Today, in our continuing coverage of top prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft here at All About the Jersey, we have Finnish winger and offensive dynamo Kasper Simontaival. Kasper has played his entire career in the Finnish system, for the club Tappara, not choosing to come over and get some playing time in the American system playing junior hockey before the draft. He will most likely remain in Finland this upcoming year as well, hopefully getting his first full season in the Liiga, Finland’s top professional league.
Kasper has a small build, listed at 5 foot 9 and weighing 172 pounds. Even if he bulks up, his height will always make him one of the smaller players in the NHL should he break into the league one day. Despite his small stature, however, the kid has talent, and he has been dominant in the Finnish junior system over the last few years. If he can translate some of that success into the Liiga this year, he will be on a good track to potentially earn himself a shot at playing in the NHL.
Who is Kasper Simontaival?
As I noted, Kasper has been tearing it up in the Finnish junior leagues. In 2017-18, as a 15/16 year old, he was playing in the Jr. B league, which is U18. And in 28 games, he had 37 points, with a pretty even mix of 17 goals and 20 assists. The last two years, he has been in the top junior league in Finland, Jr. A, a U20 league. And despite starting there as a 16 year old, and of course only getting to 18 this year, he has dominated on the scoresheet. In 2018-19, his first year in Jr. A (he played two games there the year prior, but this would’ve been his first serious experience), he produced at exactly one point per game, 27 points in 27 games. This time, he was more of a distributor, with 18 assists to go with 9 goals. He only played 27 games there in 18-19 because in that same season, he was sent out on loan to LeKi in the Mestis League, which is the second highest league in the country, behind the Liiga. Like the AHL, some teams there act as farm teams for the Liiga franchises. This gave him some valuable experience in a higher level of competition beyond just U20 play. And he did well, putting up 14 points in 21 games for LeKi. Producing 0.67 points per game up there as a 17 year old is impressive.
This past season, his second in Jr. A, as a 17/18 year old, was even better. Without half his season gone on loan to the Mestis, he was able to generate 57 points in 48 games of play, which tied him for 4th in the league in points scored. He did also get in some Mestis play, but was on loan for only 6 games, this time to a different franchise, KOOVEE. However, he did not disappoint in those 6 games, producing 4 points, albeit only one goal.
Over the past two seasons, he has also had some minimal experience playing in the Liiga, Finland’s top pro league, for his club Tappara. Two seasons ago, he was called up for 5 games with the big club, producing 2 assists in that timeframe. This past year, he was called up for 4 games, but did not manage to get on the scoresheet. However, don’t let that lack of production turn you off. That was 9 games as a 17 or 18 year old, playing against the top Finnish pros in one of the top pro leagues in the world. Think of it this way: Anton Lundell produced just over 0.6 points per game in the Liiga this past year, and he could easily be a top 10 pick. So only getting 2 points in 9 games of Liiga play is not bad at all, and it gave Kasper some great experience on which to build heading into this year, when he should be playing in the Liiga full time.
Finally, Kasper has a wealth of experience playing internationally for Team Finland, which is excellent for his draft prospects. At the World Junior Championships in 2019, Kasper had 4 points in 5 games, a fine showing in the tourney. In that same season, in 24 other international games for Finland, he had 27 points, 18 of those coming as assists. This past year he only had 8 games of international play, but absolutely tore it up with 14 points in those games, 8 goals and 6 assists. That will only boost his stock heading into the draft.
Where is Simontaival Ranked?
Central Scouting, in their final rankings, has Simontaival as the #21 ranked European skater. That was a huge boost from the midterms, when he was ranked #36. I’m frankly a little shocked he was ranked so low at the midterm, but CS finally saw his potential and bumped him up somewhat, although they are much lower on him overall than many of the other rankings you are about to see.
-Future Considerations has him ranked as the #40 prospect overall, a very high ranking in comparison to CS, but potentially warranted.
-The Draft Analyst is even higher on Kasper than FC, ranking him #30 overall, a first rounder. I doubt he goes in the first round, but I do see the potential.
-The Hockey Writers, in fairly new May rankings, has him #43 overall, very similar to FC.
-Draft Site, which has a mock draft that will continually be updated until the draft, currently has him mocked at #50 to Toronto.
-TSN’s Craig Button has him at #51 overall.
-His colleague Bob McKenzie, on the other hand, does not have him ranked in his top 62.
-Finally, Dobber Prospects, in April rankings, has him at #49.
What Others Have Said About Simontaival
The Hockey Writers have their profile up on Simontaival from a few weeks ago. They’re considering him a high risk, high reward prospect, which makes sense given his lack of major experience outside the Finnish junior system. They have him at a 4 out of 5 for risk, and a 4.5 out of 5 for reward. If he continues to grow and produce in the Liiga, he could be very successful, but there is a long way to go, and the risk is very evident. In terms of NHL potential, they believe he has the skills “to be a top-six winger at the NHL level.” Definitely a high reward probability from what will most likely be a second round selection. They do note that he has the talent to be taken in the first, but from some injuries in the past, and not getting more Liiga time this year, he most likely goes in the 2nd. As for positives, they rave about his offensive capabilities, noting that “he could be one of the best offensive players in this draft class.” They love his playmaking abilities, along with his hockey sense and creativity. However, they do note that he often “cheats” on offense, which leaves him vulnerable defensively, and they do only rate him 6 out of 10 defensively as a result.
Back in February, The Draft Analyst Steve Kournianos ranked his top Finnish prospects heading into this draft, and he had Kasper as the 2nd ranked Finn, behind only Anton Lundell. Steve echoes what The Hockey Writers wrote about Simontaival being dominant offensively. As he writes:
“Simontaival is pure offense. He’s one of the top scorers for Tappara and even produced in a small group of games in Finland’s adult-age Mestis league. He may not be the biggest kid on the ice, but Simontaival plays with intensity and is always looking to ram his offensive prowess right down his opponents’ throats. He spends a lot of time hovering near his own line in search of passes to pick off and turn into instant odd-man rushes.”
