Time for another series at McKeen’s from our scouting staff. The 2024 NHL Draft season is well under way and our scouts have been busy soaking in the action around the globe. Analyzing early season play can be difficult; perhaps even a bit of a ruse. Hot starts aren’t always sustainable and cold starts are not always indicative. However, players can still catch our attention in positive ways and that’s what this series intends to highlight.
Steven Graves - European Video Scout
Veeti Väisänen - Defence - KooKoo
6’0, 164lbs - 2006-02-15
Coming into the season, I was quite down on Vaisanen as a player. He played for Finland at the U18s as an underage player in April and looked downright bad. He consistently appeared overwhelmed and was forcing plays. Unfortunately, although he was poised to make the team, as Finland’s #1 defender since Aron Kiviharju was practicing with the U20 team, Vaisanen got injured and missed the summer Hlinka/Gretzky Cup.
However, Väisänen started the season in the Liiga and has played well early on. He has been taking a consistent shift for KooKoo and hasn’t looked out of place. He is averaging just over 10 minutes of ice time per game, and although at times his youth shows, you can see just how comfortable he is getting game in and out. His adjustment to playing against men has been smooth and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he pushes for a spot on the Finnish World Junior team in December.
With Väisänen, one of the first things you’ll notice about him is just how good of a skater he is. He possesses great speed, agility, and edgework, allowing him to navigate the ice with ease. His smooth stride and balance make him a dangerous defender, both in transitioning the puck from defense to offense and in covering opposing players. His skating allows him to get out of a jam, and dictate the tempo of the game as he sees fit. You will regularly see Väisänen activate from the blueline using his skating to great effect in the offensive zone, catching defenders' flat-footed. He also isn’t afraid to use his skating to transport the puck up the ice and is naturally quite an effective player in the transitional game because of it.
Väisänen also stands out with his defensive game, as he sees the ice really well and is very good at anticipating the movements of the opposition. He reads the play very well and it enables him to anticipate and intercept passes, disrupt offensive rushes, and create turnovers. Väisänen is quite responsible in his own end using his strong positioning and active stick to break-up plays, however he needs to bulk up if he wants to start winning more 50/50 puck battles and be able to clear the crease more effectively. We should see this through time but with how good of a foundation Väisänen has to build off of, we should only begin to see him become more dominant in the defensive zone as he gains weight.
That brings me to just how versatile of a player Väisänen can be once he matures. His skating, IQ, and defensive prowess allow him to play the game in all situations. He can man the powerplay because of how good he is at transporting the puck and finding open teammates from the blue line. Additionally, he can anchor a penalty kill because of how smart of a defensive player he is. This is a potential minute eater.
Although we have yet to see just how Väisänen’s offensive game has improved over last season because of how he’s being deployed in the Liiga, the very fact that he has been playing in the best league in Finland is a testament to how mature of a game he already plays at 17. I really hope we get to see him play in the upcoming WJC.
Bring on the Videos!
I really like this play from Väisänen, it’s a simple puck retrieval that allows his team to transition from defense to offense. Väisänen does a great job shielding the defender and it gives his team an easy zone entry as a result.
Here is Väisänen’s lone Liiga goal up to this point in time. You can see how he takes advantage of how much space his opponents are giving him and makes them pay with a laser from the point. Fantastic shot and execution here.
This is Väisänen showcasing his potential as a defender who is able to activate during transition to gain the zone or create a scoring chance on the rush. He hasn’t learned to do this with consistency in the Liiga yet, but this is the potential he does have as a puck carrier.
This is a great heads-up play by Väisänen off the puck drop. After his team loses the faceoff in the offensive zone, Väisänen makes a great defensive read. He quickly closes out on the forward and breaks up the pass. These types of heady plays are becoming more of a regular occurrence as he continues to get comfortable playing against men.
Sebastian Soini - Defence - Ilves
6’2, 181lbs - 2006-06-10
Soini has sort of flown under the radar among prospects eligible for the 2024 NHL draft. He didn’t make the Finnish Hlinka team in the summer even though Soini has been thought of as one of the top Finnish players among his age group for a while. Although he has gotten into a few Liiga games early in the season for Ilves, he has spent a good majority of his season thus far in the second-tier men's league in Finland where he plays in the Mestis for Koovee.
