Photo Credit – Liiga/Jiri Halttunen
The Finnish Liiga is not quite the same level of league it used to be. The loss of Jokerit to the KHL as well as the league’s lack of ability to compete with the SHL and NLA from a financial perspective mean that while still a premier European league, it is not in serious contention for being the third best league on earth like it used to be.
That being said, it is still difficult for a draft eligible player to make the league. And even more difficult for them to be an above average player in Finland’s highest tier at 18. In the last 20 years there have only been a handful of players who have managed to post over 0.5 P/GP in their draft years. Almost all have gone on to be high-end NHL players.
Samuel Helenius has been right around 0.5 P/GP to start the season for JYP Jyväskylä. Five goals and eight points through 19 games is impressive. So is his 6’6, 200lb+ frame, as is his ability to play center in such a high level league.
So why is Helenius not talked about as a first rounder, and instead seen as a potential late second rounder?
D.O.B – November 26, 2002
Nationality – Finland
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Weight –201 lbs
Position – Center
Handedness – Left
Helenius’ Style Of Play
Well, upside matters. Helenius may well be a “safe” pick. He has the size and two-way game that means he will likely play in the NHL at some point in the future. However, his offensive skill-set has never really stood out at any level. While many of his peers were scoring at over P/GP pace at the Finnish junior level, Samuel Helenius was at around 0.5 P/GP.
Now, some may well point to his impressive production this season, as well as the fact many big-bodied players develop later than their pint-sized counterparts. However, there are some indicators that this production may be inflated. Not only does Helenius only have 36.9% Corsi in Liiga this season – the worst of any regular player on the team – he also has a 17.2% shot percentage, which is unsustainable given the shot quality he has created.
But getting past the mathematics, let us examine his actual skill-set.
One of the core skills that modern NHL players require is skating. Helenius is a good skater for his size. It takes some real power to get a 6’6, 200lb frame moving. While he might not be the most agile player, after a couple of strides he can breeze past players who cannot keep up with his long, loping strides. Circling back to agility, while he naturally cannot match players half a foot smaller in regards to short area skating, Helenius has decent edge-work and can make some tight, crisp turns, as well as stop and start quickly. He might look awkward at times due to his lanky frame, but his foot-work is already effective enough that he rarely gets beaten to a puck even at the pro level.
Another real plus area of Helenius’s game, to be expected given his frame, is his puck protection. It is rare for anyone to be able to get near a puck on his stick. Not only is he strong, he understands pressure, and his long limbs mean that very few players can even touch a puck with a poke-check through his body.
Something else that really stands out is his shot. He can really fire his wrister, and has good accuracy as well. He might not be able to keep up his 17 percent shot the whole of the Liiga season. However, his quick and accurate release mean that he may well have some seasons in his career where he is up around the 15% mark.
His wrister is also helped by his ability to find space. Helenius might not have a top tier IQ, but he understands coverages and can pick gaps, and this area of his game is definitely a plus overall. This, combined with his aggressive nature, and nose for the net, means he finds himself around the crease and slot on a regular basis.
Defensively Helenius is physical and aggressive, and also has a good stick. He breaks up plays with regularity and is usually in a good position. These abilities also help him be a good penalty-killer. He is already a regular in man-down situations in Liiga, and can be a short-handed threat with his long reach and ability to read plays.
However, Helenius does have his warts. First and foremost, while he has decent puck-skills, he does not seem to have the hands that the majority of players who end up top six in the NHL have. At times he has to look down at the puck to corral it, and can also lose pucks in stride.
Additionally, while his overall hockey IQ in terms of positional awareness, and seeing how a play may unfold, is good, for a pivot he does not always have an instinctive understanding of where his line-mates are in the offensive zone. He may well be a shot first player, but at times he simply does not see line-mates in a better position than he is. It is therefore hard to imagine him being an offensive zone “facilitator” at a higher level. Centers are supposed to make their line-mates more dangerous in the offensive zone. Samuel Helenius has not really done that so far in his career. You can count the amount of high-danger passes he has made in Liiga this season on your two hands.
Brian Boyle, C/LW, UFA (who last played with Florida Panthers)
Size is not the only similarity between Samuel Helenius and the big American. The Finn is a better skater than Boyle, but apart from that is a mirror image. Both are shoot first centers who have plus IQ, but despite that struggle to utilise their team-mates in the offensive zone. They also share a love of the physical side of the game. And also have great sticks that force turnovers in all three zones. Like Boyle, Helenius is a dependable penalty-killer who can be a real short-handed threat. Helenius, if he hits, might have a similar impact as Boyle down the line.
Overall, Samuel Helenius is a solid player. He certainly has NHL upside. At very worst he will be able to be plugged into an NHL fourth line and contribute on the penalty-kill in a few years’ time. However, it is hard to imagine him garnering more than 30 points or so over a season at the highest level given his skill-set. As a result until the second half of the second round rolls around there will be higher upside players available. If he reaches the third round though? He could be a great pick.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Alexander Appleyard. If you would like to follow Alex on Twitter, his handle is @alexappleyard.
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