Finns in the NHL draft
Way too much free time on my hands today but took a look at the players drafted from Finland since the first one, Tommi Salmelainen, was selected by the St. Louis Blues in 1969.
Forty years of drafts and some interesting trends. Although, obviously, a lot has changed and in the early years it seems the players being drafted were, for the most part, already established.
But it was interesting to view things on a club-by-club basis in the SM-Liiga.
For my own purposes, I tried to put the player with the club they played juniors in - and not where they were playing in the season they were drafted. For instance, Olli Jokinen is credited to KalPa and Esa Pirnes is considered Karpat. I also did not count import players such as German Titov or Marek Zidlecky who were trained in other countries but were playing in Finland prior to being drafted.
While this is by no means a scientific study, and there were so many other variables which influenced whether a player succeeded, I nonetheless found some of the trends interesting.
The "results" are below on a team-by-team basis.
Tappara and the draft
Tappara had about twenty-two players drafted - ten or so less than neighboring Ilves.
Of those, two had significant NHL careers - defenseman Teppo Numminen - who was selected in 1986 by Winnepeg and has played almost 1400 NHL games and forward Ville Nieminen, who played 385 games and won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.
Currently, there are four players from Tappara who are still prospects - Petri Kontiola (Chicago, '04), Harri Ilvonen (Minnesota Wild '07), Niklas Lucenius (Atlanta '07) and goalie Harri Sateri (drafted by San Jose last year).
The only first round pick ever for Tappara was goalie Mika Noronen - who was selected by Buffalo in 1997 and appeared in 71 NHL games between 2000 and 2006. He played the past three seasons in Russia.
HIFK in the Draft
Tommi Salmelainen of HIFK was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the sixth round of the 1969 draft but spent just one season in North America with Kansas City of the Central League.
Matti Hagman, selected by Boston in 1975, was the first Finnish-drafted player in the NHL - appearing in 237 games for the Bruins.
HIFK has had the most selections with over 35 players, as well as five of the most successful players - Esa Tikkanen (1983 Edmonton - 877 games), Vlle Peltonen (1993 San Jose - 382 games), Jarkko Ruutu (1998 Vancouver - 497 games) and Niklas Hagman (1999 Florida - 546 games) and Olli Jokinen (technically only since he played his juniors in KalPa, but a first round pick by Los Angeles in 1997).
Since Hagman's selection, 17 HIFK players were selected, with only two players appearing in the NHL thus far - both of whom Marek Zidlicky and Jarno Kultanen were actually already established veterans by the time they joined HIFK.
Defenseman Teemu Laakso was drafted by Nashville in 2005 and played in the AHL last year while Timo Seppanen, a defenseman, and forwards Max Warn, Robert Nyholm, and Jonas Enlund were all drafted in 2006 but have yet to sign NHL contracts.
Jokerit in the NHL
Arguably the most famous Finnish club outside of Finland, Jokerit, like Ilves and HIFK, has had over thirty players drafted - including two of the top forwards of all-time NHL Hall of Famer Jari Kurri (1251 games, selected by Edmonton in 1980) and Teemu Selanne (1132 games, 1988 by Winnepeg).
Like HIFK, Jokerit has hit a dry spell of late - with only two players still considered NHL prospects since the 2002 draft - defensemen Sami Lepisto (Washington, 2004 - 14 NHL games so far) and Jori Lehtera, who was drafted by St. Louis last year.
Between 1997 and 2002 there were nine players from Jokerit taken in the top three rounds. Defenseman Ossi Vaananen (479 games), forwards Tuumo Ruutu (324 games), Sean Bergenheim (183 games), and Valtteri Filppula (235 games and a Stanley Cup), and goalie Kari Lehtonen (204) would all be considered successes.
Forwards Jani Rita (just 66 games after being selected in the first round by Edmonton) and Teemu Sainomaa, Teemu Laine, and Tero Maatta - all second rounders who never appeared in an NHL game - never succeeded for various reasons.
Due to injury, goalie Pasi Nurminen was forced to retire but as a 6th round selection in 2001 appeared headed to a promising career.
Assat and Lukko in the NHL draft
The two western rivals have fairly different histroies with regards to the draft.
Lukko, with over twenty players selected, has had more players drafted than Assat but more players from Pori have actually made it into the NHL.
Assat was the first team to have a player drafted - with both Tapio Levo and Kari Makkonen selected in the 1975 draft. Both players eventually appeared in the NHL - with Levo playing 107 games and Makkonen playing nine games for the Edmonton Oilers. In fact, the first five players drafted from Assat, Levo, Makkonen, goalie Kari Takko, and forwards Arto Javanainen and Christian Ruuttu - all appeared in NHL games - with Ruuttu having the most success playing over 600 games mostly with the Sabres and Blackhawks.