Soini stands out in a multitude of aspects, however, the one I’m most impressed with on a consistent basis is how poised he is in the defensive zone. Soini is a standout in his own end - he uses his size and reach to his advantage, effectively breaking up plays with both his stick and his body. He is a reliable shot blocker and excels in one-on-one situations against opposing forwards. His positioning and awareness in the defensive zone are very good for a player his senior.
Although Soini isn’t the most flashy skater, his skating ability is effective and best suited for his playing style as a more defensive defender. Of note, his balance and agility are two of his greatest strengths and that allows him to pivot quickly, maintain good gaps against opposing forwards, and make effective lateral movements to suppress and cut off shooting lanes. Soini is also quite strong on his edges, enabling him to maintain balance in physical battles and when battling for pucks along the boards.
Although his offensive game isn’t the most refined, one thing that stands out in it is his ability to make an effective first pass. Soini can make crisp, tape-to-tape passes to start breakouts effectively. His precision and decision-making with the puck help his teams quickly transition from defense to offense.
So, while Soini may have flown under the radar in the lead-up to the 2024 NHL draft, his performance and potential should not be underestimated. Soini's ability to make precise first passes and facilitate quick breakouts highlights his value as a player who contributes to the transition from defense to offense. While his offensive game may not be as refined as some, his defensive capabilities make him a prospect worth keeping an eye on as he continues to develop and refine his skills.
Bring on the Videos!
Here is Soini pouncing on a loose puck, shielding the defender behind him so he can retrieve the puck and get his team started the other way. Soini is very good at puck retrievals like this and is an aspect of his game I have become quite impressed with.
Again, another impressive puck retrieval and first pass by Soini - he gets into the corner after his teammate freed the puck along the boards, used his body positioning to grab the puck, and skated it behind the net and up ice to start the breakout.
I know.., another puck retrieval clip but this one shows off his skating ability. When given open ice, his opponents were barely able to change before Soini brought it back ice - I just love how seamless he can be at transitioning from defense to offense
This clip showcases his offensive potential. Soini gets the puck at the blue line and has the opposition think he was going to shoot, only to make a quick pass over to his teammate Emil Jarventie for a much better shooting angle. I love how he is showcasing his ability to be deceptive from the blue line here.
This is Soini’s first-ever Liiga point, as he attacks down low with the puck after his forward had stopped at the line after a zone entry. Soini then does a couple of pivots to throw off the defender only to pass it back to the forward who walks in and snipes it on the net. Just a clean play for his first point in the Liiga.
Last one - here Soini does a great job maintaining his gap and keeping his stick in the shooting lane of the forward. Just an excellent defensive read and play.
Dominik Badinka - Defence - Malmö Redhawks
6’3, 183lbs - 2005-11-27
I was a little surprised to see Badinka move from Finland to Sweden for his draft season. Likely he was hoping he’d play more games in the SHL than he would in the Liiga had he stayed in Jokerit’s developmental system. Early on in Sweden, Badinka hasn’t looked out of place. He has been one of the highest-scoring defenders in the J20 league in Sweden and has even seen a couple of games up with Malmo in the SHL where he looked good.. The Czech-born defender has definitely impressed me early on in his draft season.
Badinka is a very intelligent defender. He has an advanced understanding of the game that when combined with his decision-making allows Badinka to excel in various aspects of the game. One of these aspects is how he anticipates plays - he positions himself well to block passing lanes in the defensive end where he sees fit. He is able to jump into the rush and act as a 4th forward while at the same time being in position to stop a rush going the other way. His head is always on a swivel and he is always thinking ahead in the game.
Because of his size at 6’3, he can have a positive impact on the game physically. He is excellent in board battles, especially at the J20 level, where he is outright dominant. He just knows how to position his stick and body to have an advantage in physical battles. He never hesitates to engage in battles in front of the net either - he is a physical presence in front of his crease and Badinka uses his body quite effectively to clear the slot. He can over-commit to being physical at times, however, and I have seen it lead to odd man rushes. While it’s a notable component to Badinka’s game, he could learn how to reel it in every once and a while and pick his spots better.
