Mikko Kokkonen saw his role increase dramatically as the season went along, eventually appearing in 56 Liiga games by the end of the campaign.
He’s been a regular for the Finnish junior teams throughout his development and had a strong showing for them at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup to start the year. Unfortunately, like many of the Finns, his performance at the U-18 World Championship to close out the season wasn’t great.
He has some flaws to his game that may limit his overall upside, but he has a lot of attributes to his game that suggests that he is worth taking a gamble on.
- Age/Birthdate: 18 / January 18, 2001
- Birthplace: Mikkeli, Finland
- Frame: 5-foot-11 / 198 lbs
- Position: Defence
- Handedness: Left
- Draft Year Team: Jukurit (Liiga)
- U18 WJC Gold Medal
2018-19 Stat Rundown
|GP||G||A||P||INV%||5v5 Pr INV%||5v5 ePr60||SEAL||Sh/GP||Sh%||5v5 eTOI||GF%||GF%rel||GD60 rel||XLS%||Top XLS%||XPR|
Kokkonen is a well-rounded defenceman who thrives in the defensive zone.
His biggest issue is his acceleration and straight-line speed – both will need to improve for him to continue to be effective. In large part, the issues comes from poor technique and stride execution, which give him the appearance of skating in quicksand when he is trying to generate speed; this issue persists while going either forwards or backwards. The feet and body are moving but he isn’t getting where he needs to go quick enough. In my opinion, it appears that is very top heavy and could use to move some of that weight into his legs by adjusting his training.
Kokkonen had a very productive season this past year with Jukurit. He has a good snap shot and a heavy slapshot. He is effective in the offensive zone at moving the puck to his teammates in shooting positions. He isn’t the most effective puck transporter, instead relying on getting the puck out to his forwards, following the play, and then get himself into the high left side to move the puck or slam it towards the net. The left handed defender is notably adept at getting his shot through to the net — it rarely hits his opponents stick or shinpad.
#2019NHLDraft eligible defenseman Mikko Kokkonen scored this PP goal today. He also added a primary assist on the PP.
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) March 14, 2019
Some more creativity or assertiveness with his offensive play would go a long way for him. He did see regular time on their power play and was effective in that role.
In the defensive zone, Kokkonen is very smart with his engagements despite the obvious flaws to his skating. He is very good at angling his opponents away from the net and reducing their options, which helps force turnovers. He is also very good at simply being in his opponent’s space when they don’t have the puck without taking a penalty or getting left behind.
Great work by Mikko Kokkonen (#8) under pressure, he gets his 10th point of the season in just 21 games. Pretty impressive stuff from a 17-year-old defenseman. #Liiga #2019NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/4A9E51ppqt
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) November 21, 2018
That speaks to how well he can process the game and how he can anticipate his opponent’s offensive awareness.
He can struggle with opponents that transition with speed or that get a step on him. He is decent at being aware when it happens but just can’t keep up.
Kokkonen has been a bigger kid for the last few years and thus was effective and got more opportunity. In order for him to continue to be an effective player, he will need to improve his skating. But his hockey IQ and well-rounded game could make him a worthwhile project.
Given his statistical profile in Liiga this season, Kokkonen was limited to a single cohort match. Given that the match was Joni Pitkanen, a veteran of more than 500 NHL games, pGPS knows no better than to assign an expected likelihood of success of 100%.
This shouldn’t come as too big a surprise given how much he produced — it was the most points by a U-18 player in Liiga since 1981. However, it’s fair to suggest that his production wasn’t really a true representation of his season, his play style or his potential. He is more effective in the defensive zone and got a point boost by having such a big role for his team.
Furthermore, his skating should be a big red flag and thus takes some of the shine off his game.
As we can also see, almost every player he played with regularly saw their goals-for percentage take a dive when playing with Kokkonen compared to without him. This isn’t entirely unusual for a player of his age in pro hockey, but it’s something worth keeping in mind.
His role increased dramatically as the season went along which is a very encouraging sign for a defensive prospect of his age and also suggests that he should have a big role for Jukurit again next season.
Lastly, his SEAL adjusted points per game reflects favourably on him:
That 1.02 puts him as the 28th highest player in this draft class, and the third best defenceman after Ville Heinola and Bowen Byram. Though, as mentioned, his production likely oversold his offensive ability.
The draft analysis tools look favourably on him when you project on what he might develop into. But the underlying numbers present some cautionary flags on how effective he was. Ultimately, he was given a big role this year and did okay in it. His flaws held him back at times but overall you have to be encouraged by what he did. He outscored some really impressive U-18 players in Liiga history and that should be noted.
He was better in the first half of the season and then seemed to struggle as the year went along. That leads me to believe that he was just doing to much and thus wasn’t playing up to his capacity. This has also meant that many people have soured on him as the season went along despite him having such a good start to the year.
It’s worth mentioning again that his skating and agility will need to improve for him to have a chance to be anything more than a depth option. But he is worth the gamble. The drafting team will retain his rights for four years and if they are confident in their development team to rectify the skating issues, there could be an effective NHL defenceman to be had.
Rolling Season Data
Raw data for the charts used in this article came from eliteprospects.com and liiga.fi.
Some clips were pulled from videos from prospectshifts.com. Check out Mikko Kokonen page here (paywall). Other clips were pulled from original broadcasts, with all rights reserved for the original broadcast companies.
Founder and analyst for NextGenHockey.ca — Contributor to The Athletic Vancouver, EliteProspects, CanucksArmy, and Canucks.com.
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