Kris Baker is once again counting down his list of top prospects available in the NHL Draft for Sabres.com. The first round of the 2017 NHL Draft will take place on June 23 in Chicago.
Team: JYP (Liiga)
A very smooth and polished defenseman who executes with a high level of confidence, there isn't much Urho Vaakanainen can't do. He sparks the transition game with his mobility, vision and pinpoint stretch passing, and can lock it down defensively as well.
Vaakanainen arrives at the draft with 66 professional games under his belt in Liiga, including 41 this past season with JYP that saw him produce six points (2+4) and a plus-5 rating while averaging 14:47 of work per game. He added one goal in six games at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Vaakanainen is best described as a smart and reliable two-way defenseman. He doesn't try to do too much as he calmly reads the play and reacts. When things get heavy in his own zone, Vaakanainen is right there battling in the trenches and stepping in front of shots.
He knows his role as a defenseman, a reason why coaches have consistently used him as a primary penalty killing option as he has risen through the ranks.
With that said, Vaakanainen packs some offensive potential as well. He is very poised and in control when skating the puck out of the trouble, keeping his head up and patiently waiting for an option before moving it.
When he moves to SaiPa next season to play for former assistant coach Tero Lehtera, he is expected to graduate into a larger overall role that will include increased time on the power-play.
Vaakanainen has one year left on his Liiga contract and will be expected to play a key role at the next World Junior Championship. With a rather mature game and already impressive resume, he could be a player that makes the quick transition to North America in a year or two's time as all signs point to him being a surefire NHL prospect.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker's website, SabresProspects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@SabresProspects).
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