the way- his time will come next year) is pure gold.

I was alternately impressed and disappointed with Joel Armia, arguably the top forward in terms of skill and upside of all 2011 candidates going into the tournament. As previously noted, Switerland's Gregory Hofmann outperformed Armia and everyone else. That said, you simply cannot lump all the eggs in one basket when it comes to scouting for the draft. The WJC is just one part of the overall equation. But, if anyone was looking for Armia to make a definitive statement in Buffalo, they didn't get it.

Miikka Salomaki is another draft-eligible who was on Team Finland. He wasn't bad, in fact. There's some skill there, but when trying to project where he would be in the NHL a few years down the road, he looks like a lower tier prospect at best.

Armia, as the second-ranked skater in Europe by Central Scouting, was obviously a guy a lot of talent watchers were fixated on in Buffalo, but he gets mixed reviews from this blog.

For more, read on!

Joel Armia, RW 6-3, 191 Assat (Finland)-- Tall, lean athletic frame. Will need to add strength and mass over the next several years, as he is still very lanky and at times gangly on the ice. Skating is good; he has a sluggish first few steps, but his long, smooth stride gets him up and down the ice pretty quickly. Will need to work on his agility and turning/change of direction. Superb hands; confident, deft stickhandler who looks like he has a magnet on his stick the way he can manipulate the puck through traffic to maintain possession and generate scoring chances. Can really fire it; gets his shot off in an instant and it is hard, heavy and accurate. Able to hit any part of the net and is dangerous outside of the circles as well as lethal from the slot and below the hashmarks. OK passer but much more of a shooter/finisher. Will go to the net and bang in rebounds. Seems to see the ice well and possess good offensive instincts; capable of good distribution in moving the puck to the open teammate when he has no other opening. Compete levels are uneven; as tournament went on, the initially hustling Armia was replaced by one who glided around a lot looking for the perfect shot. Defensive game is only average; will need to gain a better understanding of his own zone responsibilities and show a little more effort in that regard in order to lock down a top draft spot.

Overview: Armia started out in the WJC as absolutely living up to the pre-draft hype with his performances against USA and Switzerland. He was less impressive against Germany, and his overall game went south from there. Although you can clearly see the live frame, quick stick and offensive prowess in flashes, he didn't bring the consistency and drive you want to see from a player with his enormous physical gifts. Hockey is a game of time and space, and there were several windows of opportunity that closed quickly that you couldn't help but wonder might have turned out with the puck in the back of the net with a little more effort/sense of urgency from him. An informal poll of NHL scouts (and let's face it- most speak in only the vaguest of terms so as not to tip their hands one way or the other) had some mixed feelings about him. He's still in all likelihood a 1st-round selection come June because of what he's doing in the SM-Liiga against men, but he had the ice time and opportunity to make more of an impression and wasn't able to capitalize on it.

Miikka Salomaki, C 5-11, 185 Karpat (Finland)-- Average size, average skater. More agile than fast. Doesn't jump out at you on the ice, but #11 always seemed to be in the thick of the action. Very aggressive forechecker and has a knack for taking away time/space and creating turnovers. Hustles and competes all over the ice. Scored a goal through sheer determination and effort, winning loose puck battles, then beating his man to the front of the net. Good defensive awareness and discipline. Active stick; takes away passing lanes and neutralizes offensive chances.

Overview: Even as the 7th-ranked Euro by Central, Salomaki isn't flashy or overly skilled, but gives you every ounce of what he has. He's a smart, gritty competitor, but may not have the kind of upside that would appeal to NHL clubs enough to spend a draft pick on him. Will probably be one of those solid "glue" guys in the SM-Liiga, though and you never know-- he may have done enough to get a look.

Iiro Pakarinen, RW 6-1, 198 Kalpa (Finland)-- Undrafted overager has nice size, should add some bulk and get stronger. Heavy feet with a choppy stride, but decent straight-line speed. Needs to pick up the initial burst to have a shot at the NHL. Keeps his stick on the ice and goes to the net well. Opportunistic scorer throughout; managed to be in right place at right time and made his opportunities count. OK defensively; doesn't do anything to stand out in his own end.

Overview: Pakarinen had a pretty good hand in Finland's offense during the preliminary round, but seems to be a longshot as an NHL prospect. Might have done enough to get drafted late, but not a prospect to keep a close eye on as the 106th-ranked skater by Central and not likely to be on many teams' lists if at all.

Bonus scouting report:

Olli Maatta, D 6-1, 185 JYP (Finland Jr.) 22 Aug 1994; 2012- eligible-- As the youngest player ever to make the Finland WJC team (same age as Reijo Ruotsalainen, Janne Niniimaa and Mikael Granlund, but with an August birthdate, younger than any of them) he played only sparingly (in last preliminary round game against Slovakia), but showed off why he was on the team in the first place. Plays a physical, no-nonsense game. Skating is a bit rough-- lacks immediate acceleration, and is a bit lacking in his pivots and turns. Good hands for making quick breakout passes. Sees the ice well; doesn't handle the puck like a hand grenade. Showed some pretty good poise for his first WJC action.

One NHL scout spoke to me about him during a break in the action and said: "He's two-way, all around defenseman. He does a little bit of everything and has a lot of enthusiasm. His first shift was full of excitement; he had courage to show up and play and he wasn't panicking with his feet."

As for that comedy gold, I told you about earlier:

"It was good to see he didn't **** his pants in his first shift," the scout deadpanned.

Hey, sometimes it's the little things these guys do that make an impression, right?

We'll be back tomorrow with Germany, Sweden and Canada.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Armia tournament went weakly and there's several reasons for that. Biggest one is huge pressure what whole team and country gave him. One reason is that he have play whith cagehelmet which he haven't use to do anymore. Also opponent teams has players to keep him down. When he came back Finland and Sm-Liiga (top league in here) he has make 4+1 points in 5 games. And he's also leading scorer in hes team with 16 so far. In whole league he's at 7th best goal scorer.

    here's his first 15 goals
    And here's number 16.. amazing