Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25: #20 Niko Huuhtanen should be a top-10 prospect
I’m just gonna come out and say it. You all sleep hard on Niko Huuhtanen. This 19-year-old, 6’2” power forward with speed and poise is one of the WHL’s top prospects and should be considered one of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top prospects.
Huuhtanen played in the WHL last season at the age of 18. Here are some comparative numbers just to give you an idea of the kind of season he’s had.
- 9th in WHL points among U19 skaters
- 4th in WHL goals among U19 skaters
- 8th in points per game among U19 skaters
- 5th even-strength goals among D+1 forwards
He is in the top 20 in all of those categories when compared to every U20 skater in the league. He’s even ahead of a few first-round picks from his own draft! It was, to say the least, an outstanding year for this seventh-round pick drafted in the Finnish junior league. Yeah, you might have just found out he was a 2021 seventh-round pick.
When researching Huuhtanen, I had to look at his production and even-strength shooting in case he received big power play points and shot spike. Seeing his equal strength rate so high was both encouraging and relieving. As for his shooting percentage, he shot 16% in the WHL, which is about 5% above his draft class average, but by no means an outlier.
Finish Huuhtanen’s past before getting to his future. The right winger played in the Finland U20 league for a few seasons where he scored at around one point per game even there. He was selected for the Finland Under-18 team and picked up five points in seven games for them. And this year he was selected for the U20 Four Nations Cup team and he scored one goal with four points in three games.
One thing I noticed in Huuhtanen’s boxing scores was his high number of penalties. Looking into the matter, he has seven fights in the WHL that have totaled 65 penalty minutes alone due to game misconducts and penalty kicks. So really, in 65 games, he only took 10 penalties that dropped his team on a skater. I’m pretty good with that, especially when you consider that guy brings some grunt and energy to the game. I also found it interesting that he only took eight penalties in 33 international tournament games for Finland . So it seems like those extra penalties go away when things get serious, which is the right attitude to have.
Next season, Huuhtanen will return to Finland, having been promoted to the top side of Liiga. Jukurit was the second-best team in the Liiga last season, so Huuhtanen is going to be part of a competitive team with good teammates. Last year, Islanders 2021 first-round pick Aatu Raty scored 40 points in 41 games. This will be the bar for me to see if Huuhtanen is as good in a men’s league as he was playing junior hockey against his peers.
Looking at his SHOT! (Strong points)
I think the piece of Huuhtanen’s game that becomes clear right away is his booming shot. He can absolutely wire it to the power play with both quick release and lightning fast speed. His highlights when scoring from the backdoor aren’t lazy touches, but he moves with speed and timing to put the puck in straight away.
The next thing I see from Huuhtanen is his size and ability to use it. He’s very smart down low in terms of using his size to overpower the opposition, but also with good timing to open up space when the pass is ready to come.
His vision and creativity are also very evident in his goals, with his ability to swing very wide and make a quick pass in the same motion. It’s very good and very disappointing for a big guy. He will be useful when asked to work in tight spaces in front of the net at the professional level. We’ll see him start his pro career next season, but hopefully see him in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch as soon as possible. I firmly believe that this child has a future in the NHL.
Here is the same lens in full frame.
So all of this praise begs the question. Why wasn’t this guy caught until the seventh round? Did he show none of that talent in the Finnish junior league (which NHL scouts watch absolutely all the time) or did he really take big point totals?
I honestly have no idea, so I’m contacting here who has read or knows why this perspective was written so late. Does he contractually refuse to play in the defensive zone? Are there any off-ice issues? What is happening here? We would appreciate your help or any other advice.