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Mikko Kokkonen just turned 18 in January but has been playing against men for two seasons now. This season he set an SM-Liiga record for scoring by an under-18 defender with three goals and 19 points in 56 games played for Jukurit. Last season he played 12 games for Jukurit. He also put up nine assists in 29 games while on loan to Ketterä in the Mestis, or the second division of Finnish professional hockey. In 2016-17 he made both his Mestis and SM Liiga debuts, getting in four total games against men, despite being in his age-16 season.
Kokkonen has also been an important part of the Finnish national junior teams, often playing a year ahead of his age. In 2016, he played in the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge. He followed that up by playing in the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, putting up one goal in four games. Continuing as an underage player with the Under-18 team, he put up three assists in seven tournament games and helped the Finnish team to the gold medal at the 2018 IIHF U18 World Championship. This past season Kokkonen again appeared at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup and the 2019 Under-18s.
Mikko Kokkonen Scouting Report
Defence — shoots Left
Born January 18th, 2001 — Mikkeli, Finland
Height 5’11” — Weight 198 lbs [181 cm / 90 kg]
Kokkonen will need to work on his skating going forward. His first few steps and his acceleration are a bit below average and will need to get better. His feet could be quicker and his startup less choppy. Once he gets moving his top-end speed allows him to keep up with the play. His edgework and agility are very good. This allows him to keep himself in front of attackers and maintain good gap control. It also allows him to walk the line in the offensive zone to open up shooting and passing lanes. Kokkonen has good muscle mass and core strength for his age. He is strong on the boards and in front of the net. His balance is excellent and he is able to fight through checks and is tough to knock off the puck.
With the numbers Kokkonen put up, it is clear that he has offensive skill. He uses his agility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. This helps him to get his shots through traffic and on the net. Kokkonen has a hard slap shot. He also has a very good wrist shot and a quick release. Kokkonen can sneak down from the line to get that shot off from the top of the faceoff circles. He keeps his shot low, allowing teammates to create a screen, get a deflection or to pounce on a rebound.
Kokkonen is also an effective playmaker. He makes a strong first pass, either starting the breakout through head-manning the puck in the neutral zone, or hitting a forward streaking through the neutral zone with a long home run pass. He can also quarterback the play from the point, using his agility to create passing lanes. Kokkonen does not lead the rush very often but is not afraid to join the rush as a trailer.
Kokkonen plays a smart defensive game. He has good gap control against the rush and keeps his man to the outside. He also does a good job of cutting down passing lanes and using his stick to break up plays. Kokkonen is willing to battle in front of the net and play a physical game along the boards. However, he is not a big hitter. Rather he uses his body to win battles for loose pucks as well as protect the puck when he gets it.
Projection and Comparison
Kokkonen does a lot of things well, both with and without the puck. However, he needs to improve his skating. He will have time to make those adjustments and could be ready in a couple of years. Kokkonen could become a top-four defender with plenty of power play opportunities if he reaches his ceiling. Kokkonen’s game is reminiscent of Erik Gustafsson but this is a stylistic comparison only and not one based on talent or ability.
The following is a compilation of some of the highlight packages and features of Mikko Kokkonen that are available on youtube.
Check back tomorrow for the next prospect in our NHL Draft series.
Main Photo by Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images