We are now firmly in the thick of the playoffs in this month’s Stock Watch, with every level of Finnish hockey now duking it out in the postseason.
The semifinal series have just started in Liiga. Tappara and Jokerit are in a pitched battle for the league championship in the U20 SM-Sarja final. To everyone’s surprise, Kärpät failed to qualify for the dance at both levels, but their U18 squad could win the top prize in their age group with the help of draft-eligible prospects like Emil Pieniniemi who scored the game-winning goal late in the third period.
The U20 playoffs have been especially fun to follow, given the possible implications for Finland’s U18s roster and the upcoming draft. We’ll start the rundown with the professional ranks, though.
Matias Mäntykivi, C, Ilves (Boston Bruins)
After a very promising 2021-22 campaign, Matias Mäntykivi‘s regular season with Ilves was a bit of a letdown. His production dropped from 0.61 points per game to 0.55, even while his role in the lineup remained stable. We even highlighted Mäntykivi in this very series as a player whose stock was falling a few months ago.
The playoffs have been – at least so far – a big redemption for Mäntykivi’s season. With eight points in six games, he’s tied for the scoring lead amongst his team and has been one of the very best offensive players for Ilves. Mäntykivi’s postseason run already includes three multi-point performances.
A year ago, Mäntykivi seemed primed to sign an entry-level contract with the Bruins. The lack of progress during the regular season made me question whether that was going to happen, but these playoffs have swung the pendulum back in his favour.
Benjamin Rautiainen, LW, Tappara U20 (2023 NHL Draft)
Benjamin Rautiainen‘s season has been a rollercoaster. He was already a mainstay at the U20 level with Ilves last year but had to start this season with their U18 squad. He ended up making the jump to Tappara, immediately established himself at the U20 level despite going to the best team in the league and had a productive second half of the season.
This postseason has also been a successful one for Rautiainen. On some nights, he’s even looked like the best forward on his stacked team and has added five goals and eight points in nine games as Tappara is currently battling for the championship. He’s skilled, slippery and has strong all-around offensive instincts. We’re at the point where he’s probably getting some consideration in the latter rounds of the upcoming draft.
Tom Leppä, C, Jokerit U20 (2023 NHL Draft)
If Rautiainen was a lesser-known draft-eligible prospect who had been putting in strong performances in the U20 playoffs, the same could be said about Tom Leppä. The 6-foot-tall centre was already one of the better producers for Jokerit during the regular season, but as other top players such as Emil Kuusla have struggled, Leppä has continued to rack up counting stats during the post-season as Jokerit contends for the championship against Tappara.
With nine points in 10 games, Leppä currently ranks in the top six in U20 playoffs scoring while also handling the top-line centre duties and contributing on both special teams. Leppä’s skating is a big hindrance considering his draft prospects, but the playoff run certainly hasn’t hurt his stock. The Penn State commit will likely suit up as the fourth-line centre for Finland at the U18s.
Kasper Halttunen, RW, Kiekko-Vantaa (2023 NHL Draft)
It hasn’t been the season Kasper Halttunen was hoping for. From being comfortably in the first round in pretty much every preseason ranking, it’s now looking more likely that he’ll be a Day 2 selection in the upcoming draft. He did finish up the U20 league regular season on a goal-per-game pace but failed to add a single point in the three-game playoff series against TPS. It wasn’t the lack of attempts preventing him from scoring; in the last game of the series, he logged 20 (!) individual shot attempts.
After HIFK’s elimination at the U20 level, Halttunen swapped to Mestis and Kiekko-Vantaa where he had five points in six games between the end of the regular season and the playoffs. There’s still time for Halttunen to end his season on a high note with a big showing at the U18 Worlds where he’ll be relied on as one of the top players for Finland.
Arttu Kärki, D, Tappara U20 (2023 NHL Draft)
In many ways, Arttu Kärki‘s play during the U20 playoffs has been mostly on par with his efforts during the regular season. He’s still racking up points – though not quite at the same rate, which is perfectly reasonable considering the differences in competition – and making plays on the offensive side of things, using his mobility and shot from the point.
The same concerns do remain with his game, though. His defensive play continues to baffle at times, both in-zone and against the rush, and he’s surprisingly inconsistent on retrievals and on breakouts considering the tools and the flashes of skill he’s shown. He can fumble an easy breakout pass by holding onto the puck for too long and then make an amazing stretch pass for a breakaway in the next shift; it’s truly a land of contrasts with Kärki. It’ll be very interesting to see where he ultimately goes in the draft.
Kalle Väisänen, RW, TPS (New York Rangers)
This is the second time Kalle Väisänen has been included in this part of a Stock Watch article this season. After a solid showing at the U20 Worlds, Väisänen continued to struggle in Liiga, finishing pointless in his last 16 games of the season.
He was sent to help the U20 team in the playoffs but failed to make the impact one would’ve expected from a prospect of his calibre and age, adding just two goals and three points in six games. At 20 years old, he’s still got time to bounce back, but this wasn’t the kind of breakout campaign he was looking for.
Tuukka Tieksola, RW, Kärpät (Carolina Hurricanes)
Tuukka Tieksola‘s last two years haven’t quite delivered on the promises of his rookie campaign. He made the jump to North America for this season, but returned on a loan to Kärpät in February, having struggled in the AHL after a pretty promising first month of the season. Tieksola’s game didn’t really take off in Liiga either, only adding five points in 11 games during the regular season.
Tieksola did return to the Chicago Wolves after Kärpät ultimately failed to make the playoffs and has added five points in his first five games, so he could be on track to end the season with a positive impression. The raw talent level is still high, from the skating to the hands and the playmaking. At this point, though, it’s difficult to be that optimistic about his chances of turning into an NHL player.