Three lesser known Finnish defensemen selected in the 2017 NHL Draft
The Buffalo Sabres selected Oskari Laaksonen with the 89th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. A right-handed defenseman from Ilves U20, he handles the puck with poise, has impressive vision and makes precise passes. He is mobile, both with and without the puck. He got outmuscled in the defensive zone at times in the Finnish U20 league, however. Listed at 6’0 and 154 pounds, Laaksonen will need to get much stronger in the future. However, he is very skilled and the reward could be pretty high with this pick.
Roope Laavainen, who was selected with the 119th overall pick by the Chicago Blackhawks, is another right-handed defenseman with offensive potential. His draft year with Jokerit U18 was limited to only 26 games but he still managed to score 22 points. This past season, Laavainen scored 21 points in 48 games for Jokerit U20. Laavainen shows good puck handling skills and makes a crisp first pass, plus he processes the game quickly with the puck. He has been efficient on the power play at the junior level. He’s also pretty reliable defensively but made some turnovers while playing for U20 national team. At 6’2, 187 pounds, he certainly doesn’t lack size but could be more physical and tougher to play against.
Pittsburgh Penguins took an interesting defenseman in the seventh round, picking Lukko U20 blueliner Antti Palojärvi. He’s a really talented player who has already been on the radar for a few seasons. Palojärvi improved his play this past season after moving from KooKoo U18 to Lukko U20 – particularly decision making at both ends of the rink. He skates well with the puck, has good footwork and makes a solid first pass out of the zone. He could still produce more offensively as he has the ability to do so. With his puck moving abilities, skating and athleticism, he could end up being a nice haul for the Penguins in the long run, even though he’s a raw prospect and the club will need to be patient.