He also writes that generating offense is not a problem “for someone with quick feet and advanced puck control like Simontaival, and his anticipation off the hop is quite high.” If you draft this kid, you’re getting someone who goes all out on offense and is very good at it, but it does cost him in his defensive play, clearly. Steve even alludes to that when he says that he hovers near his own line looking to pick off passes and generate rushes.
Dobber Prospects write Jokke Nevalainen had a short write up on Kasper back in February, and here is what he said about him:
“Contrary to what was expected, Simontaival hasn’t been a regular at the men’s level this season. But he has been dominant player in the junior league, scoring 22 goals and 52 points in 45 games. Most importantly, though, he has been focusing on his play without the puck to become a more well-rounded player. He has been frequently used on the penalty kill and protecting a lead which are not situations where you would normally expect to see a skill player like him. Becoming a more well-rounded player increases Simontaival’s chances of being a full-time player at the men’s level next season and also increases his chances of one day playing in the NHL. He has upside to become a top-line scoring star but even if he doesn’t reach that level, he can still become a middle-six offensive winger because of his improved all-around game.”
Here, you see something else I have read elsewhere. Many expected him to be playing in the Liiga this past season, but he did not quite make it, leading many to believe that his development was not going along as quickly as it should have. However, he made up for it by dominating in juniors, and by improving his all-around game. Everyone believes he could be a top 6 scorer, but he will need to improve his all-around game without the puck to become a NHL regular, and clearly he was working on that this past year.
Finally, let’s check out Bill Placzek’s short write up over at Draft Site:
“An explosive scorer set-upman who doesn’t bring much to the defensive zone but is impressive explosive sniping attacker who wants the puck on his stick. Feisty fireplug with excellent all around skills. Finds the soft spots in the attack zone and buries his chances. Plays the point of the power play at the half wall. Short arms and stature and problaby is close to his full growth already. Has decent stick skills and a bit of explosiveness.”
A Little Video
Sadly, I cannot find any highlight packages or actually anything super recent for Kasper. Draft Dynasty does not have a video up on him, and no one has made a highlight reel film. That’s a little surprising to me given his offensive prowess would lend to some great highlights. However, I guess that is the price for playing most of your time in Finnish junior leagues where the exposure is much less. So instead, here are some of the few videos I found, which just cover his exploits in certain games from 2018. First, here is in Jr. A on 9/22/18 producing 2 goals and an assist:
Here he is producing 1 goal and 1 assist a few weeks before that:
Here is a nice goal from September of that year:
I think Kasper is a very intriguing prospect. He is the definition of pure offense. Doesn’t really worry about his defensive game that much, and spends all his time on the ice thinking about how to get the puck up ice, and when it is in the offensive zone, how to get it in the net. He is someone with top 6 offensive talent who will be a second round selection because his game is just that: offense. He obviously worked this year to improve his all-around game, and that is good, but you can only do so much in one year, and against junior competition in Finland, so heading into the draft, he is seen as a pure offensive winger.
In that sense, I like him as a prospect. In the second round, many guys that are taken are expected to be, at best, middle-6 guys, perhaps bottom 6 guys if they find success at the NHL level. The level of expectations for prospects have the propensity to drop off dramatically when you get away from the lottery picks, and you will not find many players in round 2 with serious top 6 potential, or top 4 potential on defense. Of course there will be some players who make it from there, and you always find surprises, but they are the exceptions, not the norm. I profiled one such player a couple of weeks ago in Jeremie Poirier, but there is a decent chance he does break in towards the end of the first round. Kasper has less of a chance of that, and I would say most likely is not looking to be drafted til more of the middle of round 2, perhaps picks 40-50. But as a team picking in that range, if you take Simontaival, you’re getting someone who, if he pans out, is a top 6 winger that you picked in the middle of round 2. The GM and scouts would be praised heavily for a success like that.
Of course, that type of potential in round 2 does not come with some serious risk, and Kasper also provides that. Most Finnish players with high ceilings like he has have more experience in Liiga competition before being drafted, and Kasper was expected to have that too, but that never panned out this past season for whatever reasons. Playing against U20 competition, he absolutely shined, but that is not the same as getting that invaluable experience against pros. And given that he has not been pressed against better competition, there are many questions. Will his game hold up against better players? Will he be able to handle it defensively? How will he hold up with his size? Will he be injured too often? These are legitimate questions that might hold some teams back.
In the end, these questions most likely mean little for the New Jersey Devils, who do not have a pick anywhere in the second round, and nowhere near where Kasper is most likely to come off the board. There is always the chance that a trade could land the team there, but it is unlikely. In that very unlikely scenario, I think they would have to take a look at this kid. Yes, obviously Simontaival does not play the sort of game that Devils players are known to play, the full 200 foot game, being a forward with strong adherence to defensive responsibility. But then again, the Devils also are bad at scoring, and they need guys who are pure offense. In that case, why not take a risk on someone like Kasper Simontaival if you trade back into the middle of round 2? You might be greatly rewarded with someone who could boost the offense of a team that needs that boost from multiple avenues.
Now that you have read up on him, what do you think about Kasper Simontaival? Are you intrigued by his game and his potential, or does his playstyle of thinking only about offense turn you off? How much of an effect do you think his minimal experience in the Liiga at this point has on his draft prospects? With some varied rankings, where do you see Kasper coming off the board? If the Devils were to somehow trade back and have a mid-2nd rounder, would you be happy if they took this kid? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading another prospect profile here at AATJ!