Who is Julius Nattinen?
Julius Nattinen is a forward who is currently a player for JYP Jyväskylä out of the Finnish Liiga. The Finnish center has been a part of the JYP organization for a while, working his way up through the junior ranks before cracking into the top professional level. While Nattinen did get some time at JYP's top team in the Liiga, he spent much of his year in the second tier of Finnish professional hockey, called Mestis, but made a big impact there playing amongst grown men. He has also spent a lot of time playing for Finland in international play, where he has performed well as both a U17 and U18 player. Nattinen has pretty good size, coming into the draft listed at 6'-2" and 191 pounds. Below you can see his career numbers to this point:
Nattinen is one of Finland's top draft-eligible players this year and he figures to land somewhere in the second, or perhaps third round of this year's NHL Draft. Among the rankings, Nattinen's stock varies quite a bit between different outlets. Nattinen was ranked #15 among European skaters by the NHL's Central Scouting Service and he checks in at #60 on Bob McKenzie's final rakings, #57 on Craig Button's final list, way up to #31 at Hockey Prospectus, down to #87 for Corey Pronman at ESPN, and #76 at Future Considerations.
As a player, Nattinen is described as being a solid playmaker and a well-rounded two-way center. There are some differing opinions on his skating, but most describe him as a player who is very skilled and strong on the puck. He is on the bigger side for a forward, so he is able to use that frame to shield pucks and create time and space for himself. He is touted as a smart player and his game in his own end is quite polished for someone just hitting their draft year. He also has a good shot in his arsenal, but he is seen as a pass-first guy to an extent. Overall, while Nattinen isn't necessarily seen as an elite talent, he is player who possesses size, skill, smarts, and work ethic with potential to make a solid impact at the NHL level.
What Others are Saying About Julius Nattinen
At Elite Prospects, Curtis Joe has some pretty solid praise for Nattinen in his profile blurb:
An athletic two-way center that leads by on-ice example. Boasts refined skating habits that allow him to accelerate very quickly yet maintain a perfect amount of steam to grind out long shifts. A highly-skilled puckhandler who is confident in his abilities, Nättinen possesses the skill traits that drop jaws. Very tight-knit with teammates and keeps up a winning attitude at all times. Very creative in the offensive end and a responsible, stable presence in his own end. His size is a factor when he bulls his way into the offensive end, and he doesn't shy away from the physical game. All-in-all, a dynamic two-way center that can battle through long, hard shifts and make a difference against other teams' top players.
A lot to like in that paragraph, whether you are looking for skill or less tangible qualities like work ethic and leadership. Being both a creative playmaker and a solid defender is typically a good indicator of a player who sees and anticipates the game well. The fact that he has pretty good size to go with those traits is definitely a bonus.
Over at Last Word on Sports, Ben Kerr also has a lot of praise for Nattinen's game in his draft profile. Some excerpts:
Julius Nattinen is a a good skater. His speed and acceleration are at a very good level, and his stride is long and smooth. He’s even shown the ability to go wide on defenders and cut to the net off the rush.
He is extremely hard to knock off the puck. Nattinen makes the smart pass and finds the open man whether it be in keeping the play alive on the cycle or making the pass to a teammate for a scoring chance. He has shown the ability to drive the puck to the net and the hands to finish in tight spaces.
Julius Nattinen’s two way game is extremely well-developed for a player his age. He is very good at the little things, such as winning faceoffs, using his long stick to break up passing lanes, and supporting his defence down low. He shows the ability to work along the boards and win battles in all three zones.
While he isn't described as an overly physical guy, it appears he knows how to use his size to his advantage, whether it is protecting the puck or winning board battles. Kerr also describes Nattinen as a good skater with a smooth stride, which is definitely a positive. Also, being a player who can finish as well as create opportunities for teammates gives him definite value as an offensive player. Add in defensive ability and you seem to have a strong prospect on your hands.
Lastly, we'll take a look at some comments from Hockey Prospectus, where there are a few pieces that mention Nattinen. First some excerpts from their scouting report by Ilya Samsonov on him:
Nättinen has a big frame and therefore is not the most explosive skater, neither is he very agile on his skates. He needs to work on his acceleration as well. Though it needs to be added at this point that he made progress in his skating skills over the last few months.
So this is in contrast to some of the other assessments of his skating above (Corey Pronman is similarly critical at ESPN Insider). So it appears that at the very least, there is some disagreement on his overall skating ability. He is a big player, so its possible that his long strides prevent him from being super nimble. Splitting the difference in opinions on his skating, one could assume he comes in around "average" overall.
From the same profile, here's a bit on his shot and his puck skills:
He has decent puckhandling skills, though not outstanding. He might not be the type of player that leaves you breathless. But given his size, he has a long reach and can protect the puck very well.
So he is not necessarily elite as a puckhandler but uses his body well to maintain control when carrying pucks. HP's profile also includes praise for his shot and mentions that he should use it a little more than he does. Overall, there is some criticism, but the assessment is that he is a solid prospect. Elsewhere at Hockey Prospectus, they actually ask if he has a shot to go in the first round and have him ranked at #31 in their final list, so he appears to be polarizing at least to an extent, despite the consensus of him being a solid two-way guy.
Here are videos for three assists that Nattinen had in Liiga this past season. He displays some good vision on all three goals, with a nice centering feed from behind the goal line on the first video, an off-balance pass to spring a teammate charging through the neutral zone on a breakaway, and a well-placed sharp angle shot to produce a juicy rebound for his teammate crashing the net. Bonus Lowell Devils jersey sighting around the 7-second mark of the third video.
So that all seems to corroborate the thought that he has solid vision as an offensive player. I especially like the first assist, which is a brilliant bit of passing from Nattinen.
Here is another video from the Finland-USA final of the U18 WJC, which shows Nattinen finishing a pretty 2-on-1 to open the scoring in the game.
It's just one sequence, but Nattinen's skating doesn't come across as a hindrance here. He's not lightning fast, but he does seem to have a solid, smooth stride that gets him where he needs to go quickly enough. It's a nice finish on a play that developed in a hurry in transition.
An Opinion of Sorts
There seem to be some mildly differing opinions on Julius Nattinen, but overall he strikes me as a very solid prospect. Any player who sees the game well at both ends of the ice has a leg up on their competition and Nattinen definitely has that. Adding that awareness/hockey IQ to a a big body with some skill means that there is definitely a decent chance for Nattinen to be a solid player in the future. He has played very well in international competition over the years and has made an impact in Finland's second tier against grown men. He seems to be at least a little limited in his skating and his ceiling may not be elite, but I think he could end up being a strong pick, especially in the third round. I think he might be a bit of a reach where the Devils are in the second, but I could even live with him perhaps being taken at 41, depending on who NJ has taken before him. To me he makes a lot of sense as a third-rounder though, and think his well-rounded game makes him a potentially solid asset for whichever team takes him.
Now that you've read about Julius Nattinen, how do you feel about him? Would you like to see him taken by New Jersey on draft day? What do you think of his game as a two-way forward? Do you think he has enough talent to make an impact at the next level? Sound off with your thoughts below and thanks for reading.