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Lenni Hämeenaho: 2023 NHL Draft Prospect Profile; Safe Finnish Winger

Lenni Hämeenaho of Porin Ässät made the first team in his draft eligible year, he was the only 2023 draft-eligible player on Finland’s WJC roster, and he produced in Liiga. So how could he be available for the Devils in the late second round? Read this to learn why.

Finland v Sweden: Quarterfinals - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship
Lenni Hameenaho represented his nation in the 2023 WJCs
Photo by Dale Preston/Getty Images

For whatever reason, Finnish hockey players have yet to find sustained success on the New Jersey Devils. Finland is one of Europe’s top hockey nations and yet the best Devil among them was Sami Vatanen, whom the Devils acquired in a trade and never drafted. The Devils have scouted and picked from Finland before. But it is a long list of who’s that instead of who’s who. The most games played by a player drafted out of Finland for New Jersey is Janne Ojanen, who played 98 games after being selected in the third round in 1986 between the 1988-89 and 1992-93 seasons. Wherein he was not in the NHL for two of them. Topias Vilén and Samu Salminen are in the pool and perhaps can be the ones to break this run of futility. Of course, the other way to do that is to draft more Finns and, well, ones with an intriguing profile. Such as the subject of today’s prospect profile, Porin Ässät left winger Lenni Hämeenaho.

Who is Lenni Hämeenaho?

Straight out of Kajaani, Finland, Lenni Hämeenaho (a.k.a. Lenny Hämeenaho) was born on November 7, 2004 - which puts him on the older end of this year’s draft class. Per his Elite Prospects profile, he is a right-shooting forward who stands at 6’0” and 174 pounds. The earliest season on record is 2018-19 when he was on the Under-16 team for YJK. He moved onto the Porin Ässät system from then on. From each season until this past one, Hämeenaho would play at his age group and get a taste of the next level up. He started to get real notice in 2021-22 when he put up 21 goals and 37 points with the Ässät U-20s, earned a loan to Hermes in Mestis - which is a professional team in Finland, and represent his nation at the U-18 level, including six games at the 2022 World Under-18 Championships where Finland won bronze. He put up two goals and three points in that tourney, adding to eight points earned in other U-18 national team play. The management at Ässät decided that he could get a shot at the next level: the first team in Liiga.

In 2022-23, Hämeenaho made his Liiga debut on September 14, 2022 and never looked back. While pointless in his first game, he did well enough to warrant more appearances and with a significant amount of ice time. In all of his games, he played at least 12 minutes and averaged 15:48 per game. The points would come and they came quite a bit. Nine goals and 21 points in 51 games (along with 152 shots (which may be attempts given how Liiga counts them), 3 PPGs, and just 14 PIM). That may not seem like much. Except it was good enough to put him tied for sixth on Ässät’s entire team in points and third in all of Liiga among rookies. And the two ahead of him - Oliver Kapanen, Niko Huuhtanen - are a year older (and drafted last year) too. The play continued into the playoffs, where Hämeenaho put up three goals and four points in eight games, putting him in a tie for third on his team in playoff scoring while averaging 14:03 of ice time per game. At just age 18, Hämeenaho has already established himself as a regular winger for Ässät. The organization understandably rewarded the young forward with a contract extension in April; he is signed through 2024-25.

As a quick aside, here are some recent Liiga rookies and their season’s point totals. Juraj Slafkovsky had 10 points in 33 games with TPS in 2021-22. Brad Lambert had 7 goals and 15 points in 45 games with JYP in 2020-21. Aatu Räty had three goals and six points in 35 games with Kärpät in 2020-21. Anton Lundell had nine goals and 19 points with HIFK in 2018-19. Points are not everything for a prospect. But they are not nothing either. It is worth noting that Hämeenaho’s production in 2022-23 is in some solid company compared to other Liiga-based prospects. 21 points is very noteworthy.

Hämeenaho’s season was not just limited to the Liiga. He once again represented at the international level. Only this time with the Finnish U-20 team, even making the World Junior Championship roster. Given that he was just 18 year old, that he played in five games at the WJCs (with an average of 10:59 per game) and put up a goal (5 shots) and an assist is notable. Especially since Hämeenaho was the only draft-eligible player on that roster. Additionally, he put up three goals and five points in 13 total games with the U-20s. I am confident he will get a chance to play a larger role at the 2024 WJCs in Gothenburg. Given how Finland was knocked out in 2023 by Sweden in the quarterfinals, I think he may want some revenge.