Of the 21 Lukko draft picks, just one, goalie Jarmo Myllys had a regular NHL role - spending three seasons as a backup goalie and appearing in 27 games for the expansion San Jose Sharks.
The two teams are alike in one respect - each having just one player selected in the top three rounds. Lukko defensemen Vesa Salo was slected by the Rangers in the 3rd round of the 1983 draft but never signed to a contract. Jesse Joensuu of Assat was a second round pick of the Islanders and made his NHL debut this spring - appearing in seven games.
Goalie Atten Engren (2007, 7th round Nashville) and forward Eero Elo (Minnesota Wild last year, 5th) are the most recent picks from Lukko, while Joensuu and forward Leo Komarov (Toronto, 6th) were both selected in 2006.
JyP and Espoo in the Draft
I put these two together because the histories are very similar - and also because highly regarded forward Joonas Nattinen spent his junior days with JyP before playing in Espoo this past winter.
Of the two clubs, the story in the draft has been rather bleak - with the notable exception of two players from Espoo - forwards Juha Ylonen and Jere Lehtinen. Other than Ylonen (341 games) and Lehtinen (817 games) who were selected in the 1991 and 1992 drafts respectively, none of the other thirty or so players drafted from the two clubs have yet appeared in more than a handful of NHL games.
In fairness, very few of those players were high round picks - with the notable exception of a pair of first rounders - JyP goalie Ari Ahonen, drafted by New Jersey in 1999 in hopes that he would be the eventual successor to Martin Brodeur but never able to make it above the AHL level, and forward Lauri Tukonen, drafted in 2004 by the Kings but only to crack the lineup five times in two seasons before returning to Finland.
Just one JyP draftee thus far has made it to the NHL, defenseman Tuomas Pihlman, who appeared in fifteen games for New Jersey.
In addition to Ylonen and Lehtinen, Espoo defenseman Kari Haakana played 13 games for the Oilers in 2002-2003 and forward Mikko Lehtonen made his NHL debut in one game for the Bruins this past season.
JyP has not had a player selected since 2004 while Jani Lajunen of Espoo was slected by Nashville in the seventh round last year.
HPK and K-Reipas/Pelicans in the NHL Draft
HPK and Pelicans are similar in that neither club has had as many players selected as either the Ilves or Helsinki teams. However, of the players selected, a majority for both teams has at least appeared in an NHL game - which the larger clubs cannot say.
One-time national team coach Raimo Summanen was the first of eight players from the Lahti club to be drafted when he was taken by the Oilers in 1982 and appeared in 151 games over four seasons. A pair of defensemen, Janne Laukkanen and Toni Lydman, both later played over 400 games and goalie Karri Ramo (48 games) is entering his 3rd NHL season with Tampa Bay. Of those four, Lydman was the highest pick, being selected in the fourth round.
For HPK, Niko Kapanen, now with Carolina, has played almost 400 games after being drafted by Dallas in 1998 and former Dallas teammate Antti Miettinen, who has played 320 games, is now with the Minnesota Wild. Unlike Lahti, HPK has had two top round picks - second rounder Jarkko Varvio by the then Minnesota North Stars in 1992 and goalie Hannu Toivonen, who was the Boston Bruins' first round pick in 2002. Varvio appeared in 13 games over two seasons with Dallas before returning to Finland while Toivonen appeared to be working his way up in Boston before being traded to St. Louis and subsequently returning to Finland. In total, he appeared in 61 games.
Vili Sopanen of Pelicans was drafted in the 6th round by New Jersey in 2007 while Petteri Wirtanen of HPK was a 6th round pick of the Ducks in 2006 and appeared in three games at the end of the 2007-2008 season. He spent the entire season in the AHL this past winter but was brought up for the playoffs as one of the "Black Aces" along with Petri Kontiola.
KalPa and SaiPa in the NHL Draft
KalPa and SaiPa share some similarities in that their a bit isolated from the rest of Finland. But while the NHL has infrequently drafted players from these two clubs, especially in the case of SaiPa, they have had some success.
Petri Skriko was the first SaiPa player drafted, in 1981 by Vancouver, and spent over eight seasons in the NHL with Vancouver, Boston, and San Jose.
