- Category: The Journey
- Written by Chris Bagwell
This week the Journey looks at three prospects from Finland and their very different paths to this point...
In recent history, there have been a number of terrific Finnish prospects taken at varying points in the NHL Entry Draft. Mikael Granlund, Tuukka Rask, Olli Maatta, and Sami Vatanen are just a few individuals who have turned into productive players in the NHL. And, they each seem to bring a different skill set to their respective NHL clubs. This summer’s NHL Entry Draft features another highly touted Finnish prospect in Kasperi Kapanen, son of Sami Kapanen.
No matter their hype or abilities, it’s always interesting to watch these prospects develop. Is the player going to spend a few seasons in the AHL before making an impact in the big league? Did he already make the transition to North American ice? Is it better to let him play overseas for another year?
In this episode of The Journey, we will take a look at the development of three Finish prospects that appear in Dobber’s Top 100: Markus Granlund (#69), Joel Armia (#91), and Erik Haula (#49).
Drafted in 2011 by the Calgary Flames – 45th overall
Finished his first season with the Abbotsford Heat of the AHL
Path to the NHL: Like most Finns, Granlund grew up playing for the Jr. C, B, and A leagues at the age of 14. In each of his two years with all three leagues, he put up a point-per-game, at the very least. At 16, he caught international attention where he tallied seven points in six games for Finland’s U16 team. Granlund built upon his international totals just about every year before tearing up the WJC-18 tournament, where he amassed ten points in six games. His production paid off as the Flames snagged the forward in the following summer. Granlund then spent two more seasons in Finland, playing in the country’s top hockey league, Liiga. Although not a point-per-game producer in the more difficult league, he still produced with 34 points in 47 games (2011-2012), then 30 points in 50 games (2012-2013). Last season, Granlund got his first taste of professional hockey in North America, in both the AHL and NHL. He played in 52 games for the Abbotsford Heat and put up 25 goals and 21 assists. He continued this production into the AHL playoffs, where he recorded two goals and three assists in four games. He was called up by the Flames for seven games as well. He contributed nicely with two goals and an assist.
Next season: If Granlund isn’t on the starting roster for the Flames in 2014-2015, it’s likely he’ll make the jump partway through the season.
Abilities: Granlund’s skills with the puck make up for his small frame (5-11, 185). He’s a hard worker with tremendous puck-handling skills. Like his brother, Mikael Granlund, Markus has the playmaking abilities and confidence to be a mainstay in the NHL.
Drafted in 2011 by the Buffalo Sabres – 16th overall
Finished his first season with the Rochester Americans of the AHL
Path to the NHL: In a very similar path to Granlund, Armia began playing junior hockey in Finland at 14-years old. For his first two seasons in Jr. C, he put up over two points-per-game. His first six games in Jr. B were a bit slower, but the following season he came right back with 12 points in six games. The jump to Jr. A proved to be another small obstacle, as he only tallied 21 points in 27 games. He play well internationally that year as well, producing eight point in five games at the WHC-17 tournament. In 2010, Armia transitioned into the second-highest Finnish professional league, Mestis. He spent four short games there before moving onto the highest-league, Liiga. Competing for Assat, he scored 18 goals and added 11 assists in 48 games. It was at the WJC-18 tournament where Armia showed his true potential with four goals and nine assists in 13 games. The Buffalo Sabres selected him early in the first round of 2011 following this performance. After being drafted, Armia spent the next two seasons in Finland’s Liiga before coming to North America. In those two seasons, he tallied a combined 71 points in 101 games. This past season, Armia came to North America to play for the Rochester Americans of the AHL. He had a decent first campaign with 27 points in 54 games, but upped his game in the playoffs. He contributed three goals and as many assists in five games.
Next season: It’s likely that Armia starts next season in Rochester. There are a plethora of prospects in Buffalo’s system and the Sabres are likely to acquire UFAs to reach the cap floor. That being said, there’s a good chance he gets called up for more than a few games.
Abilities: At 6-3 and 203 pounds, Armia has the frame to become a true power forward in the NHL. He plays a very solid game in the offensive zone and possesses a lethal shot. For such a long reach, he handles the puck extremely well too. He’ll be counted on to produce offensively in the future.
Drafted in 2009 by the Minnesota Wild – 182nd overall
Finished his first season with the Minnesota Wild of the NHL (46 games)
Path to the NHL: Unlike Granlund and Armia, Haula had a very different journey to the NHL. Sure, at 14-years old he did play in the Jr. C and B leagues in Finland, where he was over a point-per-game player. Yes, he also made the transition to the Jr. A league, where his statistics fell slightly (22 points in 40 games). But, after the WHC-17 and WJC-18 tournament in early 2008, Haula made an early transition to North America. For the 2008-2009 season, he played for Shattuck St. Mary’s Midget Prep of the USHS (United States High School Hockey). Haula impressed scouts by putting up 84 points in 53 games. This was enough for the Minnesota Wild to take a chance on him in the seventh round of that summer’s draft. After being selected, he played the following season in the USHL for the Omaha Lancers. Again, he played very well, tallying 72 points in 56 games. Following that, Haula spent the next three seasons playing for the Golden Gophers of the NCAA. He improved each year, putting up 24, 49, and finally 51 points. At the end of his final year at the University of Minnesota, Haula played in six games for the Houston Aeros of the AHL where he produced two assists in six games. Last year, he began playing for the Iowa Wild (formerly the Houston Aeros). He amassed 27 points in 31 games and was an easy call-up decision. In 46 games with the big club, Haula had six goals and nine assists. More importantly, he improved his level of play into the NHL playoffs. Here, he contributed four goals and three assists in 13 games.
Next season: It’s almost a certainty that Haula begins the next season on the Minnesota Wild roster.
Abilities: Similar to Granlund, Haula is a smaller frame (5-11, 187), but works extremely hard. He plays a solid two-way game and gives his all every shift. With terrific speed and great on-ice vision, he looks to be a regular NHLer for years to come.
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