Still, this was as good as a season as one could want from a Finnish forward prospect. He got a shot to make the first team at his organization and Hämeenaho stayed with them all season long. What is more is that he played a regular role in a men’s league on a team good enough to make the playoffs. He averaged 14-15 minutes per game between the season and playoffs. He was also one of their more prolific producers. Hämeenaho also earned a shot at the next level at the international stage as the only 2023-draft-eligible on his team’s roster at the WJCs. Hämeenaho received a contract extension and will hear his name called out later this month.

However, doing well in the season and making the WJC roster is not going to guarantee a high selection. In fact, many are not that high on Hämeenaho.

Where is Lenni Hämeenaho Ranked?

On the surface, you may expect a full-time Liiga regular at 18 and an underage WJC roster selection would garner plenty of high marks. This is not the case:

The most positive rankings for Hämeenaho come from NHL Central Scouting Services and Draft Prospects Hockey. While CSS downgraded him from their midterm rankings, it was just from 7th to 8th. That is not a notable fall. The people at Draft Prospects Hockey must like him because their previous ranking per EP was 53rd and they moved him up into a first round range. I cannot find out as to why, but someone(s) there likes him a lot. That said, they are on their own as most see him as a mid-second rounder to a mid-third rounder, with FC Hockey being the most negative with an 82nd place ranking. If you are wondering why he is being profiled on a blog for a team who has a late second round pick as their first selection, then this is why. He very well could be an option for the New Jersey Devils.

Some of the rankings did come with some kind of description of how they see the player, and that is worth diving into why the opinions for Hämeenaho are not so hot given how much he did in 2022-23.

What Others Say About Lenni Hämeenaho

The one-word summary of what others have said about Hämeenaho: whelmed. In a few more words, you will find that a consensus has settled on the player.

When Tony Ferrari highlighted the 2023 draft eligible players at the 2023 WJCs, this is what he wrote about Hämeenaho:

The only draft-eligible player on the Finns, Hameenaho is a highly productive player in the Liiga for his age. However, he lacks the pace and physical tools you’d typically see in a player with his statistical profile, which keeps him from being a top-end prospect. Regardless, Hameenaho is the kind of player that excels on the Finnish national teams through his intelligent play and good positional play. A big performance could put him on the radar, but it could be difficult for him to get into the lineup.

He would get into the lineup in each game, but I do not think an average ice time just under 11 minutes per game to go with a goal and an assist would qualify as a big performance. Anyway, this is what Seth Ditchfield of Draft Prospect Pro wrote about Hämeenaho at the WJCs. Keep in mind this is the one site that rated him highly recently:

“Hämeenaho is a great energy, shot-first winger who shows himself to be a very impressive possession winger. He plays the game old-school viewers would like, he gets himself to the slot, isn’t afraid to fight with the defensemen for a better position, and fights very hard to get high-danger shots off. He has a knack for working his way to the slot and not taking advantage of low-danger chances, and due to this, he could use his shot more from the outside. He’s a decent skater, he has good edgework and endurance but needs to improve his top-end speed going forward.”

While Ditchfield was positive, his points good and bad about the player are consistent with Ferrari’s pre-WJC blurb. And they are consistent with the various takes on the player after the 2022-23 season concluded. In Gabriel Foley’s Top 100 ranking from May at Recruit Scouting, this is what he wrote about who he placed 49th on his list:

Every draft class has a player that plays a simple, reliable, “third line” type of play. This year, that’s Hämeenaho . He doesn’t jump off the page but a hard-nosed style that properly maintains the middle lane of the ice keeps Hämeenaho productive and effective in all three zones.

At the revived Eyes on the Prize, Anton Rasegård profiled Lenni Hämeenaho and came away positive about the player. But he was surprised that Eyes on the Prize contributor and scout Hadi Kalakeche (who also works for Dobber Prospects) did not even rank him. This is what Kalakeche said as to why back in April:

“I don’t see enough offensive upside in his actual play, even though his production is good. It’s mainly been a result of a very mature game for his age. Board play, defensive positioning, and forechecking are all advanced and polished. The issue with that is, how much room for improvement does he have? I have a hunch that he’s just an early bloomer [and that] he’s going to plateau very soon.”

