Next up in the ‘back to school’ series featuring Carolina Hurricanes prospects below the AHL level is Janne Kuokkanen.
Menu of previous ‘back to school’ articles on Hurricanes prospects
For anyone just returning to hockey after the offseason, here is a catch up reading list for similar articles on other Hurricanes prospects:
Janne Kuokkanen marks a return to the well for the Hurricanes selecting skilled Finnish forwards/wings in the second round of both the 2015 and 2016 NHL drafts with Sebastian Aho in 2015 and Janne Kuokkanen in 2016. With Sebastian Aho having a tremendous 2015-16 season and now being expected to make the Hurricanes 2016-17 NHL roster, it makes sense to try again. Kuokkanen is a skilled forward/wing who had 53 points in 47 games playing in the U20 Finnish junior league last season. For 2016-17, he is making the jump to North America and has already joined the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.
Interview with Brendan Ross, Director of Scouting for TheScout.ca on London Knights situation that Kuokkanen is stepping into
Brendan Ross (Twitter=@RossyYoungblood) currently serves as the Director of Scouting for TheScout.ca (Twitter=@TheScoutDotCa), an independent scouting agency covering hockey prospects. Throughout his career, Ross has penned NHL Draft feature articles, published annual rankings and appeared on radio talk shows such as FAN590 and TSN1200.
Canes and Coffee: How did the Knights finish up the 2015-16 season, what is the outlook for the Knights for the 2016-17 season?
Brendan Ross from TheScout.ca: The London Knights had a tremendous 2015-16 season after marching their way to the OHL Championship where they hoisted the J.Ross Robertson trophy after eliminating the Niagara IceDogs in four straight games. With their OHL Championship, London secured a birth into the coveted CHL Memorial Cup Tournament as one of four teams vying for supremacy as the top Canadian junior hockey team in the nation. London would eventually win the 98th edition of the Mastercard Memorial Cup in Red Deer with an overtime victory against Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, with Flames prospect Matt Tkachuk scoring the clincher.
Heading into the 2016-17 season, London remains a top contender in the Ontario Hockey League despite several question marks surrounding returning players. Mitch Marner headlines the group of potential returnees who may or may not return to the Labatt Center this season. Even without Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk and the departing Christian Dvorak (Coyotes prospect), London remains arguably the top team in the league alongside Memorial Cup hosts Windsor Spitfires. Thanks to shrewd drafting and recruiting, the Knights are blessed with the ability to promote talented young players up the lineup to fill the void. Expected back are defenders Olli Juolevi (Vancouver), Victor Mete (Montreal) and Chris Martenet (Dallas), along with talented forwards Max Jones (Anaheim), Cliff Pu (Buffalo), Kole Sherwood (Columbus), and JJ Piccinich (Toronto). Add in two excellent goaltenders in Tyler Parsons (Calgary) and Tyler Johnson and London has the making of a dominant team. Rookies Alex Formenton, Ian Blacker and Jacob Golden are all stellar players who, alongside Robert Thomas, will be looking to display their skill to scouts for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Liam Foudy is a fresh-faced 1st round OHL pick to watch as well.
Canes and Coffee: What is the situation at the forward position for the Knights, and how would expect Janne Kuokkanen to fit into the picture in terms of role and possibly line?
Brendan Ross from TheScout.ca: Janne Kuokkanen was arguably one of the smartest selections of the 2016 CHL Import Draft because the two-way Finn can immediately fill a void in the lineup that was left by Christian Dvorak graduating. Early signs from preseason competition project Kuokkanen as a fixture on the top line and first powerplay units. His strength, skill and smarts will be utilized alongside whomever he gets placed with – Marner, Tkachuk, Pu or Jones. It’s expected that he steps right into the Knights lineup and produces point-per-game numbers and is leaned on in both offensive and defensive special team situations. His versatility as a center who is capable of flanking the wing, could see him paired with Tkachuk and/or Marner if either of them are returned to London.
Canes and Coffee: What things have you heard about Kuokkanen prior to his arrival for the 2016-17 regular season in London?
Brendan Ross from TheScout.ca: Fortunately, prior to his selection in the CHL Import Draft, I was able to gather some international views of Kuokkanen at both the U17 and U18 competitions and always walked away impressed. Had Kuokkanen competed on North American ice during his NHL Draft season, I personally wouldn’t have been surprised to see him selected inside the first round. Luckily for the Hurricanes, they were able to snatch him up in the 2nd round. By the end of this season, I think we can expect many people to be scratching their heads at how he wasn’t a Top 25 pick. His attention to detail, natural feel for the game and overall skill and strength allow him to leave an impact on both sides of the puck and that’s a transitional quality to higher levels of competition.
Canes and Coffee: Is there anything else that might be of interest about Janne Kuokkanen and the the 2016-17 London Knights that might be of interest to Carolina Hurricanes fans?
Brendan Ross from TheScout.ca: While Knights fans are excited for Janne Kuokkanen’s regular season debut in the OHL, I think they’ll be slightly disappointed when they realize that his time in London will be short-lived. It’s safe to expect Kuokkanen to be a one-and-done in the junior ranks as he should show ‘Canes management that by the end of this season, he will be ready to turn pro and may even challenge for an NHL roster spot. For Londoners, they are hoping he will at least play a big part in repeating as Memorial Cup Champions.
Interview with Zachary DeVine, Head of the Hockey Department at Last Word on Sports
Canes and Coffee: What did Janne Kuokkanen accomplish during the 2015-16 season that boosted him into the early second round in the 2016 NHL draft?
Zachary DeVine from Last Word on Sports: I had Kuokkanen ranked 50th in my mock draft at HockeyProphets.com, so the Hurricanes were well within the range on a player they liked in terms of value. It was a solid pick for them. Mostly it was a solid year for Karpat in J20 Liiga action. 22 goals and 31 assists as a 17-year-old in a U20 league is solid. Two goals in his only game for Karpat’s main club didn’t hurt either.
Canes and Coffee: How would you describe Kuokkanen’s skill set, style of play and strengths in 2-4 sentences?
Zachary DeVine from Last Word on Sports: Kuokkanen is a complete, intelligent player that makes others around him better. His skating needs some attention, but it isn’t holding him back at this point. He has a good compete level and processes the game well with an above average shot.
Canes and Coffee: What areas do you see for Janne Kuokkanen to improve on his path to one day being an NHL player?
Zachary DeVine from Last Word on Sports: His skating is not bad, but an area of weakness in an otherwise strong game. First steps are something that need special attention.
Canes and Coffee: If his development goes well, what do you see as Janne Kuokkanen’s ceiling and role at the NHL level?
Zachary DeVine from Last Word on Sports: He is a responsible second line center that can be deployed in all game situations if his development goes forward as it should.
Canes and Coffee: Is there anything else that might be of interest to Carolina Hurricanes fans that is not addressed by the questions above?
Zachary DeVine from Last Word on Sports: The Hurricanes have gone to Finland a multiple times in recent years to draft excellent players. Kuokkanen will be yet another one, and getting a year in the OHL with a franchise like the London Knights will only help his development.
Canes and Coffee sends a huge thank you to Zachary DeVine and Brendan Ross for their help covering Hurricanes prospect Janne Kuokkanen. If you are Twitter-inclined and have a minute, please send them a quick thank you.