What are the chances as many as two players starring in Finland are taken in the opening round of the 2011 Entry Draft on June 24?
It's hard to believe the country that has provided such current NHL standouts as Teemu Selanne, Mikko Koivu, Miikka Kiprusoff, Kimmo Timonen and Niklas Backstrom has failed to produce multiple first-round picks in seven years. The last time it happened was 2004, when forwards Lauri Tukonen (No. 11, Kings), Petteri Nokelainen (No. 16, Islanders) and Lauri Korpikoski (No. 19, Rangers) were tabbed.
This year, there appears to be as many as three frontrunners at forward and a highly coveted goalie in Samu Perhonen, who NHL Central Scouting has rated No. 1 at his position among European players.
Following the top two Swedes on the European draft board -- defenseman Adam Larsson of Skelleftea and center Mika Zibanejad of Djurgarden -- don't be surprised if Finland's Joel Armia
of Assat Pori or Miikka Salomaki of Karpat are the next European-trained players to be taken. Perhonen might not be too far behind North American goalies John Gibson of the U.S. National Team Development Program and Christopher Gibson of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens (a native of Karkkila, Finland).
Then there's the intrigue surrounding Markus Granlund, the younger brother of Mikael Granlund, a first-round pick by the Minnesota Wild last year. Mikael Granlund's lacrosse-style goal against Russia in the semifinal round of the IIHF World Championship in May was immortalized on a first-class stamp in the country.
And, yes, Markus has a similar type move up his sleeve.
"I have my own style, but he's my brother, so of course we learn from each other," Markus Granlund told NHL.com. "I'm not so sure what things he might learn from me, though. Mikael's got more power and he's stronger than me but we are our own players."
The top-ranked Finnish skater on Central Scouting's board is Armia, who is No. 4.
Assat Pori coach Pekka Rautakallio needed just one month to determine that the 18-year-old right wing was talented enough to play on the top line in Assat, one of the top teams in Finland's top professional league, SM-liiga.
"I just thought he was ready to play on our first line and we just needed to find the right center to play alongside him," Rautakallio told NHL.com. "We finished second in the league with Joel our first-line right winger and he finished second on the team in goals (18)."
Armia and Markus Granlund were catalysts for Finland's fifth-place showing at the World Under-18 Championship in Germany in April, combining for 6 goals, 23 points and a plus-6 rating. However, NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb doesn't see many similarities between the two.
"Armia is the sniper and Markus is the playmaker," Stubb told NHL.com. "Markus is at his best running the power play and Armia is bigger (6-foot-3, 191 pounds) and stronger and the scorer. That will probably put Armia ahead on draft day. Armia is also more mature since he played regular in the Finnish league with Assat."
When asked to compare Armia to another Finnish player he either played with, against or coached, Rautakallio refused.
"He's going to be a different kind of Finn in the NHL," Rautakallio said. "He just needs to add a couple more kilos to that frame of his. I know there have been comparisons to Teemu Selanne, but while they both have that sniper mentality, Teemu was quicker when he arrived in the NHL.
"The thing I like about Joel is he's very humble. He wants to know what I expect and he's willing and ready to execute it. That tells me he really wants to learn how to play, how to be a better hockey player."
Here's a closer look at NHL Central Scouting's top three Finnish skaters entering the 2011 Draft. The number preceding each name is their Central Scouting rank among European players.
4. Joel Armia
, Assat: Had 18 goals, 29 points and 24 penalty minutes in 48 regular-season games in 2010-11. He was the second-youngest player for Team Finland at the 2011 World Junior Championship, where he had 1 assist in six games as Finland finished sixth.
He had a much better showing in the World Under-18 Championship in Germany, leading the team with 9 assists, 13 points and 29 shots on goal. He also finished with a plus-2 rating. While not flashy, Armia usually is in the right spot at the right time.
"He's big and tall but surprisingly mobile for a player of his size," Stubb told NHL.com. "He's a sniper with a good selection of shots. You might have to look for him during some shifts, but then, suddenly, he scores the winner."
No matter where he's selected in the draft, it's almost guaranteed Armia will return to Assat for at least one more season to improve his strength and overall game. He's under contract through the 2011-12, so it's probably to his benefit to spend another season in Finland before gearing up for the North American game.
"It would be a dream to play in the NHL, but I am under contract with Assat for one more season and I could use that to learn even more," Armia told NHL.com
7. Miikka Salomaki, Karpat: The skinny on the 5-11, 198-pound right wing is that he compensates for his lack in natural talent with a tremendous work ethic.
In 40 games with Karpat in SM-liiga, he had 4 goals, 10 points and 53 penalty minutes. He had 2 goals and 3 points in six games at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, and 4 goals and 6 points in six games at the World Under-18 Championship in Germany.
"Miikka is strong as a bull in one-on-one situations," Stubb told NHL.com. "He's a 100-percent team player. Whoever drafts him will get a very useful two-way player whose overall skill level is surprisingly high."
9. Markus Granlund, HIFK Jr.: The younger Granlund captained his country at the U18 World Championship in Germany and finished second on the team with 8 assists and 10 points as the team finished fifth.
He's regarded as a player with great vision and play-making ability and a beast on the power play. In 40 games with the HIFK's team in the Junior 'A' SM-liiga he had 20 goals, 52 points and a plus-5 rating.
"He is just outstanding with his understanding of the game and smart, cool passes," Stubb said. "Even if he was two years younger than most players in the Finnish junior league, he was the third-best scorer, and by far the most important player on the team.
"He's an above-average skater, smallish (5-10, 169), but compensates for his lack of size and strength with his outstanding vision."
Granlund admits to needing to work on the physical part of his game.
"Of course I like to play physical, but I'm not so strong and I don't have so much power," he said. "But I think I can also play a physical game."