BUFFALO -- Konsta Helenius competitive nature has been evident since he was a child. Growing up, he and his brother, Kalle, who is two years older, not only squared off playing hockey, but also soccer, badminton and tennis.

Kalle often won. But each time he did, Konsta wanted to play again, determined to defeat his brother.

“We fought a lot. That’s why I’m good with battles,” Helenius said with a smile.

That’s helped the 18-year-old forward prospect, selected by the Sabres with the No. 14 pick in the 2024 NHL Draft, find success as a teenager at the professional level in Finland. Helenius (5-foot-11, 189 pounds) played the past two seasons for Jukurit in Liiga, the country's top professional league. He had 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 51 regular-season games and another six points (two goals and four assists) in the playoffs.

He also impressed at the 2024 IIHF World Championship, where he was the youngest player on the roster.

“That’s something you don’t see very often,” Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams said. “Just that production at that age is very unique. But there’s just a lot to like. He’s a very competitive player that’s got a skill set that we think will translate really well to the National Hockey League.”

Helenius drafted by Buffalo Sabres

Helenius, who signed a three-year entry-level contract July 8, has options for next season. He could play in Finland with Tappara, or he could join other Sabres prospects with Rochester of the American Hockey League. He could also potentially play in Buffalo if he makes the team out of training camp.

Adams said after the first round of the draft he thinks Helenius is “closer rather than farther away,” and that the Sabres would like to get him to North America as soon as possible. 

“You never know the timeline when a player like this will be ready to help you," Adams said, "but when you have the experience that he’s gained through the men’s league, through the World Championship, that certainly expedites things.”

Helenius got started in hockey watching his father’s beer league games with his brother, and when his brother started playing, he naturally wanted to follow suit. When he was 16, he moved from his hometown of Ylojarvi to live on his own three hours away in Mikkeli, where Jukurit plays. He had some help from friends in town, learning how to cook, run his dishwasher, and more.

On the ice, Helenius learned from former NHL forward Olli Jokinen, his coach with Jukurit. He enjoyed hearing stories about the NHL from Jokinen, who played 1,231 games over 17 seasons, and the guidance to better his game, including face-offs. 

“I think it will help me a lot because there I played against grown men,” he said. “They’re such strong and big guys so it helped me a lot because [in North America] the battling, everything, is very important.”

Helenius likes to watch center Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes and forward William Nylander of the Toronto Maple Leafs for their skating and puck protection. The goal-scoring talents of Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews are also key viewing, one of several areas of his game Helenius is looking to raise.

“I want to improve everything in my game,” he said. “Skating, I want to be stronger, protect the puck better, and everything.”

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