Stu MacGregor took over as the Oilers' Head Scout in October of 2007. He's been at the helm for two drafts and some say that those have been among the brightest drafts in the post-Stanley Cup era. Fans of Finnish hockey have loved the MacGregor Era as Stu has spent late round picks on kids from Finland in both drafts, clearly signaling the return to greatness for this once proud franchise. Have MacGregor's late Finnish picks been random, or are European Amateur Scout Kent Nilsson and Stu MacGregor working their own fishing hole? Since taking the job, MacGregor has dipped into Sweden and Finland a combined five times in twelve picks, and it seems that Kenta has found an audience for his recommendations.
If it is a fishing hole, it's worthwhile to take a look at which Finnish players are flying under the radar this year. Who could be better to ask for advice on an underrated draft-year Finn than a Finn who was underrated in his own draft year? I asked Teemu Hartikainen who I should be investigating and one name immediately came to mind -- Iiro Pakarinen.
Iiro Pakarinen is a right-shooting right winger from Suonenjoki, a town of 7,000 people located forty-five minutes outside of Kuopio, home of KalPa Hockey. Suonenjoki is internationally renown for their strawberry farms and, according to Hartikainen, there's a chance that the town might be exporting something else in the next few years. His proximity to Kuopio means that Pakarinen's formative years have been spent in the KalPa system, trailing Hartikainen by two years. He's listed at 6'1" and 200 pounds, so he's already a big kid even though he's only eighteen years old. Before diving into the scouting reports on Pakarinen, I asked Teemu for an overview of Pakarinen's game:
He is a young and upcoming talent in Kuopio and I think if he gets more ice time he will score many goals. He plays a lot like me, and shoots really well. Unfortunately, he's going into the army now to complete his service, so maybe he gets to shine after Christmas. I really hope that some team will take him in the later rounds.
Just like another young winger we both know, eh Teemu?
The Oilers are well-positioned to take a player like Pakarinen in the later rounds as they have three choices in the sixth round. Central Scouting ranks Pakarinen 54th among European forwards and 73rd among European skaters overall, so he's far afield from someone like Teemu Pulkkinen, at least according to the scouts. So, as far as darkhorses go, this kid is breaking from way off of the pace.
The scouting reports all seem to agree with Hartikainen's take:
Strengths: Large player, with a hard, accurate shot. He scores more goals than assists.
Weaknesses: Inexperienced and his agility is an issue. Consistency is missing.
A large, left-handed winger who skates well. Has a good, sharp wrist shot. A good finisher.
He may be left-handed, but as I noted above, he's a right-handed shooter. I'm not sure if this is just bad info or a bad translation.
Pakarinen broke into the SM-liiga this season with KalPa, playing in thirty-eight games but averaged only a bit more than eight minutes per game. He scored three goals and chipped in with five assists. He had thirty-seven penalty minutes but the number is misleading as twenty-five of them came in a single game against HIFK in which Pakarinen scored two goals, had seven shots on goal, was plus two and managed a major and a misconduct all in only seven minutes of ice time.
Pakarinen's performance in tournaments of small sample size is much better. In the World Junior Championship Tournament he scored a goal and an assist in six games. In the SM-Liiga playoffs Pakarinen scored three goals and was a plus two in twelve games despite playing only eleven minutes per game. Below is a brief clip of Pakarinen in action and both times he goes to a knee to finish.
I had the opportunity to chat with Pakarinen and ask him about his game. I asked him if he thought that Hartikainen's assessment was accurate. "Yes, the things that Teemu said to you are true," he said. "I play a very similar game to him. I have a pretty hard shot with good accuracy. I'm strong in the corners and on the boards and I like to lay heavy hits." What about the offensive game, I wondered. Is Iiro a stickhandler, a setup man, a finisher? "I try to shoot every place where I am," he said, echoing coach Pekka Virta's philosphy.