Want more of this consensus? Here is the summary for Hämeenaho at Smaht Scouting in their final rankings that came out late in May, where he was placed 49th. This is by Alex Appleyard:

If the young Finn one day makes the NHL, no matter what his role you can be assured he will be a fan favourite. He is the kind of player that incites the old hockey cliché of “playing the right way”, and combines that with a high IQ in each zone as well as a good shot and a decent set of hands. This season he established himself as a good player at the pro level in Liiga – the Finnish top tier – and kept improving as the season went on. He is a North-South player who excels on the boards and is great at getting space around the net. While lacking the high-end skill to be a future top line player he is confident with the puck on his stick and a relentless fore-checker who is good at picking pockets in every zone. His skating is the main area that will need improvement in order to fulfil his potential, but if he can iron out the kinks there he is very likely to be at worst a good NHL bottom sixer, with the upside to play a complimentary role on a second line.

This kind of echo was also echoed by Eetu Siltanen of Dobber Prospects. Here is what he wrote about Hämeenaho in their Spring rankings, where the player was ranked 45th.

Hämeenaho had a productive season with Ässät’s Liiga team, as he notched 25 points in 59 games, regular season and playoffs combined. He’s a shooting winger with good physicality and is at his best in front of the net, creating screens and fighting for loose pucks. He could be ranked much higher but our team doesn’t see high-end upside.

And for further confirmation of the way he and apparently everyone else in the scouting/prospect sphere thinks of Hämeenaho, here is what he wrote about him in December 2022 at Dobber Prospects in the Observations section of his player page.

Hämeenaho is listed 6-0 and 174 pounds, but when you look at him, you really feel like he’s bigger than that. He can play physically and goes to the dirty areas of the ice. In the offensive zone, he doesn’t create much but instead plays a lot in front of the net, where he is very good – battling hard, creating screens, and fighting for loose pucks. Hämeenaho is a solid skater, but he needs to add more quickness and separation speed. He has some solid puck skills and a good shot, but he hasn’t been a volume shooter so far in his Liiga career. Hämeenaho looks like a good prospect with a safe floor but he also has some intriguing upside and untapped potential.

It is rare for multiple people from different sites to come to a common view of a prospective hockey player. Between Tony Ferrari, Gabriel Foley, Alex Appleyard, Eetu Siltanen, Hadi Kalakeche, and Seth Ditchfield, they all pretty much settle on Lenni Hämeenaho being a future complementary winger for a team’s middle or bottom six forward group. A player who works hard. Who plays bigger than his frame. Who plays smart. Perhaps even The Right Way. But with legitimate questions about his skating (namely, his speed); his lack of any talent that stands out; and his upside, particularly on offense, there is little reason to get very excited for the player. Even with the kind of season he had in Liiga as an 18-year old draft eligible winger. The talent may not be projectable despite what the production suggests. Again, points are not nothing, but they are not everything either. Also again: they all seem whelmed with the player.

A Little Video

There is quite a bit of video of Lenni Hämeenaho available.

  • First, here’s a breakdown of the prospect by Jonathna Cottone of Recrutes Hockey, edited down to a sub-4 minute clip. This is based on four playoff games in March in Liiga against Ilves - which ended Ässät’s season. The video is just selected plays with Hämeenaho, but with some quick overlay text as to why that was picked. Cottone did not think Hämeenaho did so well in puck battles at times, did think is shot was good, and tended to focus on offensive plays. It is a good idea although I would have preferred if Cotton or someone else at Recrutes did not pick the four playoff games Ässät got dumped in.
  • Second, for those who like a whole picture of a player for a whole game, here’s a shift-by-shift video from The Puck Enthusiast. This video is just over 16 minutes long and it covers Hämeenaho’s ninth Liiga game: an October 5, 2022 game against Kärpät. It also comes with Finnish game commentary for those who are into that. He ended up being scoreless in the game, but did register 3 shots. One of which coming off a slick and speedy move at about 2:47 into the video that made the commentator go “wow.”
  • Third, Matthew Zator, Logan Horn, and Peter Baracchini of The Hockey Writers discussed Hämeenaho as a faller in this March 29, 2023 video. Rather, mostly Logan Horn discussed the player. Incidentally, Logan Horn would profile the player at THW earlier that month. The part relevant to Hämeenaho is about two minutes long but it does go into why he is not more highly regarded. He got his points in close, which is a good skill; but nothing much about his game stands out. Which is consistent with the previous section in this post.
  • Fourth, here is a video from C More Sport that profiles the player. If you know Finnish, then you will learn more about Hämeenaho. For those like me who do not, you will see some highlights interspersed with the interview.
  • Fifth, here is a post-game interview with highlights of Hämeenaho against SaiPa in late November. He had a goal and an assist in that game, but the clips focus more on what led to the goal. And if you know Finnish, you may have more insight as to what he thought about his and his team’s performance.

