Hameenaho Prospect Report

Stick to the list.

That is always the plan on the draft floor. And when the Devils did just that in 2023, knowing they did not have a first-round pick, they couldn't believe it when at 58th, Finnish forward Lenni Hämeenaho was still there.

He was next on the list, explained Devils Chief Amateur Scout, Mark Dennehy.

"After day one, 32 teams go, and the dust settles, we go back to our list and look and now we're able to look, based on a number of things, based on the chance that certain players are going to be (available)," Dennehy began, "There were eight players that we thought might fall to us, which we were very excited about. Lenni was the highest. And he also had the lowest chance of being available. I don't know that anybody in our organization thought he'd be there."

General manager Tom Fitzgerald has always said, particularly of the players the club chooses outside of the first round, is his scouts, all of them, going to bat for 'their guy', the player they believe in that the team cannot pass over. Fitzgerald often says he wants his scouts to have the passion and the banging of the fists to stand up for their player of choice.

"Fitzy to his credit, he sees how high we had the kid, and then he's like well now we might fall to us," Dennehy recalled of Day 2 at the draft table in Nashville. "And he's like, 'Alright, so what are you guys seeing that no one else is seeing?' What is he? What does he lack?' And the reality is, it's not an exact science."

Lenni Draft Table

It was Devils European scout Tommy Sinisalo who early on in the scouting process had Hämeenaho on his radar and ultimately the teams radar.

Right off the bat, it's looking like Sinisalo's radar was on point.

It's early, very early, in the development process for Hämeenaho, but he is making a heck of an impression straight out of his draft year. The 19-year-old currently leads his Liiga team Ässät with 14 points in 18 games. His nine goals also lead the team, four more than the second-leading scorer who has five. He's the youngest player on his team. He came flying out of the gates to start the season, with 6 goals and 7 points in the opening 8 games.

It's Hämeenaho's hockey IQ that stands out Dennehy said, and that has been fundamental in his success to start the year. It's also one of the traits that drew not only Sinisalo but the organization as a whole to him.

"It's his hockey sense," Dennehy shared, "The game is a fast game, you have to be able to play fast. Now, a lot of people think that means you have to be able to skate fast, there is a certain speed, minimum, for sure. But one of my favorite lines ever was from Rick Kowalski and he said he played with a guy that was really fast, and that he could get to the wrong spot on the ice faster than anybody.

"So you still need to have some hockey sense," continued Dennehy, "But if you have hockey sense, if you know where the (play) is going faster than anyone else on the ice, then you can play fast. I think it was the hockey sense piece for Tommy (Sinisalo), and also Lenni's competitiveness. He's like a dog on a bone when he gets on the hunt."


For Hämeenaho it's not just his offensive output that benefits from his hockey IQ, it's his awareness in all zones that continues to improve.

"The good thing about a guy like Lenni is even when he's not scoring, he's helping," Dennehy avowed. "He does other things and that's because he's smart. He'll assume all checking positions. If he's F-1, if he's F-2, if he's F-3, he's smart enough and he's good enough to be able to make the plays there. So we're thrilled that he's scoring, but I do think that when he's not scoring, he's still going to be able to help his team. Good players do that."

After a player is drafted into the system, a different set of scouting eyes starts to take over. It's at this point where the development staff play a bigger role. In Europe, that falls to Esa Pirnes.

"He says he's real good at sniffing out scoring chances," said Dennehy of Pirnes recent comments. "And he says his confidence has increased. He's shooting the puck more and it's made him more of a dual threat."

From Sinisalo's original scouting to Pirnes watchful eyes now, Dennehy says Hämeenaho has been on a pretty good trajectory over the last eight months. Where the Devils are now in their life cycle as an organization will afford added time for Hämeenaho to develop, the club doesn't need to plop him into the lineup right away, and the patience of the development process can play out.

It's Hämeenaho's ability to be good in tight spaces, winning his ice, that Dennehy says will be part of what should translate well from the European game to the North American one. Part of that ability to win his ice is being good on the wall, and being good enough to get the puck off the wall to make a play. Everything will happen quicker in a smaller rink, so even if Hämeenaho has the IQ, what's more important is having to skill to do all those things. Dennehy shared that Hämeenaho is a 'solid' skater, but that will continue to be an area he'll need to work on. It's good to be excited about the start of his year with Ässät but there is still a long way to go.

"The excitement of him leading his team in scoring right now is palpable within our group, but it's only half a season," Dennehy cautioned. "Let's see where he falls at the end of the year. He needs to continue to get better and there's going to be ebbs and flows to his season, to his career. He's been scoring, but he'll catch a cold spell. Can he stick with it? Can he get through it? You want these guys to face some adversity and have to overcome it. Because they're going to face it at the NHL level. And it's harder to overcome at the NHL level than it is at the lower level. It's really, for us to be patient with him."

And that composure will allow Hämeenaho to comfortably develop into the player that Sinisalo pushed for.

Right now, it's paying early dividends. 

"It takes a lot of courage," Dennehy said of scouts pushing for their player, "Fitz, he demands passion, he wants passion. Well, you go ahead and you put your neck on the line for a guy, you show that type of passion, I think you're like a proud Papa when he ends up being what you thought he was. So I would hope Tommy has a sense of pride and (Head of European Amateur Scouting) Nik (Evertsson), the European group, yeah, it's early, but the early results have been good."