Who is Tuukka Tieksola?
This Finnish right winger was flying under the radar at the beginning of this season, having just made the jump from the Kärpät Junior B level to Junior A for the first time. Since his transition, Tieksola has put up a season that made sure no one could overlook him which, at 5’10” and 157lbs, is no small feat. As a rookie and a young one at that — Tieksola won’t be 18 until July, making him one of the younger members of this year’s draft class — Tieksola put up phenomenal numbers in the Kärpät U20 system with 15 goals and 45 assists in 51 games. His 60-point season was good enough for 2nd most points in a regular season in the league of all time, just one behind the record setter Veeti Mietinen (2020 draft eligible) who put up 61 this season. For reference, Sebastian Aho is tied for third with 59 in his 2013-14 season. Tieksola’s league-leading 45 assists lead his team to the Championship this year, as well as addition to the 2nd All-Star Team and Rookie of the Year honors for himself.
Tieksola played well enough this regular season to find himself added to the World Juniors roster this season. After having played just 3 games all season for Finland’s U17 team last year, this year the team handed him some very big shoes to fill, placing him on the second line of the U18 team for the World Juniors which found him matched up against other teams top lines including USA’s Jack Hughes. Finland wasn’t quite the same team as last year and were eliminated earlier this year, but Tieksola did manage to put up a goal and 3 assists in 5 games.
Where is Tuukka Tieksola Ranked?
Some players make steady climbs up the draft rankings after a good season—Tuukka Tieksola had to borrow a jet pack to make the jumps in his rankings. Preseason, Tieksola can’t even be found on draft rankings including The Draft Analyst’s Preseason 400. At midterms, he starts showing up in a few:
Steve Kourkianos’ Draft Analyst: 246th
NHL Central Scouting: 114th (EU Skaters)
March and April were swing months for Tieksola, who showed off his post-season play with another 3 goals and 4 assists in 11 playoff games to win the championship. His final rankings from each site are all several rounds above where he was just four months prior:
Future Considerations: sub-100 at midterms, now up to 79th
NHL Central Scouting: 31st (EU Skates)
Worth noting is that though Tieksola’s rankings have risen exponentially, he tends to go unnoticed in mock drafts— he fails to break the top 300 in most DraftSite mock-ups.
What Have Other People Said About Tieksola?
The perhaps best and most accurate summation of Tieksola comes from FinnProspects’ Asko Huuki: “...Tieksola is raw, but extremely talented. He often shows flashes of brilliance, but occasionally he becomes invisible.” His talent is noted in the form of his skating agility—fluid strides, good transitions and impressive acceleration— and his puck handling, which he describes as smart, creative, and downright dangerous at times. His defensive play and positioning, however, are much more of a “work in progress”, and his small size is a noted drawback to his potential.
Finland-based scout Lassi Alonen has similar sentiments on the small winger, echoing versions of Huuki’s compliments to his offensive game. Tieksola has “very good vision and stickhandling skills... doesn’t make many mistakes [with] the puck and is able to execute difficult plays in tight spaces.” Alonen also notes that Tieksola plays a huge roll on any power play he’s a part of, using his vision and passing ability to drive the play. Again, his skating ability is good and he “shines in transitions”, though his top speed is a bit low for someone of his size.
Jokke Nevalainen has also addressed the lack of size affecting Tieksola’s potential, but focused on his high offensive upside: “[Tieksola] owns great offensive tools which give him high upside. He’s a great skater who combines high speed with amazing agility. He’s also very talented with the puck on his stick, and he can make plays at top speed. He has amazing vision and passing skills which allow him to make passes that seem impossible to most players.” (via EliteProspects)
A Few Visual Aids...
Finland’s forward shot contributions from the U18 Worlds.— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) April 28, 2019
Leevi Aaltonen was clearly the most frequent shooter, but most of his shots were low-danger. Kärpät trio Aatu Räty, Aku Räty and Tuukka Tieksola had the most primary shot assists per 60. #U18Worlds #U18fi pic.twitter.com/5CJbIAh7u2
Here’s a look at Tieksola’s shot assists per 60 minutes—he’s not shooting a ton, but he is making an unbelievably high number of passes that result in shots from his teammates.
Now, are they good shots, or just thrown on net because there’s nothing else to do with them?
Forward scoring chance contributions at even-strength.— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) April 28, 2019
Tuukka Tieksola checks out well here as a passer, too. Mikko Petman and Patrik Puistola had the most individual scoring chances per 60. Leevi Aaltonen and Anton Lundell were above average in both categories. #U18Worlds pic.twitter.com/oREAJNi8JX
In addition to leading the league in assists, Tieksola is also leading his team in scoring chance assists per 60 minutes. Lassi Alanen put it best with “Tuukka Tieksola checks out well here as a passer, too”. Sure does!
