Top 25 Under 25: #22 Joonas Nättinen

Tom Szczerbowski - Getty Images

Joonas Nattinen looks to build on a solid rookie AHL campaign. Can he raise his profile enough to be considered NHL worthy?

For the second year in a row, Joonas Nattinen calls the #22 spot on our list his home. After finishing as the the #10 ranked European skater on the final NHL central scouting list for 2009, Nättinen was drafted 65th overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft, which was good for 9th overall among European skaters. The young Finn garnered lots of attention during the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championship in Ottawa, centering Finland's top line as well as playing significant powerplay time. However, Nättinen could not translate his international success to club level play, where he appeared for his club Espoo Blues of the SM-Liiga a total of 48 times, totaling 3 assists, splitting time between the pro and junior squads. However, as we know, basic stats do a poor job of telling the whole story, especially with zeros across the board. The real important test would come this season when Nättinen joined the Bulldogs for his first season of North American hockey.

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Nättinen played his first season for the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2011-2012, who wrapped up their worst season since 2000-2001 in 25th place. Nättinen appeared in 63 games for the Bulldogs, tallying 11 goals, 10 assists, and a +/- rating of -3, which was third best on the team.

Given the fact that Joonas Nättinen was a 20 year old rookie this year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, you could say that he had a successful rookie campaign with the uncharacteristically poor Hamilton Bulldogs. It was his first season on North American ice, and while it took him some time to find his legs, he picked up his play in mid-February, scoring 9 goals and adding 3 assists in a span of 27 games from February 17th until the end of the year. Nättinen usually found his spot on the second line with a revolving door of line mates due to the nasty injury bug that struck the Canadiens organization from top to bottom this season.

Watching Nättinen play, it is obvious to see the tools that made scouts notice him. Measuring in at 6'2, Nättinen is a big player, who uses his body well to protect the puck. He is strong along the boards and is smart in his own zone. He also possesses an underrated wrist shot that I haven't read much about, only seen in person. Defensively, Nättinen plays his position well, often generating turnovers or forcing opposing players to make errors. From the small sample of Nättinen I saw this year, I was impressed. Watching players at the AHL level, it is easy to decipher who "has it" and who doesn't, and I feel that Nättinen's got it. His decision making, hockey sense, and commitment to the system the Bulldogs play, are things that I believe are going to help him develop into a strong professional player.

The 2012-2013 season will be a big one for the 21 year old Finn. The Bulldogs have an influx of talent arriving with Jarred Tinordi, Morgan Ellis, Nathan Beaulieu, Brendan Gallagher, Patrick Holland, Michael Bournival, Greg Pateryn and Quailer. Depending on where the chips fall, Nättinen could have a legitimate shot at the #1 center position if he has a strong enough camp. If he does have a good camp, it will be exciting to see what he can do with talented and (hopefully) steady line mates.

The voting for Nattinen by our panel was as follows:

Player Berkshire Cooper Peter Boyle Van Steendelaar Dahan Ive Boucher La Rose Rice
Nättinen 24 29 28 18 23 - 17 18 22 19

STRENGTHS: It is no secret that Nättinen is very defensively sound. He works hard to win puck battles and controls the puck well in close quarters. He makes smart plays in the defensive zone and doesn't complicate things. He's also good at carrying the puck out of the defensive zone as well as into the offensive zone. In the offensive zone, Nättinen plays strong around the net and along the boards. He often finds the open lane and makes himself available for the pass. In the future he needs to use his shot more often, as he often gets into good shooting positions.

WEAKNESSES: The major flaw to Nättinen's game is definitely his skating; however he was much improved from the Nättinen I saw early in the season. If he spends time working on his skating, his overall game will improve drastically. While Nättinen is strong in his own end, he needs to improve his offensive zone play if he hopes to make it in the NHL. He has a decent wrist shot but needs to use it more often. Perhaps playing with better line mates will help that. It would definitely be beneficial to add some muscle to his 6'2 frame, as well.

PROJECTION: I was pleased with what I saw from Nättinen over the course of this season. Every time I saw him he seemed more involved in the game, and towards the end of the season he was finally playing solid minutes. Next season, he has the opportunity to at least play in the top-6, with the #1 center spot still open. Nättinen will get plenty of opportunity to play with good line mates this year, and if he wants to have a shot at the NHL, he needs to produce. If Nättinen can make the type of progress next season as he did this year, I would expect to be talking about him getting time to play with the big club at some point in the 2013-14 season.

#23: Greg Pateryn #22: Joonas Nättinen #21: Darren Dietz
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