Maybe it is because of the bigger ice or the pace of play, but I did not see Lenni Hämeenaho struggling to keep up. I can agree that on a smaller North American rink, that speed may have some issues. But I did like seeing how he moved without the puck and going to the “dirty” areas to make plays. He has been productive in close and that is a positive that I think can translate in the future. I can understand the other observers in that Hämeenaho does not do anything that will thrill you regularly outside of an occasional deke or shot for a score. I can also understand how he made it as a regular on a men’s professional team in Finland at age 18. He does not do anything particularly bad, even if Cottone was not impressed with the 50/50s Hämeenaho was involved in for pucks.

An Opinion of Sorts

Similar to Aram Minnetian, the lack of an identifiable trait or skill or talent that can project to higher levels of hockey has and will hurt Lenni Hämeenaho’s prospects at the 2023 NHL Draft. He will be drafted. Unless a NHL team really falls in love with the player, I can agree that he is not worth a late first or even an early second round pick. Which is, again, why he is being profiled here. There is a real chance that NHL teams will swing bigger for prospects with higher upsides or more visible (and valuable?) skills. Or opt to go with safer prospects to fit a team’s need in their prospect pool. This could mean Hämeenaho could very well be available late in the second round for the New Jersey Devils. And I think the Devils could do a lot worse than him.

Sure, it does not seem like a great idea to take a player who possibly developed early or may not develop into much more than a useful depth winger. I can agree it is a bad idea to draft players with bottom six or depth defensemen potential in the first round. However, barring any acquisitions, the Devils’ first pick in the 2023 NHL Draft is so late in the second round that finding a future NHL player of any kind is going to be unlikely. To that end, I am more than fine with a selection of a safe forward with limited potential like Hämeenaho.

Further, I want to be more hopeful that he may have more to offer than what others have said about him. Hämeenaho played above his age level as a youth. He was the sole 2023-eligible on Finland’s WJC team. He made Ässät’s first team at age 18 and played regular minutes while putting up points. Even if most of the points were at close range and off tips and rebounds and so forth, that is still really good given that Hämeenaho is not particularly beefy. Even if the upside is limited, this is still impressive enough to think he can reach that upside. Should he be able to improve his speed, his battling, and just his overall game, then he could turn into a nice addition. Which is more than acceptable at 58th overall given who else could be there by then. I would rather take a chance on someone who has done this much already as an 18-year old player than someone who may have a superlative talent or two but has otherwise struggled where they were. You may wonder what is so special about him, but you do not have to ask where’s the beef with Hämeenaho’s 2022-23 campaign.

This is all to say that I would like the Devils to take him if he is available that late in the second round. He can cook in Liiga for two years to play out his extension and then come on over to Utica to get acclimated. Then we can see if Hämeenaho could become a rarity in this organization: a successful draft pick out of Finland.

Your Take

I like what I read about Lenni Hämeenaho. I understand that when multiple scouts and prospect followers all come to the same conclusion on the player, it is probably correct. But given where the Devils are picking, I think that is fine. A safe winger who projects to be a NHL player, even if it is not a significant one, is fine. I would rather bet on the guy who did really well in a men’s league as an 18-year old to reach that. But I want to know what you think. Did Hämeenaho’s 2022-23 season impress you? What did you like reading about him? What did you not like reading about him? Regardless of what I think, would you want the Devils to take him at all? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Lenni Hämeenaho in the comments. Thank you for reading.