Do you remember recently reading a draft report about a 5’9’’ Finnish prospect? If you did, I do hope you liked it, because today we are doubling down on undersized Finns born in January of 2002.
Born just one day after Roni Hirvonen in a city less than 200 kilometres away, Kasper Simontaival also measures 5’9” and, interestingly, several rankings have him getting picked in the same fringe first-round range as his compatriot. Their skill sets, however, differ quite a bit, almost like Simontaival being the Yang to Hirvonen’s Yin. Where Hirvonen is a shrewd playmaker, Simontaival is a sniper equipped with a blazing shot.
Birthplace: Tampere, Finland
Date of birth: Jan 11, 2002
Position: Right Wing
Weight: 172 lbs.
Team: Tappara (Liiga)
Simontaival had played senior minutes already in 2018-19, featuring 21 times in the Finnish second tier, Mestis, and following that up by suiting up for five games in Liiga with hometown team Tappara Tampere.
With that in mind, it was somewhat surprising to see him not make the permanent leap to Liiga last year. Tappara’s coaching staff decided to let him develop at his own pace, feeling that he would benefit more from playing in a leading role with the under-20 team, occasionally filling in with the seniors in Tappara or regional second-tier team KOOVEE.
Simontaival took on that challenge with ease, scoring 57 points in 48 games and being named to the league’s All-Star Team, while being his team’s main source of offensive production. He contributed seven points in the three playoff games he played before the league was shut down for the season.
It doesn’t always make sense, but Simontaival has a tendency to keep control of the puck even if he’s guarded by several defenders. He is natural goal-scorer with great hands and a slippery demeanour when he is pushed out against the walls. He attacks the net with ease and if he doesn’t release his sniping shot, he is smart and creative enough to feed his linemates with precise passes.
He may be short, but he’s in no way weak. His low centre of gravity helps him when battling for pucks and just adds to him being difficult to take the puck from. His skating is decent, without it being one of his major assets. If he could add additional pace and push more power into his legs, his attacking game would be even more dynamic.
Simontaival can be utterly dominant offensively and take over a game, even if we have yet to see it on the big stages. His skills are almost purely offensive, so if you draft him, don’t expect him to be a 200-foot player. Let him instead focus on what he does best: controlling the puck and creating havoc in the attacking zone. Defensively, you can use his quickness and rushing ability to annoy opposing defenders as a constant threat near the offensive blue line.
Elite Prospects: #41
Future Considerations: #47
Hockey Prospect: #83
McKeen’s Hockey: #34
NHL Central Scouting: #21 (European skaters)
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #27
Is Simontaival being slept on as a prospect? Yes and no. He hasn’t proven that he’s capable of playing regularly on a senior team yet. Even though his stats in the minors are impressive, he was still out-produced by undersized prospect Veeti Miettinen, who himself is projected by many as a day two-pick.
Lassi Alanen, a great follow on Twitter for those interested in Finnish NHL prospects, has created charts comparing underlying numbers for talented Finns eligible for the upcoming three drafts. This is where things get properly interesting. As we can see, Simontaival has an ability to create dangerous scoring chances like no other prospect, apart from the tiny Juuso Mäenpää (5’7”, 141 pounds).
Comparing again with Miettinen, we notice a similarity in their number of shots, but a clear discrepancy in the quality of scoring chances both prospects provide for their respective team.
This is not the only impressive statistic from Alanen’s Tableau site. Simontaival is near the top also when it comes to primary shot contributions as well as shot-contribution percentage.
As stated above, Simontaival is a pure-offence kind of youngster. He is an intriguing player, with an arguably higher upside than Hirvonen. Many analysts have him as one of the most obvious boom-or-bust-prospects of the draft. He will never function in a bottom-six role in the NHL. The team that drafts him will bank on his potential as a top-six winger and hope that he can rise to the occasion with Tappara in the upcoming years.
There is a clear comparison to be made with Swedish prospect Zion Nybeck, who is equally undersized and has been tearing it up in the Swedish equivalent to the Jr. A SM-Liiga during the year.
Nobody really knows yet if Simontaival’s dominance was merely a product of him being too talented and evolved to play in a Junior league last year. There is the possibility that more experienced defenders will find ways to dent his offensive game. If that happens, his potential could quickly plummet to the floor.