As the majority of Sabres fans are not able to see firsthand some of the prospects in our pipeline who are playing in Europe, I thought it would be a good idea to get some deeper analysis on those players. For this Q&A series, I approached DobberProspects Head European Scout Jokke Nevalainen with several questions related to both Sabres and 2020 NHL Draft Prospects playing overseas. Jokke was gracious enough to take the time to answer my questions in an insightful and thorough manner.
For those of you that don’t know, Jokke is based in Finland and is a must follow on Twitter (@JokkeNevalainen) for content related to NHL Prospects playing in Europe. He also writes articles for DobberProspects with whom he has been a part of for about two and half years now, with the past year as Head European Scout.
Being located in Finland, Jokke watches most games live as many are within driving distance for him. He also takes part in a few longer scouting trips every year that are further away from where he is located. While he prefers to watch games live in person, he realizes the value in video scouting for those players that he cannot travel to see.
Below are the Sabres related questions by myself, and answers from Jokke which will highlight many familiar names that appeared in the Weekly Prospect Notebooks this season. The next installment of this Q&A with Jokke is centered on the 2020 NHL Draft and will be released shortly after this one. Once again, I’d like to personally thank Jokke for sharing his thoughts and the time spent answering my questions. His unique vantage point is something I hope everyone enjoys.
Sabres Prospects 2019-20
Q: Oskari Laaksonen got a lot of people excited after his strong 2018-19 season but appeared to struggle this year for Tampereen Ilves. What was the biggest cause for his regression do you think? What area of his game needs improvement the most? What trait in his game will be the reason he has success over in the AHL/NHL?
A: Laaksonen’s regression has been a bit of a mystery for everyone. There was definitely much more competition for offensive minutes on Ilves’ back end and Laaksonen did have a couple of injuries and didn’t seem to be at 100% when he came back from those. But even still, he should have been better than what he showed this season – he didn’t even look like the same player most of the time.
Laaksonen needs to add some muscle to his skinny frame. That will help with his all around game at the men’s level. He also needs to improve his play without the puck and find more consistency. But he has a great frame for the NHL level, he’s a great skater for his size, he has a lot of offensive skill, and he also has a bit of a nasty streak that shows up at times. He won’t be a high-end offensive producer but if he’s going to make it to the NHL, he will be there as a puck-mover, not as a defensive specialist.
Q: Arttu Ruotsalainen was a relatively unknown player to the Sabres when he was signed last year and had a stellar season for Tampereen Ilves. Do you anticipate him coming over and playing in North America in 2020-21? Will the smaller ice benefit or hinder Ruotsalainen’s game when he does make it over here? What area of his game needs improvement the most? What trait in his game will be the reason he has success in the AHL/NHL?
A: I do believe Ruotsalainen will make the jump to North America but most likely he’ll spend the upcoming season in the AHL and try to earn his way up from there. As a small offensive center, the smaller ice will require adjustments to his game. If he makes it to the NHL, I would be surprised if that happened as a center, so I think he’ll need to switch to wing and learn how to be effective there. If he makes it, he’ll be a hard-working offensive player who doesn’t leak defensively. But his strengths are definitely in the offensive end.
Q: Marcus Davidsson had a season to forget for Vaxjo that was cut short due to an injury and Covid-19. What do you believe was the biggest reason he struggled this year?
A: Växjö was not a good team this season. They didn’t score a lot of goals, so no one on their team had high point totals. Davidsson’s ice time also dropped about two minutes per game from the previous season, and he was moved from center to wing this season. I think that combination caused him to have a difficult season, so hopefully he’ll bounce back next year.
Q: Which player could you see having a greater impact in the NHL, Rasmus Asplund or Marcus Davidsson?
A: I’ve always liked Asplund more than Davidsson. I think Asplund has more offensive skill, he’s a better skater, and he’s at least as good defensively. Maybe this past season added more contrast between the two and increased the gap between them but I think the order has always been the same.
Q: Of William Worge Kreu, Linus Cronholm, and Miska Kukkonen, who do you believe has the best chance of making it to the NHL?
A: This is a tough question. All three play a rather simple game and have good enough size to play a defensive role in the NHL. But none of them are sure things by any means. I would probably give the edge to William Worge Kreü just because his size and physical play is a specialty that few players in the organization have. But he definitely has a long way to go if he ever even gets there.
Q: Lukas Rousek was an intriguing prospect to follow this year. The skill and speed are obviously there, should we as Sabres fans be optimistic that he can be part of the answer in Buffalo?
A: Rousek has NHL potential but he still needs more development time and I wouldn’t expect him to become a difference-maker at the NHL level. Unfortunately I didn’t catch too many of his games this season but it seemed like he was taking steps in the right direction for sure.
Q: Is there a large gap between Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Erik Portillo from a potential standpoint? Would you classify both as Starting NHL goaltenders long term?
A: I think there is a gap between them but I think it’s smaller than most people think. Portillo is not a well-known prospect but he should be. He’s a bit of a late bloomer whereas Luukkonen has been well-known for years now. I believe both have potential to become NHL starters but they still have a long way to go.
Q: If you were Jason Botterill, who are you taking at 7th overall if Lucas Raymond, Anton Lundell, and Alexander Holtz are still available?
A: I would be taking Raymond at seven if he’s still available. I believe he’s clearly a top five talent in this draft class. Adding an elite level playmaker to Eichel’s wing would be a deadly combination. He’s extremely talented, skilled and creative but he also has a great work ethic which makes him a well-rounded player. He’ll need another year of development but I believe he’s ready to jump to the NHL at age 19.