I guess we’ll stick with the theme from yesterday and keep on talking about Finnish defensemen. A lot of the same things can be said about Niemela and Kokkonen, so excuse me if it looks like I plagiarized Nick Richard’s article, but that doesn’t change that like Niemela, Kokkonen is smooth skating defenseman with a good head on his shoulders that isn’t overly flashy and the Leafs were fortunate that he slid to the 3rd round of the draft.
|RANK||GRADE||Time until NHL ready|
Drafted: 2019 3rd Round, 84th Overall
What kind of player is he?
I’m going to jump straight to a player comparison. Player comparisons are generally terrible, and never accurate, but that’s not going to stop me from repeatedly going back to that well, and say the kind of player that the Leafs will get in Mikko Kokkonen is a player who plays a very Carl Gunnarsson style of hockey. That’s not to say he’ll be as good or as bad as Gunnarsson, depending on your opinion of Gunnarsson, but simply it speaks to Kokkonen being a steady kind of defenseman who isn’t going to add a whole lot in the way of offensive flair, he’s not going to be a physical presence, and not a standout in any one area. He’s just a good reliable defender who will eat minutes, play solid positional hockey, and move the puck out of his zone in an unpanicked fashion that allows the play to take shape.
#Leafs prospect Mikko Kokkonen enters the zone, takes the puck around the net and makes a nice pass out front to end up with a secondary assist. He played 19:29 today and finished with two assists in a 5-2 victory. pic.twitter.com/h0Apkr4dfd
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) November 25, 2020
On second thought, maybe there’s a little offense to Kokkonen’s game after all. He’s certainly taking advantage of the big ice of Europe, but last time I checked that was allowed.
Of course, Kokkonen will first and foremost be considered a defensive defenseman, but not in the ugly way we use that term for players like Cody Ceci or Roman Polak, instead in the responsible, positional way he plays:
In order to fully appreciate what Mikko Kokkonen brings to the table, you have to appreciate what *doesn’t* happen when he’s on the ice. Love this PK shift from him here. LD on the RS in this clip (yellow jersey). pic.twitter.com/zgTVNPHjIK
— Josh Simpson (@joshsimpson77) November 7, 2020
Kokkonen has been regularly playing around 20 minutes a night, and is on the top pairing of his team. Before his sudden run of offense, Kokkonen started the year with 1 assist in the first 14 games, and when he comes to North America, it’s the defensive game that will earn him a spot on the Leafs.
By the Numbers
#Leafs prospect Mikko Kokkonen currently leads Jukurit in CF% and ice time at 21:21 per game. They don’t fare so well when the 19 year old defenceman isn’t on the ice. https://t.co/qlF0VBNYLq
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) November 7, 2020
So let’s start off with the fact that Jukurit doesn’t seem to be doing too well, and while Kokkonen is getting top pairing usage, he probably wouldn’t be in that role on a number of other Liiga teams.
Now let’s also look at the fact that Kokkonen seems to be thriving, despite facing that level of competition, and with his quality of teammates. According to the Liiga website, Kokkonen has averaged 21 minutes flat per night.
Stats from Liiga website
Like I’ve mentioned above, there isn’t much in the way of offence from Kokkonen. Interestingly enough, two of his three goals last year were game winners, so there’s some fun trivia for some of you and an argument that he’s clutch for others. He doesn’t take a ton of penalties while playing against top competition, though he’s certainly trended up over his previous years, already passing his penalty total for his 39 game season last year.
What’s next for Kokkonen?
Well, his immediate future likely involves a trip to Edmonton for the World Juniors. Kokkonen’s January birthday allows him to sneak in one more year of eligibility, and he’ll likely play a significant role for the Finnish team. Last year, Kokkonen had 2 goals in his seven games, so that was unexpected.
Beyond that, Kokkonen isn’t going to be in North America this year. He’ll play his 3rd full year in the Liiga, and then likely be North America bound next season when Toronto can open up a bit more space on the Marlies, and Kokkonen adjust to being a full time player on smaller ice.
With the low risk style of play that Kokkonen plays, it’s likely that he’ll find himself carving out a niche as the safety net for a high risk partner, and that’s not a bad situation to find himself in. His smart and safe play could earn him a look with the Leafs a couple of seasons out.
While as a TLN group the mode response to the prospect grade for Kokkonen was a C, he was right on the fence of being considered a B level prospect, and honestly that’s where I consider him to be. He might lack the flash of other Leafs prospects, even the defensive ones, but he’s got that steady presence vibe that excites no one and is appreciated by everyone.