Back on May 2, Devils prospect LW Eetu Päkkilä signed a two-year contract with an option year to join Ilves from Kärpät in the Finnish Liiga. The former 7th round pick from the 2018 NHL Draft had spent his youth and junior career with Kärpät but managed to appear in just a single Liiga game with the club. He did prove himself to be an integral part of their U20 team in Jr. A SM-liiga play over the past two seasons. Back in 2017-18 he put up 23 goals and 17 assists in 48 regular season games at the U20 level along with 3 goals and 5 assists in 11 playoff games as the team lost in the Finals. This past season he served as an Alternate Captain for the U20 team and continued to produce at a high rate with 38 goals and 22 assists in 52 regular season games and 3 goals and 2 assists in 11 playoff games en route to a Jr. A SM-liiga Championship. His 38 regular season goals led the league and helped him earn Jr. A SM-liiga First All-Star Team honors.
Päkkilä is set to turn 20 on October 3 and is ready to challenge himself at the professional level. To do this he had to move away from Kärpät, a top team in Finland, to a more average team such as Ilves where there would be more of an oppurtunity for playing time. Kärpät is coming off of a season that saw them lead the Liiga in the regular season standings with 137 points (2nd place Tappara had 108) while Ilves would finish in 8th place out of the 15 team league with 91 points. Just a note that unlike other European leagues, Liiga is a closed league with no relegation and that the top 10 teams advance to the playoffs with the top 6 teams moving directly to the Quarterfinals. To further illustrate the gap between these two teams, Kärpät has won 3 Championships, lost a final, won a bronze game, and suffered one playoff qualifier loss over the past 6 seasons. On the other side Ilves has missed the playoffs 3 times, lost a playoff qualifier once, and lost twice in the quarterfinals during that stretch. Moving to Ilves is a chance for Päkkilä to challenge himself but also have a better chance to crack a professional line up.
Where does Päkkilä fit in at Ilves and what players will he compete with for playing time? Taking a look at their current roster we can see that Ilves is returning 11 forwards that played for them last season. Of this group, only 9 of them played more than 20 games for the team last season.
Ilves will be without top scorer, Arttu Ruotsalainen who has signed a contract with the Buffalo Sabres which will open up an oppurtunity for the remaining players to gain minutes. As you can see from the image above, Ilves is returning 7 of their top 9 forward scorers from last season which means plenty of competition is to be had for the bottom 6 spots. Päkkilä figures into that equation along with fellow additions Antti Saarela, Robert Leino, and Jasse Ikonen, all of which are Liiga veterans. Talented 2020 NHL Draft prospect Roby Järventie and USHL veteran Matias Maccelli are fellow young players that look to challenge for playing time.
While we would all like to see Päkkilä in a top 6 role, I don’t think it would be a bad thing for him to start out towards the bottom of the line up to adjust to the league and then try to earn a larger role with his play. The team obviously believes in his talent which is why they signed him to a multi-year deal. While Päkkilä is a talented goal scorer at even strength and on the PP, he also showcased the ability to kill penalties at the junior level as Marco Bombino noted in this post for Finnish Junior Hockey back in May. He should naturally add strength to his frame as he enters his age 20 season and could use his defensive and physical play to carve out a role for Ilves. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts but I think he made the right move by going to a decent but not top team as he starts his professional career.
How do you feel about Päkkilä’s move to Ilves? What are your expectations for him going forward? How do you rate him as a prospect? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!