Joni Ikonen has always been an intriguing prospect. He has sent Montreal Canadiens fans between the highs of the 2017 training camp to the lows of injuries in recent years.
It is clear that the centre has a lot of talent, but he has suffered setbacks like no other member in the Canadiens organization the last few years and lost a lot of development time on the ice. However, he has logged a lot of time in the gym in order to build up his lower body from scratch, first in regard to a knee injury and then from a hamstring/thigh injury that ended the 2019-20 season before it had really begun.
Coming into this year, there were also some questions of whether other players made Ikonen better, rather than the opposite. Ikonen benefitted from Kristian Vesalainen in the Frölunda organization, and a lot of Ikonen’s points in the 13 games he played last year came in collaboration with Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Alexandre Texier on the ice. In the three games leading up to this season that Ikonen participated in with KalPa he had zero points, and his play didn’t really stand out.
When comparing Ikonen’s underlying numbers in his last two (somewhat) healthy seasons, the thing that stood out was that he was being used more in all situations. In the 13 games he played a year ago, he drove the play for a team that was in the fight for the last playoff spot, and he put up good offensive numbers (0.76 points per game).
Last year Ikonen showcased the swashbuckle style of play that he displayed in his Junior years. His shot was back and it was something that scouts spoke highly of on draft day. Ikonen has the vision and he is a smart player. If he can build on that for next season, he might be able to make a lasting impression on the North American side of the Atlantic.
He put in a lot of work in a prolonged 2019 off-season in order to develop further as a hockey player. His character was no longer in question, and that bodes well for his future development, even if you have to wonder what toll a second major injury will take on a young player’s confidence.
The concern with Ikonen has always been his body. He wasn’t big when he was drafted, and a smaller player usually struggles to make the jump into the NHL. With the recent injuries the question might not be his height and weight, but rather if his body can hold up.
Last year Ikonen showed his commitment to the game and demonstrated both poise and maturity to come back stronger than before after his devastating injury. He built up his body and looked strong with the puck and his shot had gotten better.
However one has to be cautious when looking at Ikonen this year. It would be easy to lose your confidence in regard to what has happened and to start doubting your body. It remains to be seen if Ikonen can come out stronger from his most recent setback.
He has a vision and technique that should allow him to thrive on a hockey rink, but recent injuries, costing him more or less two years off the ice, means that this upcoming season is a make-or-break one for the young Finn. He needs to stay healthy to show that his body can stand the rigours of a professional hockey career. And he needs to produce no matter where he plays this upcoming season.
Last year, the 13 games Ikonen played earned him a B, however his absence from the ice over the whole season means that there isn’t enough of a sample to grade his season and it would be unfair to grade the player on three pre-season games. There isn’t enough data to give him a passing grade, but there isn’t enough data to give him a fail either. Ikonen goes through his third season in the Canadiens organization without a grade.