Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Fits: Finnish Forwards

Miko Matikka
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The 2022 NHL Draft is fast approaching. The Tampa Bay Lightning, preparing to play game four of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers, elected to keep their first-round draft selection for the first time in what seems like forever. So, while they likely aren’t focusing too much on the draft, Last Word will look at some Lightning draft prototypes in a new series.

Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Prototypes: Finnish League Forwards

The Lightning, since 2010 when Julien BriseBois became an assistant general manager and Al Murray joined the organization, have drafted three players out of the top Finnish league. There are two Finnish leagues, the top men’s league (Liiga) and the U20 league (U20 SM-Sarja). On average, those players stood 6’2” and 201 pounds. Starting in the U20 league, other averages included roughly 68 games played pre-draft, 20 goals, 20 assists and 40 points. In the top men’s league, those averages became roughly 15 games played pre-draft, two goals, no assists and two points.

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At the U20 level, the most games played are 85, held by Niko Huuhtanen, while the least is 51, from Saku Salminen. As for goals scored, the most is 38 for Huuhtanen and the least is nine for Jonne Tammela. The most assists among Finnish league Lightning draftees is 30 for Huuhtanen, while the least is eight for Tammela. Finally, for points, Huuhtanen has the most with 68, while Tammela has the least with 17.

In the top men’s league, Tammela had the most games played (32) and Huuhtanen had the least (0). Tammela also had the most goals and points (4) and Huuhtanen had the least with none. Meanwhile, Salminen had the most assists with one, while Huuhtanen and Tammela had none. With those parameters set, which 2022 player out of Finland is the best fit for Tampa Bay? (Also used to find prototypes is per game USHS stats and U18 World Juniors performance).

Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Fit #1: Miko Matikka, Right Wing, Jokerit 

Since the U20 league has the bigger expectations and a heavier importance, the top fit among just U20 stats is Matikka. He has been ranked between 77 (Recruit Scouting) and 100 (Smaht Scouting). Considering that range, it may take a slight fall for him to be an option for the Lightning who are without a second or third-round pick. He is committed to the University of Denver for next season.

If drafted by the Lightning, Matikka would set new highs in U20 goals per game, assists per game, and points per game. He was also above average in U20 goals, assists, and points, World Junior games played, assists and points, and height (6’3”). Matikka is below average in weight (187) and would set a new low in U20 games played. Overall, he is the top positive fit in U20 league play for the Lightning. However, having not played a single Liiga game, his score does get dropped a little bit, leading him to be tied for sixth-best.

What Does Matikka Bring To The Table

Matikka is a big body who has a good motor and isn’t afraid to play in the dirty areas. He is a modern-day power forward. Possessing strong stickhandling abilities and a very heavy shot, Matikka can also play more of an offensive style than just the guy who retrieves pucks and takes the pressure off his teammates. Additionally, his skating has vastly improved according to many outlets, though this writer can’t speak for sure about how big that improvement really was.  But, with his early improvements in his skating, an NHL-level coach could certainly unlock something more moving forward.

His two-way style of play is also notable, as he uses his reach well. Just like in the offensive zone, he doesn’t shy away from board battles and he supports his defence down low. However, the downsides to his game are his skating, which is to be expected with a player his size, and his shot selection. Working on those small things, he could be a solid third-line winger at the NHL level. Overall, he is a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type of player, limiting his potential.

Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Fit #2: Topi Ronni, Center, Tappara

Ronni is the top overall fit and is second behind Matikka in fit looking at just U20 stats. He has been ranked between 57 (Bob McKenzie) and 98 (Recruit Scouting). He would also need to fall to be within range of the Lightning, but because his range puts him a little further away, he is less likely to be snagged than Matikka.

If drafted by Tampa Bay, Ronni would set new highs in U20 assists and assists per game. He would be above average in U20 games played, goals, points, goals per game, points per game, World Junior games played, goals and points. Holding him back from being the top fit is the fact he is below average in World Junior assists and height (6’1”), and also setting a new low with his weight (181). Meanwhile, at the Liiga level, he would set new highs in assists, assists per game, and points per game, while being above average in games played, goals, points, and goals per game. That’s what sets him apart from all the other Finnish league players.

What Does Ronni Bring To The Table?

Ronni is very similar to Matikka in the sense that he doesn’t excel in much but he also doesn’t particularly have flaws. Additionally, he also isn’t afraid to mix it up physically and get involved in puck battles and retrievals. What makes Ronni seem like the more liked prospect likely stems from his better skating ability. He is a speedy skater, though he doesn’t have that extra gear to truly burn defenders. His edges and agility also stand out in a big way. He could very well become an elite skater with NHL-level coaching, or at least close to it.

As for his offensive abilities, he is solid. Ronni has strong playmaking qualities and he is hard to knock off the puck. Those two traits combined allow him to buy a few more seconds to allow teammates to get open and execute on those passes. However, his shot does need to improve. He doesn’t quite have the consistent power or accuracy to beat an NHL-level goalie with regularity. His high motor, playmaking skills and skating make him an intriguing offensive presence. Add to his arsenal a really strong and reliable defensive game, and you have a player who could very well slot into a team’s middle six lines in the future.

Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Fit #3: Aleksanteri Kaskimaki, Center, HIFK

The next two top fits for the Lightning are players who are not realistically attainable. Those players are Brad Lambert and Joakim Kemell. However, the next best fit on the list is Kaskimaki. He is ranked between 47 (Recruit Scouting) and 83 (Smaht Scouting). That range puts some doubt on whether he could be selected by the Lightning. There is always a chance, however.

If selected by the Lightning, he would set new highs in U20 assists per game and points per game. He is also above average in U20 goals, assists, and points, as well as World Junior games played, assists, and points. The only thing holding him back is the fact he is below average in height (6’0”). He would also set new lows in weight (183) and games played.

What Does Kaskimaki Bring To The Table

Kaskimaki likely has the most potential of all the listed realistic fits. He is the most well-rounded offensive player with more explosiveness and pace to his game. His shot is really strong and his hands are exceptional. That may seem like two completely different traits. But, when you pair that with his vision and passing skills, he becomes an extremely deceptive attacker. His hands allow him to get himself space or draw attackers in. They also allow him to look like he is about to pass or shoot. Then, he switches up and hits the open man or gets the puck on the net.

Defensively, Kaskimaki can be strong but is very inconsistent. His positioning is fine, and his engagement isn’t a big problem. However, there are moments where he can be a liability in the defensive zone, chasing the puck or puck-watching. Additionally, he struggles in transitional play. For a player that is a really good skater with extremely good hands and solid deceptiveness, you would expect him to be dominant in transition. However, his decision-making can be frustrating at times. His overall consistency needs work. But if he can fix all of that and continue to improve his overall game while bulking up, he could be a top-six forward at the next level.