Of the five players selected since, three spent time in the NHL, with goalie Jussi Markkanen appearing in 128 games - including a large role during the regular season when the Edmonton Oilers eventually reached the Stanley Cup finals. Petteri Nokelainen (Islanders, 1st round, 2004) has appeared in 122 games and is now with Anaheim. Another high round pick, Vesa Viitakoski, selected in the second round by Calgary in 1990, was not as successful, appearing in just 23 games over three seasons before returning to Finland.
SaiPa has not had a player selected since 2005.
KalPa has had a total of thirteen players selected including Olli Jokinen. Three of those players, Jokinen, Sami Kapanen, and Kimmo Timonen, appeared in over 700 NHL games with Timonen currently active in Philadelphia and one of the top defenseman in the game. He was a tenth round selection in 1993.
Of the nine players drafted who have not appeared in an NHL game, only one, goalie Tuomas Nissinen, was selected in the top three rounds. He was picked by St. Louis in the third round of the 2001 draft.
Forward Teemu Hartikainen was the last player to have been drafted from KalPa - selected in the sixth round by Edmonton last year.
Karpat in the NHL Draft
Reijjo Ruotsalainen was the first player from Karpat to be drafted by an NHL team when he was selected in the sixth round by the Rangers in 1980. He played over 400 games despite being thought of by some as too small for the NHL.
The majority of the 25 Karpat players selected have been defensemen - with Janne Niinimaa (2nd round, 1993), Joni Pitkanen (1st round, 2002) and Ruotsalainen joined by forward Jussi Jokinen (6th round, 2001) as the only draftees from Karpat to have played over 300 games.
Perhaps due to the success enjoyed by the WHA Jets and Oilers thanks to Finnish players, both Winnepeg and Edmonton continued drafting players from Karpat in the mid-80's and early 90's. Five of the seven players drafted from Karpat between 1986 and 1991 were picked by those clubs. Of those seven, however, only Hannu Jarvenpaa (114 games) and Markku Kyllonen (9 games), both with the Jets, spent anytime at the NHL level before returning to Europe.
After Niinimaa in 1993, only four players from Karpat were drafted until the 2001 draft.
Goaltenders have not been as hot a commodity from Karpat, with only Pekka Rinne having been drafted - in the eighth round in 2004. However, he has done well for Nashville - assuming the starting role this past season. In that same draft, Janne Pesonen was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks but never signed by them. Instead, he signed a free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins and appeared in 7 games for the eventual Stanley Cup champs.
Karpat has not had a player drafted since 2005.
Other Clubs and the NHL draft
Since 1986, when SapKo's Petri Matikainen was selected in the seventh round by Buffalo, there were thirteen players selected from clubs outside the SM-Liiga including two from KooKoo in Kouvola.
Of these, only one Mika Alatalo, eventually played in the NHL. Selected by Winnepeg in the 10th round of the 1990 draft, he did not sign a contract until nine years later (by that time the team had moved to Phoenix). He appeared in 152 games over two seasons for the Coyotes.
While the bulk of the other picks were mid to late round picks, there were two second round picks - both in 1986. Defenseman Jukka Pekka Seppo of Vaasa Sport was taken by Philadelphia with the 23rd pick and center Pekka Tirkkonen of SapKo was drafted by Boston at the 34th spot. Neither ever played in North America.
The last player taken from a non-SM-Liiga club was forward Miikka Tuomainen of TuTo (Turku), who was drafted by Atlanta in the seventh round in 2004.
There's my lists of drafted Finns http://hfboards.com/showthread.php?t=534716
Thanks for the tip. In looking at your list, there were a few players I'd missed since they came from Canadian junior, US college or other Europe clubs. However, in the cases where I did notice these guys, I usually credited them to their Finnish junior club - for instance, Nummelin (TPS), and Tuomainen (KalPa).
One player you mentioned I was curious about as I could not find his junior club. Jyrki Maki played for U Mass-Lowell but it said he played US high school hockey before that in Minnesota. Is he from Finland or the US?
Thanks to Shark Attack's list, there were several others from Finland drafted that I missed - a few of whom played in the NHL.
The most prominent was Antti Laaksonen from Forssa, who after playing college hockey at the University of Denver, was a key member of the Bruins and Wild before returning to Europe. In total, he played 483 NHL games.
Others who were overlooked in my review but who were drafted and eventually played in the NHL were:
TPS - Kai Nurminen (LA '96) 69 games
KalPa - Markko Tuomainen (Edm '92) 79 games
Lukko - Tuomas Gronman (Que '92) 38 games
Vaasa Sport - Oskari Osala (Was '06) 2 games so far, still active.
Joonas Nattinen sounds like a coaches dream.
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