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Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen creating his own style

Finland-born goaltender No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of international players at position

by Guillaume Lepage @GLepageLNH / Staff writer LNH.com

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen put on the pads, blocker and glove as soon as he got the chance. At age 4.

Scoring goals didn't interest him. He wanted to prevent them, just as he already was in soccer and ball hockey. And the main reason was the equipment.

"When you're little, the big equipment looks impressive," Luukkonen said. "My brother and cousin were also goalies and I wanted to be like them."

It didn't take long for Luukkonen to surpass them, and NHL Central Scouting has the native of Hameenlinna, Finland, ranked No. 1 among international goaltenders in its final rankings for the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas. 

The draft will be held at United Center in Chicago. The first round is June 23 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN), and Rounds 2-7 will be June 24 (10 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN).

 

[RELATED: NHL.com's top 10 goaltender's elgible for 2017 draft]

 

"Luukkonen plays an effective butterfly style and does a good job of controlling rebounds," said Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting.

At 6-foot-4, 198 pounds, Luukkonen, 18, is the prototypical modern goalie and has been followed by scouts for years. And he knows he was being watched.

"It was tough at the start to know people are watching you because it's your draft year, but I would say I managed it pretty well," he said. "I didn't expect to have such a good season, but we had a good team with good defensemen. I didn't give up a lot of goals, but I would say that was thanks to my defense."

In 35 games with HPK, he led Finland's under-20 league first with a 1.78 goals-against average and was fifth with a .917 save percentage. Then he led HPK to the U-20 league championship with a 2.01 GAA in nine games.

He capped his season by helping Finland win the silver medal at the 2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship with a 2.90 GAA in six games.

Luukkonen said he has enjoyed watching fellow Finland-born goaltenders succeed in the NHL, but feels his style has not been overly influenced by them.

"It had an impact for sure," he said. "Guys like [Miikka] Kiprusoff and [Niklas] Backstrom were very popular at the time, but I would say my style was more influenced by my experience as a soccer goalie. I like making spectacular saves by diving and stuff like that. I came up with my own style."

Adding to Luukkonen's natural talent has been a coaching system that has helped Finland-born goaltenders succeed in the NHL and at international tournaments. Seven Finnish goalies played in the NHL this season, and since 2010 three have played in the Stanley Cup Final: Antti Niemi with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, Tuukka Rask with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and 2013, and Pekka Rinne with the Nashville Predators this season.

"We have a good goaltending culture," Luukkonen said. "Every team puts in a lot of effort to improve their goaltenders. We take a lot of shots from talented forwards and we get a lot of work during games. Maybe that's what makes the difference."

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