Here’s a few looks at some simpler assists from Tieksola this season:
#U18: Finland ups its lead over Canada to 3-0 as 2020 draft prospect Anton Lundell wires one upstairs over Taylor Gauthier. Nice breakout pass from LHD Antti Tuomisto, with the primary assist to Tukka Tieksola. pic.twitter.com/VYvpocnSY0— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) April 18, 2019
These two clips seem to sum up Tieksola’s everyday game—not particularly flashy, but extremely smooth and simple, and each time he makes an impressively crisp pass through traffic.
The pass here is solid and that’s definitely a plus, but what I like about this play is seeing Tieksola is absolutely unafraid of playing the puck in open ice or through traffic. He picks up the loose puck without hesitation and stays cool despite three players collapsing on him and easily makes the pass.
Tuukka Tieksola (#10) was impressive again today. Here he enters the zone with speed, dangles through traffic and then finds an open man with an amazing cross-ice pass. #ASM #Kärpät #2019NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/GqUxDFM5AU— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) January 19, 2019
And here Tuukka Tieksola (#10) keeps the puck in the offensive zone all by himself while his team changes two players, and then he finds an open man with an amazing cross-ice pass. It's a shame his linemates can't finish these plays. #ASM #Kärpät #2019NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/MfBy61Y5Sr— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) January 19, 2019
Tieksola again shows that cool-headed attitude with the puck in these two clips. He’s clearly got excellent hands and he knows it, bordering on cocky to pull the play so close to the blue line with his team in the middle of a change but he pulls it off without a hitch. He does an excellent job of keeping the puck where he needs it to be in order to play his game—he stays far enough away from bodies and makes lightning quick turns and dekes without telegraphing his moves ahead of time. The two passes at the end of each clip show that while he’s dancing around defensemen on the boards or at the blue line he’s also watching his teammates to see where an opportunity for a pass might open up, and he does an impressive job of finding the unexpected pass. These clips show the clear reason for his 1.18 points per game and league-leading 45 assists, though Nevalainen’s point about his teammates not finishing such good passes brings up a good point—he might actually be even better than those numbers already look if he’s making plays like this on a consistent basis that aren’t going in the net.
The Verdict-To Draft, or Not to Draft?
Tuukka Tieksola brings the kind of play that you either love or you hate— he is definitely not a two-way player, he’s not big and strong or NHL-ready, and he doesn’t have any of the standout shot to be a pure goal scorer type of player. What he does have is a great set of hands coupled with impressive hockey sense and ice vision that make his offensive upside difficult to ignore despite the weak areas in his game. Tieksola’s playing style seems comfortably based around his limitations. At his size, he’s not going to look to battle hard on the boards for the puck very often or power-move through defensemen, and you wouldn’t want to see him try to either. His strengths— creativity in puck handling and passing, good ice vision with a knack for finding open ice, excellent puck control in tight spaces, and top notch transitions, agility, and acceleration— perfectly align to allow him to avoid, out-deke, and escape opposing players instead. Some more speed and a stronger shot would be useful additions for his style, but at only 157 lbs and still a few months shy of 18 years old, Tieksola has plenty of room and time to fill out and add some muscle, which will allow both of those to improve. He’s definitely never going to be one of the bigger guys on the ice, but his style and skillset are already well-adapted for that challenge.
So—do we draft him? Tieksola is not going to jump over into the NHL and start racking up assists or scoring goals. With his size, age, and the holes in the rest of his game when he’s not carrying the puck, he’s definitely not a first or even a second round type pick. In my opinion, this draft class is too good to consider him a third or even fourth round pick for us either. Tieksola’s style is reminiscent of Jesper Bratt, who’s similar pros and cons allowed him to slide all the way down to the 6th round for the devils in 2016. To be clear, Tieksola’s stature and lack of pro-level experience make it extremely unlikely he’ll jump into the NHL quite as quickly as Bratt, but the similarities of the draft potential of each are definitely there. That being said, Tieksola’s size and lack of available pro-level experiences are holding back his development, so it’s possible the move to an NHL system could make huge improvements in his game. For that reason I could see him going as early as the 5th round or easily not until the 7th. I’d be surprised if he goes undrafted given the clear skills he does show. With the Devils success with smaller play-making wingers, I’d be interested to see them take a shot on Tieksola—definitely in the 6th, maybe in the 5th. I don’t necessarily think he’s a must-draft type of prospect, but especially for a team with so many picks to take chances on this draft, I’d argue Tieksola is the type of risk we could and should be taking in the later rounds.
What do you think—underrated, or just undersized? Is he worth picking up with a lower draft pick, or should the Devils be looking for something else with those picks? Could he be another Jesper Bratt one day? Is there such a thing as too many Bratt and Hischier style, small-but-skilled players—could we be short on size on this rebuilding roster? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and thanks for reading!