After a prolonged second round, the 2021 NHL Draft picked up its pace in the third round. The New Jersey Devils first pick of the second day of the draft was at 68th overall. They used the pick to take center Samu Salminen of the Jokerit Under-20 team.
He is large at being 6’3” and 190 pounds as someone who turned 18 back in April. He has been productive with ten goals and 26 points in 17 U-20 games with Jokerit (as an assistant captain too) as well as seven goals (!) and nine points as the captain of Finland’s team at the World U-18 Championships. Curiously, his future will be in Finland for another year as he is committed to the University of Denver for 2022-23. Still, Salminen appeared to have a good 2020-21 on the surface. The leadership roles are nice bonuses along with the production.
However, how he has played the game have led to some real questions about his future, which would explain why he was selected at 68th overall. His EP profile has a list of various rankings and they range from early to mid-second round to late third/early fourth round. Let us consult a few prospect profiles on Salminen. Thanks to JKinCLE of The Cannon and There is no brigstew, only Z! of Pension Plan Puppets for these profiles where I found these I will be referencing.
Alexander Appleyard’s profile of Salminen at Smaht Scouting is detailed and a good place to start. Appleyard covers the two big negatives to his game and would explain why he is a high third rounder instead of going much earlier in this year’s draft. The first negative is his skating:
The league is fast and furious, and it is therefore rare to find players who are visibly sub-par in this area to even suit up for a team. Salminen’s skating is not pretty. Not only is his stride short and choppy, he also skates in a very upright manner that seems to even further limit both his acceleration and top speed. But it is not just his technique that is a concern. He struggles to keep his feet moving and often glides in every zone. It is hard to say that this is due to any innate level of laziness, as he constantly tries to get into the right spots, but nevertheless going forward there needs to be more intensity to his skating alongside improved technique.
This is not necessarily something that could be fixed from how I read it. Mitigated and improved on, sure. But his movement may ultimately hold back Salminen. The second negative is his defensive game. Given that Salminen is a center, this is a notable negative as centers carry more responsibilities on defense in general. Here is what Appleyard wrote:
hat is not to say he is “poor” defensively, he has some excellent games where he shuts down the oppositions top players. But for a player with a high IQ, who is excellent and reading lanes and utilising his long stick to break up plays, there are too many games, periods and plays where he gets out of position or does not pick up a trailer. For a big man he can also be reluctant to use his body in the defensive zone in situations where it would be more appropriate than a stick-check. Some of this inconsistency though is certainly linked to his skating. And if that improves his defensive work with become more consistent as well.
This reads to me as something more fixable. Picking up a player is teachable. Instructing a player to do more than just stick-checking attackers is, well, instructable. Putting in more effort is feasibly possible. But I can understand how this would throw teams off. That stated, Appleyard also goes into details about the good things Salminen brings to the table. Such as intelligence on the ice:
He understands coverage in a way most NHL forwards don’t, and as a result creates space for himself near the net or in shooting lanes from no-where. This leads to both tap-ins for himself, as well as high-danger shots on a regular basis from inside the circles. This IQ is also utilized when picking out team-mates. He seems to have an instinctive knowledge of where his line-mates will be at all times, and can also manipulate opposition players into doing what he wants them to in order to open up lanes for his passing.
But he is not just a play-maker. In-fact Salminen might be more dangerous as a shooter than a passer. He has great hands that allow him to get a puck in a position to shoot extremely quickly. He rarely double-clutches and even a pass behind his body or in his skates cannot be dismissed by a goalie, as he is still able to get it on goal quickly. His wrist-shot is impressive, but his slap-shot from the right side is one of the better ones in the draft class.
And Appleyard even noted that he has played on both special teams for both club and country. The skating and his speed has limited his effectiveness at those levels and that is why it is such a negative. However, if it can be worked on and gains can be made, then he could be a fine player.
Ben Kerr’s profile at Last Word on Sports is in alignment with what Appleyard found of him. Kerr breaks his profiles down by skating, offensive game, and defensive game and they are consistent with what Appleyard wrote. Kerr’s conclusion gets to this point as to what to expect from the prospect:
Salminen has many of the tools needed to be an NHL player. He has the smarts and the offensive ability to develop into a middle-six centre. Add in his face-off prowess and it will be tough to move him out of the middle. However, the lack of dynamic skating ability hurts him. He will need to work with a good skating coach to improve this aspect of his game. If his skating improves, he can be a real steal for a time. Salminen has ideal size and works well in the dirty areas of the ice. While he has some defensive issues, most of these would be solved with improved skating ability.
