Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Wednesday afternoon the Washington Capitals were able to ink promising prospect Axel Jonsson-Fjallby. Hours later they announced the signing undrafted free agent right winger Juuso Ikonen. What’s unique about him is he’s Finnish, which the Capitals rarely have in their system, and he’s very small. He comes in at 5’10” and 172 pounds. Luckily for him, the North American style of hockey has adapted to his size, so he could make an impact over here.
Ikonen is extremely quick, shifty, and creative. And don’t let his size fool you, he can get physical. He reminds me of a more skilled Nathan Walker.
The interesting fact about Ikonen is that in the 2013 draft he was projected to be drafted in the first 3 rounds, but never was. Here are some scouting reports on Ikonen in his draft year:
Corey Pronman: Ikonen is an exceptionally skilled player who produced an impressive amount for an undersized, U18 forward in Finland’s top professional league. His skill set is explosive and dynamic. He has outstanding skating ability, and he can jet through the neutral zone, creating a ton of space off of his rushes. He also has high-end puck skills, which combined with his skating can make him a handful to contain. He has elements of flash to his game, as he can make appearances on highlight reels through completion of difficult plays, but sometimes he will try to do too much. He has above-average ability as a passer, if not better, and he can create off of the perimeter very well if the tempo slows down. Ikonen also shows some quality finishing skills. His main issue is his size. Ikonen measures in at 5’9″, 170 pounds. He needs great offensive tools to potentially be even an average scorer at the NHL level. Despite this, he works very hard, and he will try to fight through checks. His ability to win battles against big North American players is a significant question mark.
The Scouting Report: Small winger has proven himself as a high level offensive threat… Has great determination and ability to generate offensive chances… Compete level is above average but we question his grit… Will benefit greatly from increased strength moving forward.
Dobber Hockey: Juuso Ikonen is a skilled and fast winger with high hockey IQ. Plays a decent physical game despite his small size and is not afraid of battling physically. Has been able to put up good point totals on every level he has played so far. Potential of becoming a scoring line forward in the NHL.
Bleacher Report had him going 29th in their mock draft.
— FinnProspects (@FinnProspects) May 2, 2018
As you can see, he was highly regarded before the 2013 draft, but for some reason he wasn’t selected. If I had to guess I would say his size was the main reason no one called his name on draft day. He was listed anywhere from 5’7″ to 5’9″ and less than 170 pounds before the summer of 2013, so it probably scared a lot of teams away.
Luckily now, players his size can thrive as long as they are smart and have skill. And as you can see from the highlight video below, he’s chalk full of speed, skill and high hockey IQ.
Unfortunately the video is three years old, so let’s look at the most recent stats he had for his team, Brynas IF, in the Swedish Hockey League. He posted 12 goals and 14 assists in 49 games, good for 10th in the SHL among 23 and unders. Those 26 points average out to about 25 points in the NHL over the course of an 82 game season. Obviously nothing crazy but that’s good for a 3rd liner in the NHL.
But after digging deeply into his stats, it’s possible that he could have had even more points in the SHL. His 26 points don’t seem like much, but that was good for 3rd among forwards on his team (4th overall). To boot, he was 11th (!!!) on his team in average ice time per game among just the forwards. So essentially he was getting 4th line time but put up top 6 points. What if he was getting top 6 time? I don’t think close to 40 points would be out of the question for him.
It’s not possible to see how those minutes were spread out. He did have one power play goal, but we don’t know how much time was given to him. It’s doubtful he was getting much PK time with his size. But it still stands he wasn’t getting as much time as he should have been receiving.
Could the Caps have found a legit player that was once regarded as a 1st round pick that was never given a chance? Most likely not. Juuso is already 23 years old, so whatever he is, he is. The Caps will find out quickly if he’s worth anything once he plays his first season in North America. If he can translate his speed and skill onto the smaller ice then there’s a real chance Caps could have found a gem, but until he proves that it’s not worth getting too excited just yet.
At the end of the day it cost the Capitals zero picks to sign him, so it’s no risk and all reward. If he doesn’t work out then o well, nothing lost, but if he does find his game here then it’s a steal. At the very least Ikonen should be able to help the Hershey Bears who desperately need forwards with his skill set.
By Luke Adomanis