I remember doing a similiar list about two years ago, and I felt it was time to update it. This list includes the 2004 Draft eligble prospects. I have left out anyone who is born earlier than 1980, or players over the age of 24. The overall depth looks pretty good, thanks in part to the very strong 1983 and 1984 age-groups. Two guys who have graduated from these age-groups are Joni Pitkänen and Tuomo Ruutu, who would have otherwise made the top 3.
1. Kari Lehtonen G Atlanta/Chicago AHL
Big, athletic goalie who has nerves of steel.Has had a stellar rookie season in NA. Is Currently playing for Chicago in the AHL playoffs. Played four games with Atlanta, winning them all with one shutout.Could be the best player in the world at his position in 5 years.
2. Lauri Tukonen RW Espoo Blues/2004 Draft
A speedy, skilled forward who represented Finland in the U20 and U18 worlds, Tukonen is one of the top prospects for the 2004 Draft. He's got good size and also plays well in his own zone, has the potentional to become an 1st-line player in the NHL. Played for Espoo Blues of the Finnish SM-liiga last season.
3. Hannu Toivonen G Boston/Providence
Arguably the second best goalie prospect to come out of Finland behind Lehtonen. Hannu has great size and reflexes, and seems to be very calm in pressure situations. Played for Providence of the AHL, and represented Finland in the U20 worlds. Should become a starting goalie in the NHL and a fixture on the National team with Lehtonen.
4. Mikko Koivu C Minnesota/TPS Turku
Finally started to fullfill expectations last season, winning a scoring-line role with SM-liiga finalist TPS Turku. A strong two-way player with great playmaking ability, Mikko still has to work on his skating and shot.Has a resonably good chance to win a job with the Wild next season. Has said he will play in NA even if there is a lockout.
5. Jussi Jokinen LW Dallas/Kärpät Oulu
The leading goal-scorer of the 2003 WJC's continued his progress in the SM-liiga, playing a leading role with Kärpät. Is blessed with great hands and playmaking ability, Jussi will have to improve his strengh and conditioning if he wants to succeed in the NHL.
6. Antti Miettinen RW Dallas/Utah AHL
Former Finnish league MVP played his first season in NA, appearing in 16 games for Dallas (1+0=1). Had a few injuries, and spent the rest of the season adjusting to the NA style of play in the AHL. Is an complete player with no real flaws who should become a good two-way second liner. Should be a regular for Dallas next season.
7. Sean Bergenheim LW NYI/Jokerit Helsinki
Bergenheim quite an eventfull season, making the Islanders out of training camp. He then returned to Finland to play for Jokerit and represented Finland in the U20-worlds. He wasn't done yet, as he finished off the season playing for the Bridgeport Tigers in the AHL playoff. Sean has the speed to fly and good stickhandling ability, but he has to finish off more of his chances.Should become at least a good 3rd-liner, with upside as a two-way second liner.
8. Jesse Niinimäki C Edmonton/Ilves Tampere
This selection is made largely based on potentional, as Niinimäki missed almost the whole season due to an broken shoulder. Has great size and is tremendously skilled, Jesse still has to upgrade his strengh and skating. A boom or bust prospect, could be anything from a star 1st-line center to never making the NHL.
9. Ari Ahonen G New Jersey/Albany AHL
After 3 seasons in the AHL, Ahonen should be ready for full-time duty in the NHL next season. Has to clear waivers to sent to the AHL, so he will likely be traded this summer, as NJ is set in goal with Brodeur. Ari is another big goalie who likes to play a butterfly-style. Upside a starting goaltender.
10. Valtteri Filppula C Detroit/Jokerit Helsinki
Filppula's stock has risen considerably due to his stellar play at the U20's and strong rookie season with Jokerit of the SM-liiga. Filppula is an highly skilled player with great hockey sense. Will likely play two more years in Finland before moving across the pond. Detroit is pretty high on him, has the intangibles to have a very successfull NHL career. Needs to bulk up a bit.
11. Jani Rita LW Edmonton/Toronto AHL: A concensus top-10 pick two years ago, Rita hasn't developed quite as expected. It's likely that he won't develop anymore in the AHL, but EDM has been reluctant to give him a chance in the NHL. Rita has two world-class attributes, his skating and his shot. Time is starting to run out for him, needs to play with more urgency.
12. Antero Niittymäki G Philadelphia NHL/AHL
Niittymäki differs from the three goalie's above him in size and playing style. He's considerably smaller psycically, so he has to cut down angles and rely more on his positioning. Antero is an all-round goalie who should be at least a good backup for Philly.
13. Jarkko Immonen C NYR/JYP Jyväskylä
Immonen was one of the top players in the SM-liiga last reason and almost made the mens WJC. His rights were traded from TO to NYR in the Leetch trade. He's a smart playmaking finesse player who has to prove he can handle the psycical play in the NHL. Played for Toronto in the pre-season game against Jokerit and was one of the best players on the ice.
14. Tuomas Pihlman RW/LW New Jersey/Albany
This budding power-forward started very slowly in the AHL, and took about half a season to get used to the NA game. Came on strong during the second half on the season, scoring a majority of his 29 points. Has resonably good hands and skating ability, could become a good NHL in the future.
15. Petteri Nokelainen RW Saipa Lappeenranta/2004 Draft
A psycical two-way winger who represented Finland at both the U18 and U20's. Will likely be an late first or early second-round pick in the draft. Played the whole season in the SM-liiga for Saipa and tied with Tukonen and Korpikoski as the leading scorer at the U18 World Championships.
16. Toni Salmelainen RW Edmonton/Toronto AHL
An unbelievelably fast skater, Salmelainen is very close to earning a full-time job in Edmonton. Plays with a lot of intensity and create's scoring chances with his speed. Should capatilize on more of his opportunities.
17. Sami Lepistö D Jokerit/2004 Draft
Was named the best defenseman in the WJC U20 tournament. Lepistö's best assets are his shot and offensive instincts. Size is a bit suspect. Will likely be a second-round pick with a outside chance at being selected in the late first-round.
18. Jari Viuhkola C Chicago/Kärpät
Was probably the best center in the SM-liiga. Has good size, a strong shot and is a creative playmaker. His skating will likely hold him back. Could sign with Chicago in the off-season. Member of the Finnish WC team this season.
19. Lauri Korpikoski LW TPS/2004 Draft
A speedy winger who has skyrocketed up the draft rankings recently, possibly all the way to the first-round. Leading scorer at the U18 Worlds. Likes to challange defenseman one on one and plays with an in your face style.
20. Masi Marjamäki LW Boston/OHL
If Masi is going to make the NHL, it's going to be as an character guy. He isn't the fastest or most talented guy around, but always gives 100% on the ice. Played for the U20 team at the Worlds and was an instant hit with the fans, scoring some timely goals and delivering bone-crunching checks.
Very interesting read, great post. I do however would switch the two Stars candidates. I feel that Miettinen has accomplished far more and has already made the big step over to NA. He's older though, but still.. I think he has a higher upside.
Immonen is not better then Pihlman. Pihlman was the one to carry that line the way I remember it for JYP.
Well, Immonen scored about 20 more points this season compared to the previous one after Pihlman went to Albany. And he did it with two guys (Virtanen, Uhlbäck) who have been 3/4th liners for most of their career. So you can't really say Pihlman carried Immonen. The two are fairly even though..