Finns surging into draft season

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The hockey season in Finland is in its infancy, but draft eligibles are creating lots of buzz from both draft fanatics and hockey media alike.

And most aren’t hesitating to call the 2012-13 Finnish season the most interesting draft year in recent memory. The duo of Aleksander Barkov and Artturi Lehkonen are leading that charge.

And that’s not the only thing the pair of 17-year-olds are leading.

Both lead their respective clubs in scoring and are wearing the golden helmets as team’s top scorer, a time honoured tradition in the SM-Liiga. In fact, the feat is so rare that it was the first time in league history that two of the top-5 scorers include multiple draft eligible scorers.

In all, Lehkonen has three goals and eight points through his first seven games, while Barkov remains one of the league’s most productive with six goals and 11 points in the opening few weeks.

They aren’t the only ones having a dream start to their season. It’s hard to pick a Finnish draft eligible who hasn’t met expectations. In fact, most of them have exceeded them.

Henrik Haapala has developed great chemistry with Barkov and has been one of the biggest surprises of the season thus far. He is currently at point-per-game pace with five points in five games. Saku Salminen and Matti Lamberg form two-thirds of Jokerit’s energetic fourth line and have been bright spots in an underwhelming team.

If Salminen and Lamberg are bright spots, Rasmus Ristolainen has the spotlight. As a 17-year-old defenseman, Ristolainen is 14th in the league in average ice time. Ranked sixth overall in Future Considerations September list, Ristolainen has done nothing to discourage the notion of being a top-10 pick.

Then there’s Juuso Ikonen from the Espoo Blues, who has created chemistry with Miro Aaltonen, the star of the Ann Arbour U20 tournament. Ikonen has four points in five games while Aaltonen follows with three goals. Both have been able to produce despite showing nothing special in early viewings.

Vilho Virmavirta has, though.

The six-foot-three defender for Tappara’s U20 team has shown capable of making above average decisions in every aspect of the game, but lacks a high compete level. That’s one reason Virmavirta’s name is relatively unfamiliar. The other? He’s played in just one international tournament – three years ago.

But if Virmavirta keeps up his strong play, he’ll go from unfamiliar to one of the bigger names Finland has to offer the 2013 NHL Draft.

Article by Ville Meuronen

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