Three Seattle Kraken-affiliated prospects made rosters for their respective under-20 national teams for the IIHF World Junior Championship: Shane Wright for Team Canada and Jani Nyman and Niklas Kokko for Team Finland. After a couple pre-tournament games and a few group stage games, my focus will be to check in on Finns Kokko and Nyman. And if you stick around to the end, I’ll give a quick take on what I’ve seen from Wright as well.
With the appropriate amount of caution about overemphasizing the predicative importance of just a few tournament games, let’s dive in.
Niklas Kokko G
2022-23 Club Statistics
Team League GP GAA SV% SO Record
Kärpät Liiga 1 0.00 .000 0 0-0-0
Hermes Mestis 12 2.88 .904 1 3-6-3
2023 WJC Statistics
Kokko hasn’t yet seen the ice for Finland, and probably will not don the Suomi blue for the remainder of the tournament either. He is the third goaltender on the roster and has not yet dressed.
That said, Kokko’s presence on the roster is itself remarkable. Finland is notorious for producing goaltenders. To rank among the top three under-20 players at the position for Finland is a strong endorsement of his club play, as well as his performance at Finland’s selection camp.
And Kokko may yet have a future as Finland’s No. 1 junior goalie. Kokko is still 18 years old and will be eligible for the 2024 World Junior Championship. The two goalies playing ahead of Kokko—Aku Koskenvuo (2021 Vancouver draftee) and Jani Lampinen—are both 19 years old and will be ineligible next season. Kokko’s presence on the roster this year suggests Team Finland views him as the lead contender to start next year.
All of this is impressive considering what we were saying about Kokko just six months ago. In my pre-draft analysis, I suggested the Kraken could look at drafting a goalie with one of their cluster of second-round picks. At the time, only two goaltenders were projected in that range on public boards: Tyler Brennan of Canada, who was No. 77 on the Sound Of Hockey Big Board, and Topias Leinonen of Finland, who was No. 86. Kokko was off the radar entirely, checking in at No. 293.
Since the draft, however, Kokko has leapfrogged Leinonen not only in the mind of Team Finland, but also, apparently, in the eyes of many scouts. Scott Wheeler of The Athletic reported Kokko “always comes up in conversations with folks in Finland as the best goalie in this age group.” Impressive stuff for Kokko, even if we don’t see him on the ice.
Jani Nyman LW
2022-23 Club Statistics
Team League GP G A TP PIM +/-
Ilves U20 U20 SM-sarja 2 5 1 6 2 4
Ilves Liiga 21 7 3 10 2 -2
2023 WJC Statistics
Team League GP G A TP PIM +/-
Finland U20 WJC-20 3 2 1 3 0 2
Finland U20 (all) Int’l Exh. 5 5 5 10 2 8
Just glancing at Jani Nyman (No. 22) on the ice at the World Juniors, you’d be excused if you thought you were looking at an adult dropped into a peewee league game. Every bit of 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he cuts an imposing, professional power-forward figure whenever he is on the ice. And he has frequently found offensive success by playing downhill directly through the defense.
But there is more to this left-shot winger than just his size. Skating regularly in Finland’s middle six, Nyman has three points (two goals and one assist) in three tournament games for Team Finland so far, tied for second on the team. He is also the team’s leading forward contributor by the “game score” metric tracked by Elite Prospects, which gives players credit for discrete game contributions, including shots, shot assists, zone entries, zone exits, and play break ups. This means he ranks ahead of the likes of Brad Lambert and Joakim Kemell. On top of that, Nyman is also the team’s second youngest player (born July 30, 2004).
Digging in on Nyman, it is his shot that stands out the most. He can deliver heavy wrist shots off the rush or cycle. Even more terrifying is Nyman’s slap shot. He patrols the right circle on Finland’s power play, which looks to overload the left side and then feed the puck back to Nyman for a one-timer.
Grabbing some post on the way to the back of the net, it’s a bit surprising that puck didn’t split in two.
Nyman has a scorer’s mentality. He is willing to drive to the net and force the play, regardless of the physical toll. He also has well-honed instincts for when to get to the difficult areas of the ice for a scoring chance.
