Physical: Height: 5’11″ / 181 cm, Weight: 198 lbs / 90 kg
TLN Top-20 Ranking From Last Year: N/A
Draft Information: 2019 3rd-round, 84th overall
In the position that the Toronto Maple Leafs are currently in, they will need to have a cycle of high-ceiling prospects reach the NHL at a timely rate. Giving them cheap production for multiple years, while also possibly contributing for a longer length of time and extending the window of contention.
If anything, the recent championship teams like the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals have shown the league that elite talent carries them far but it’s the consistency of always being in the playoffs that ends up finally working out. The Capitals don’t get there without young players like Jakub Vrana or Andre Burakovsky contributing in a depth role while still under 23-years-old. The Blues had 19-year-old Robert Thomas as a key forward for the regular season and playoffs.
The Leafs haven’t won a first-round playoff series yet, but they will eventually and will need some youth to keep that success going down the line. As their current core ages, it will take some draft picks to hit their potential and in recent years there are some players that have that as a possibility.
One defenceman from just this past draft, that has that possibility, is Mikko Kokkonen.
He won’t shock the world in any way, but his ability to keep up at such a young age and contribute enough among players much older than himself, is impressive.
This past season, Kokkonen spent all but one game with Jukurit of the Finnish Liiga, playing a total of 56 games at the top division — a no-doubt top-five league in the world. If anything, this simply shows that he’s beyond his years in terms of on-ice maturity and ability to play with more experienced players.
His style of play could easily translate to North America and into the NHL, but it all depends if he steadily climbs the levels of player development and is able to reach the top.
He will be staying in Finland to play another full season for Jukurit in the Liiga, but no one would be shocked if he comes over to play in the Leafs’ system before he turns 20.
Why Is He In This Tier?
Although his game is at a level of maturity beyond his peers, there’s still that possibility that he stays at that level and never progresses.
He won’t put up the points to really catch some eyes of scouts, but he can run the risk of staying in a defensive role in the Liiga.
Essentially, he doesn’t have an incredibly-high ceiling, but won’t sink so low to not play meaningful minutes on a top-division team.
If he puts up some more points and makes that incredible jump at just 18-years-old, he will no doubt get bumped into the next tier. But for now, there’s just no certainty when it comes to Kokkonen.
When it comes to players like Kokkonen, points don’t really tell the whole story. He was able to score three goals and gather a total of 19 points in his 56 regular season games for Jukurit.
He averaged 17:25 of TOI per game, which was the seventh-most among all defenders on his team — Jukurit seemed to shuffle through players consistently.
His 42.6 CF% at 5v5 leaves a ton to be desired and should be an area for improvement, but again, he was just 17-years-old playing among veterans.
But on a ground level, Jokke Nevalainen of Dobber Prospects was able to view Kokkonen in November of last season and had this to say about him:
Kokkonen has been a full-time player in the Liiga this season. He has 10 points in 21 games which is historically good production for a 17-year-old defenseman. Kokkonen is a reliable two-way defenseman who does everything well but doesn’t excel in any aspect of the game. He isn’t a flashy player by any means but he gets the job done both offensively and defensively. He’s very mature for his age both physically and mentally which has allowed him to play a significant role at the pro level. Kokkonen should be a lock for the World Juniors.
He did not play for Finland this past World Juniors, but he was still able to compete in two games for the U-20 squad for his country, getting three assists across two games.
One aspect that should be touched on is that although he is left-handed, the Finnish defenceman played primarily on the right side of Jukurit’s defence last year. Preferring to play on his off-side is an interesting trait, but could solve some flexibility concerns for whatever team he is on in the future. The ability to play both sides of the ice shouldn’t be discounted.
To get insane depth into the player that Mikko Kokkonen truly is though, 51Leafs wrote an impressive dive into his game earlier this off-season.
It perfectly outlines what to expect from the future of this player and the type of player he is.
If the gifs wear off ever, there’s also a shift-by-shift video of Kokkonen from a game earlier last season.
The joys of looking at young hockey players and instilling a pile of hope on their shoulders.
Ultimately, what Kokkonen can become is exciting, but also there’s not much to worry about when it comes to the worst-case scenario.
He can become an excellent two-way defenceman that all 30 teams crave for. Reliable defensively but can also contribute to a power play if needed, or just be able to pass the puck well.
But the floor that Kokkonen has is fairly high for a player his age. He’s already ahead in his timeline compared to other skaters that haven’t even reach their domestic top division yet and will no doubt see more time on the ice this upcoming season for Jukurit.
If it all falls short and he never moves to North America, or becomes just a steady AHL defender, that’s still a fairly successful route to take for a 3rd-round pick.
There’s plenty of excitement that should be warranted, but even if Kokkonen turns into a depth player at the NHL level, there’s not too much to worry about.
Kokkonen will spend all of next season in Finland with Jukurit and will keep his steady development that he has been seeing each year.
If at this time next year we’re talking about an offensive improvement and he was able to keep his shot attempt percentages close to 50 per cent, then that should be seen as another year towards eventually making the Leafs.
He no doubt has the potential and tools to make it into the NHL, it all depends on a year-by-year basis and seeing what decisions he makes. If he wants to quickly come to North America and become yet another under-20 defenceman for the Marlies, then that would bring a lot of hope for the future of the Leafs’ group of defencemen for years to come.
It’s boring, but to judge what Kokkonen could become is extremely “wait and see”. But all the signs are there and he is going to keep on playing with players older than him and he could continue on the usual path.