It was a washed out season for Joni Ikonen. He played only 13 games in Liiga this year, and those contests were bookended by injuries. The first ailment, a knee injury suffered during training in the spring of 2018, kept the centre out of the lineup until January. He then sustained a hamstring injury that cut the season short.
Birthplace: Espoo, Finland
Weight: 172 lbs.
Team: KalPa (Liiga)
There is no doubt that Ikonen possesses a great deal of skill. He is a playmaker on the power play for KalPa; a power play that looked very dangerous with Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Alexandre Texier this past season. It will be up to Ikonen to drive that man advantage in 2019-20, and that’s something he should do without a problem. The question is whether KalPa can find another shooter on the opposite side of the ice to take Texier’s role, and who will take the position that Otto Leskinen had now that the defender has signed with Montreal.
Ikonen turned the injury break into something positive. He has clearly filled out during his long time away from the ice. He was benefiting from it in his play, especially with regard to his skating, which was an area where former head coach Sami Kapanen wanted him to improve. His edgework and sharp turns stood out after his comeback.
When comparing Ikonen’s two seasons in the top Finnish league, it is clear that he has developed and that he was asked to fill a different role last season, even if 13 games make for a small sample size.
Ikonen saw his ice time increase by over four-and-a-half minutes, and during that play KalPa controlled more of the possession than with him on the bench. He also had slightly higher possession numbers even if he started more of his time outside the offensive zone than during his previous season, and he had more defensive zone starts compared to his teammates.
This shows that the small centre was asked to step up his game and play another role then in his first pro season. He was driving play, controlling the puck, and doing so while playing more regularly.
He has a large span between his top (15) and bottom (30) ranking. You can see two groups of panellists, with one that thinks he should be ranked quite high headed by Marc, Matt, and the community representatives.
Marc: Recency bias, added to the fact that he is a centre and I still see loads of potential within him led to my ranking. I feel he still is a prospect who could make it to the big show due to his high skill, but needs to do so quickly. I believe he could prove a lot of people wrong who have dismissed him already.
Andrew: He dropped significantly for me for two reasons. First, his last two seasons were filled with doubt and lost development time due to a knee injury. Second, the depth significantly improved since he first joined.
Top 25 Under 25 History
He has fallen a few places from his entry on the Top 25 Under 25 in 2017 when he was the top new entry at 11. He held fast in his ranking from last year (even if he does have to share it with someone else) despite a season that most would consider lost, and that in itself is impressive.
History of #21 and #20
|2018||Jacob Olofsson||Joni Ikonen|
|2017||Martin Réway||Joe Morrow|
|2016||Simon Bourque||Jake Evans|
|2015||Lukas Vejdemo||Jeremy Grégoire|
|2014||Michael McCarron||Daniel Audette|
|2013||Greg Pateryn||Gabriel Dumont|
|2012||Darren Dietz||Blake Geoffrion|
|2011||Gabriel Dumont||Mark Mitera|
|2010||Mac Bennett||Ian Schultz|
Every person who has coached Ikonen always brings up his hockey IQ as the first thing when we speak about his strengths. It is evident that he can still find the passing lanes and open areas on the ice.
Looking back at the 13 games this previous season, he has also taken a step forward in those playmaking skills. They are especially clear in the following clip where he takes his time to draw in three defenders before masterfully putting a pass on the blade of his teammate in front of the net.
Finnish #Habs prospect Joni Ikonen with another assist in todays game against JYP.— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) February 16, 2019
Good steal and masterful action to draw in the defenders before threading a pass into the slot area. #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/3CCHvP8HfL
His shot has always been a cannon, and last year he seems to have worked quite a bit on it to develop it even further. He brought out a one-timer that hadn’t really been seen before as he prefers to use his wrist shot. Here he goes down on one knee and hammers the puck home in great fashion.
Joni Ikonen with his second of the game on a one-timer on the power play. His fifth goal since the return from injury.— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) February 15, 2019
Ikonen promised playoffs for KalPa in a recent interview with @HabsEOTP he sure tries to fix it himself. #Habs #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/9YjR9GYpBF
There is a lot to work on for Ikonen in what should be his last year in Liiga. Kapanen has already mentioned his skating. Ikonen needs to develop a longer stride, allowing him to get a higher acceleration and keeping his speed up without using extra power.
While his added strength has made his turns sharp and crisp along the boards, he needs to improve his balance when in open ice where he doesn’t cut as sharp. This is most likely because of a higher speed and less control.
These things should help him gain more separation from defenders and increase the success rate of his zone entries, which would strengthen his team’s play even more. Gaining another tool to separate himself from the opposition would also benefit his shot and possibly even his playmaking skills, and this is something that fans should keep an eye on during the season.
It was a tough season for the Finnish player, and the fact that it ended in another injury — albeit a minor one — makes it difficult to know if there are any lingering health concerns that might cause problems.
Everyone is aware of the fact that it is up to Ikonen to grab the chance he has this season. Texier and Leskinen have left for North America and someone needs to step up and shoulder some of that responsibility. Ikonen will be the one looked toward to do just that. Tommi Miettinen, newly appointed coach to KalPa, says it is up to Ikonen to show that he can take the next step.
The fact is that Ikonen has really stood out when his team has a numerical advantage on the ice, and while this is a strength, it is also hides some of the flaws that he still has. He will need to show that he can set up players and score when the teams are at equal strength. If he can do that this year, I can foresee him being a force in Laval during the 2020-21 season, rather than a specialist player for the man-advantage situations.
He will get his chances this season, and if he can use the long off-season that he has to work on his skills and his development, he will come out charging when the season starts in a few weeks. It was evident in the games that he played last season that KalPa would have reached the playoffs if had been injury-free. While the club has lost quite a few players, that leaves the door open for someone to lead from the front and Ikonen needs to grab that chance with both hands.
Currently, Ikonen projects as a player who falls somewhere between the NHL and AHL level. If he can take the next step, the needle will surely point more to the NHL side of the meter, but there is still a long way to go.