Most importantly, he’s unafraid to put the puck on net from anywhere on the ice. I have not seen him squander a scoring chance on the hope of a better one. In this respect, his shooting package and approach reminds me a bit of Daniel Sprong, albeit from the left side. And like Sprong, I have little doubt that Nyman could score 20+ goals in the NHL in his prime if his other skills can keep him in the lineup.
Nyman is not an offensive playmaker in the sense of scanning the offensive zone, diagnosing, and finding an open teammate (like Shane Wright does, for example). But this does not particularly concern me because this not going to be Nyman’s role. He works well off of simpler cycles, net drives, and give-and-go exchanges. If he reaches his peak, he will be able to drive offensive success by physical forechecking along the boards and in the corners and power possession play. These traits are often overlooked, but not always undervalued by teams. A similar (though currently superior) skillset got Juraj Slafkovsky drafted No. 1 overall.
The offensive skillset leaves plenty to dream on. And Nyman is not without defensive skills either. He shows potential within Finland’s structured transition defense, stepping up to physically deny controlled zone entries. In the defensive zone, he can win board battles, close on his mark, and force the puck out of the defensive zone with physical play, even if he is not always setting up an offensive-minded breakout.
But there are at least two areas of concern for me, with one being a bright red flag for his NHL prospects. First, and perhaps less troubling, is his overall defensive effort, particularly on the backcheck. Nyman can rush like a freight train when Finland is playing downhill with possession. But the same urgency to defend the opposing rush just isn’t there most of the time. This is something that he needs to clean up or he could end up with a journeyman career like Sprong’s—that is, if Nyman even makes it that far.
My second—and more serious—concern is Nyman’s skating agility. He lacks NHL-level movement skills. He plays a bit stiff and hunched over, which limits his ability to rapidly react to passes or mirror opponents in coverage. His skating stride serves him in a straight line on the rush but is a major limitation in traffic or in a defensive posture. Will he be able to play fast enough to use his shot and physicality or will he be stuck chasing the play? The major caveat here is that I’ve only watched about 50 minutes of Nyman’s play in these international games, but based on what I’ve seen, I am concerned that, absent improvement, his skating will limit his chances to earn a role at the NHL level.
So, where does this leave us with Nyman? First, it is important to remember he is still young and is currently signed through 2023-24 with Liiga club team Ilves. So, the Finn has another year and a half to work on the rough areas of his game before any decision needs to be made about bringing him over to the United States.
Optimistically, the narrower North American ice surface (when compared with the wider international sheets used in Liiga) should allow Nyman to leverage his physicality and reach and incrementally decrease his mobility concerns. Pair that with hard-trained development of his four-way skating agility and you could have an effective defensive player proficient at denying zone entries and forcing the puck out of the defensive zone along the boards. And, on offense, you would have a legitimate top-six goal-scoring winger when paired with proper playmakers.
Pessimistically, he cannot overcome his mobility concerns and tops out as borderline AHL/NHL player for a few years before returning to Europe for the balance of his career.
If you want to watch Jani Nyman yourself, head over to the Deep Sea Hockey YouTube Channel and check out all of his shifts from his December 19, 2022, pre-tournament game against the United States and his December 26, 2022, group stage game against Switzerland.
Quick thoughts on Shane Wright
Shane Wright was named Team Canada’s captain and has been skating as the team’s first-line center. It’s hard to imagine a more integral or trusted position for a player. And, on paper, Wright has not disappointed. He is tied for third on the team with five points in three tournament games.
Digging past his statistics though, many of the same concerns that dogged him in the NHL have followed him to the WJC. Wright remains a strong shooter, of course. Wright’s ice vision and passing ability have continued to show up too. This is an ample skill set for a strong NHL career.
But if he is going to reach the level predicted for him pre-draft, he is going to need to gain confidence possessing the puck and driving offense. The puck almost never rests on his stick for more than a beat before Wright has moved it out. At the NHL level this could be attributed to Wright feeling out the level of play. But at the WJC, Team Canada needs Wright to take over the rush and quarterback an offense. Right now, he is more often deferring to his teammates, and his team’s scoring prospects are worse for it. It is troubling if Wright feels like he can’t keep up and control the pace of play at this (elite) junior level. Wright has just one even-strength assist. Canada needs more from him.
On the bright side, Wright has looked more physically comfortable at the WJC, engaging in contested puck battles while playing against similar-age competition. This is a promising sign for improved play on the forecheck over time.