The last thing I’d like to zero in on with Bainka is how well he moves up and down the ice. He is a very mobile defender who is able to use his four-way mobility to great effect on both ends of the ice. Although Badinka seldom activates from his spot at the blue line, when he does he is able to use his skating in a deceptive way by arching his body one way, making the defense think that he is going one way only to make a quick cut around the defender for a better scoring opportunity. As previously stated, he doesn’t do this often but when he does, it is almost poetic and I hope to see more of this in his game moving forward.
Badinka's journey from Finland to Sweden has unveiled a promising and versatile talent on the ice. His intelligence, physicality, and mobility make him an exciting prospect for the 2024 NHL Draft... With his unique skill set and adaptability, Badinka should see himself called early. I think he has the makings of being called in the first round.
Bring on the Videos!
This is a great video of Badinka that showcases his puck retrieval skills and his ability to transport the puck for zone entries, fighting through numerous defenders to do so.
Here is Badinka doing a fantastic job at closing out on a forward who just received an outlet pass, then being physical and pinning him along the boards to stop the forward in his tracks.
This is by far my favourite Badinka clip and it is easy to see why. He gets the puck at the blueline, does a few head fakes while stick handling and it was enough to make the defender lose balance and fall down and retreat in embarrassment. He plays the puck to his teammate who gets it back to Badinka who throws the puck on the net through multiple defenders, creating a rebound opportunity which his teammate capitalizes on. Beautiful assist.
Heads up play by Badinka here - he gets the puck in the neutral zone, sees that the other team is in the middle of a line change so he takes advantage of it by coming down on the goalie and slipping it through his legs. A great showcase of his skating ability is in this clip.
Ondrej Kos - Wing - Koovee
6’1, 148lbs - 2006-03-07
Kos is a kid who really got on my radar at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup where he and team Czechia pulled off an impressive performance. Kos, although Czech-born, has played the past two seasons in Finland for Ilves’ development system. This season he has played the majority of it on loan to Koovee in the Mestis (Finland’s second-tier men's league) where alongside one of my fellow early season favorites Sebastian Soini - Kos has impressed early on with his offensive skillset.
My favorite element of Kos’ game is how hard he competes game in and game out. He never takes a shift off and always has his feet moving. Kos lives off of applying pressure on both the forecheck and the backcheck and is relentless when chasing a puck carrier. He often causes defenders to struggle at puck retrievals because of the pressure he is applying to them. Kos has an unwavering determination to win puck battles in both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. It is worth mentioning that he isn’t as effective as he could be at the moment given his slight stature, but you can’t teach a player to have as good of a motor as Kos has.
To pair with Kos’ compete level, he is also a great skater. Kos is able to get down the ice in a hurry, possessing a great first step and also very good top-end speed. He is often able to outpace his opponents and is extremely dangerous in the transition game as a result, often leading rushes and being the puck carrier on his line even though he is oftentimes the youngest player on the line. One thing I consistently notice about Kos is that he is difficult to knock off the puck, as he has excellent balance and core strength to be able to maintain puck possession in some of the circumstances he gets put in. One can only imagine how much better he’ll get as he puts on some weight.
Unfortunately for Kos, although I love how he plays the game, I believe his upside may be a bit limited at the next level. He doesn’t change the pace of the game enough and nor does he create offense at a consistent enough level for himself for me to see anything more than a middle six penalty killer at the next level. I’d need to see more offensive production, and smarter offensive plays to think his ceiling is anything more than that. Improving his vision is going to be imperative in relation to his development.
For the remainder of the season, I’ll be fascinated to see if Kos can improve upon his offensive consistency in the Mestis and maybe even see some games at the WJC in December and possibly even in the Liiga. Either way, he’s been great to start the season and a player I’ve come away thoroughly impressed with.
Bring on the Videos!
This is a great representation of Kos’ game. In this clip, you can see him constantly changing his position and angle of attack to help his team on the power play and confuse the defense. He gets rewarded at the end by getting the puck in the slot and beating the goalie.
Another play where Kos is all over the puck in the offensive zone, constantly moving his feet looking for opportunities to strike.
Great play by Kos to identify his teammate was going to throw the puck into center ice.Kos is able to get a high-danger shot off because of his great anticipation on this play.
Kos is able to effectively bring the puck up the ice in transition, and although he loses control of it on the entry, battles back, shields the puck along the wall and makes a nifty backward pass to his teammate to keep the possession in his team's hands.