It would be a good question to ask someone on the Devils as to whether they have a skating coach or contacts with one to set up with prospects. It would be worth it to help Salminen’s prospects for the future.
And I suspect the World Under-18 Championships played a role. They appear to have highly influenced a lot of the picks made so far this year. It would be the case for the Chase Sillinger pick unless the Devils really did have eyes on the Danish U-20 leagues. Salminen was quite productive in this year’s tourney with Finland. As such, Steve Kournianos highlighted him in his review of top prospects at the 2021 tourney with this blurb:
Salminen, who fell into the No. 1 center role after Oliver Kapanen’s injury in the opener, is one of those players that can go through an entire game without being noticed but still ends up with three or four points. Some might call that concerning for a highly-regarded center, and there is some force to the argument that Salminen on an individual level isn’t much of a line driver or possession fiend. Unsurprisingly, however, he ended up leading Finland with seven goals — including five on the power play — in seven games, using his big frame, plus shot and net-front determination to compliment the constant weaving and cross-seam passing used by wingers Samu Tuomaala and Ville Koivunen.
The description that Salminen was not an easy standout would help explain his third round selection as opposed to anything higher for someone who averaged a goal per game in a featured tourney. Then again, as Kournianos noted, that goal total was juiced by the Finnish power play. Kournianos, I think, is more understanding of his situation and I do not get the sense he thinks he was carried by Koivunen and Tuomaala - who both went before Salminen. I can understand how that may have hurt his image.
Per Kournianos’ free draft guide ranked Salminen at 50 and the profile is consistent with Kerr and Appleyard. Salminen could stand to get more involved on defense; his balance is good but his movement is not that quick; and he is adept at shooting, passing, and attacking without the puck. The Draft Analyst guide’s projection is a “middle-six goal-scoring center,” which is fine for an early third round selection.
Lastly, FinnProspects ranked him fourth among the Finnish prospects available for this year. (And he went after Heimosalmi, Kapanen, and Helenius, who were ranked below him) These two quotes came with his final ranking:
“Skilled center with good frame, who creates chances and finds open passing lanes well. Has had impressive point production in every junior level. Two-way game was still not there but it will improve as he had good effort. Had some problems with skating and the pace of the game which drops his draft stock a bit.” – Eetu Siltanen
“A big and reachy center with good shot, above-average playmaking skills and leadership qualities. Needs to improve his skating to be able to take the leap to the NHL one day.” – Miika Arponen
These quotes are also consistent with the other two, more in-depth profiles about the player as well as what the two SBN profiles compiled. All together, my read is that Salminen is a project selection. He has issues he needs to work on, specifically his skating. But if he does make strides with his strides and continues to thrive in the other aspects of his game, then the Devils could end up with a real fine forward for the future.
By the way: Here’s some video on the player. The Devils in the Details duo did put this shift-by-shift video of a Finnish national team scrimmage together. It is something at least.
For an early third round selection in a wide-open draft year, this is a perfectly fine pick. I like it. I would have greatly preferred Simon Robertsson - who could have been taken at 29th and surprisingly fell all the way to 71st. (And I could be talked into Stanislav Svozil, Dylan Duke, or Ayrton Martino but I’m not as big on those three.) But that was pretty much it in terms of players who were really, really good and left on the board. This is good value for where he was selected. I would not have gone as far as alslammerz did in the open post as to think if Salminen went at 29th and Stillman went at 68th, then everyone would be happy with both. But I get the point and do not totally disagree. There is a lot to like about Salminen and if his skating does get better, then I think we all like him a lot in Utica and in Newark one day.
I welcome Samu Salminen to the organization and I wish him the best as he continues in Jokerit for another season and then moves over to Denver in the following season.
Now that you know what I think about the player, I want to know what you think of the selection. What do you like about Salminen? What are your concerns? What do you expect from Salminen going forward? Please leave your thoughts about the player in the comments and please also vote in the poll as part of community reaction I will put together tomorrow. Thank you for reading.
The Devils drafted Samu Salminen at 68th Overall. What do you think of the pick?
This poll is closed
I love it!
I like the pick.
I don’t know / I’m in the middle.
I don’t like the pick.
I hate it!