— Riku Laukkanen (@r1kuexposures) October 16, 2014
I don’t blame you if you’ve never heard of Veeti Vainio, as the lanky Finnish defender is currently flying way under the radar. Defensive issues and questions about his overall game have kept him well down many draft lists, but elite level production in Finland’s top junior league has vaulted him rather high on ours. Quite simply, he’s a point producing monster on the blueline for one of Finland’s best U-20 teams.
Join us after the break as we take a look at the 2015 draft’s biggest statistical sleeper.
- Age: 17.25 years old at start of season. Born June 16, 1997
- Birthplace: Espoo, Finland
- Frame: 6’2, 169 lbs
- Position: D
- Draft Year Team: Blues U-20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)
- Accomplishments: 2014 Jr. A SM-Liiga Championship, 2014 Jr. A SM-Liiga Defenseman Playoff Goals Leader, 2015 Jr. A SM-Liiga Bronze Medal, 2015 Goals, Assists, Points Defenseman Leader, 2015 World U18 Silver Medal
|PCS% 2014||PCS Pts/82 2014||PCS% 2015||PCS Pts/82 2015|
|PCS Most NHL GP||PCS Highest Pts/GP|
|Janne Niinimaa||Erik Karlsson|
|Marek Malik||Janne Niinimaa|
|Erik Karlsson||Marek Malik|
- PCS = Our Player Cohort Success model. Click here for more information about PCS.
|25 (EU)||89||85||N/A||Hon. Mention||N/A||N/A||70|
Since Vainio is so far off the board for most publications, the most detailed scouting report we can find come courtesy of our own MoneyPuck, when he reached out to Future Considerations’ Finnish scout Marco Bombino:
Vainio is an excellent skater with great poise, vision and solid shot selection. However, his physical game and defensive zone coverage were really concerning for me. He must get stronger and show more determination when he’s without the puck. The lack of effort was not good to see from a high-end talent like him. For me, he’s a mid-round selection in the draft. There’s some really good offensive potential, but other parts of his game need to improve. I think playing at the second highest level (Mestis) would be best for his development. I don’t see him playing full time in Liiga yet, but I do believe he will play some games, especially when Blues will also compete in the Champions Hockey League.
It’s a bit odd that a guy who’s played as large a role on as good a team at as young an age as Vainio isn’t at least getting a little bit more buzz, especially since he’s been the top scoring defenseman in his age group for two years now in Finland. Going back and trying to find guys similar in terms of production leaves us with fairly few comparables, since not many guys have ever put up draft year numbers as good as Vainio’s in Finland’s junior circuit. 21-year old Dallas Stars prospect Esa Lindell matched Vainio’s per-game output in 2011-2012, but before that you have to go all the way back to Aki Berg in 1992-93 to find someone that even comes close.
Looking at PCS, Vainio’s three successful comparables include Erik Karlsson (always a good sign), Janne Niinimaa, and a young Marek Malik who ripped up a weaker Czech U20 league back in the day. Nicklas Hjalmarsson and Aki Berg make appearances in Vainio’s 16-year old season as well. With a 50% PCS success rate in his 17-year old year, it’s relatively rare that guys do what Vainio does and subsequently bust. Statistically, his performance is good enough to justify not only a first-round pick, but to be in the same conversation as Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, and Zach Werenski.
Of course, Vainio isn’t in that conversation. In fact, he’s nowhere close. While an extremely adept offensive defenseman who skates as well as anyone in this class, his physical game is reportedly underdeveloped (at a tall 6’2, he weighs less than 170 lbs so he’s rail-thin) and he struggles with defending and play in his own zone. Not only are his reads and positioning an alleged weakness, but so is his competitiveness and willingness to engage.
On a personal level, I do wonder about the accuracy of these claims since defensive impact is notoriously hard to eyeball, and Vainio has been a major contributor to one of Finland’s top junior teams since he was just 16. Since entering the Jr. A SM-Liiga, Vainio’s team has outscored their opponents by 55 goals in 93 games when he’s been on the ice. This past season, Vainio was the top defenceman on a team that lost outright just 7 times over the 48-game regular season and led the league in goal differential. Circumstantially, we can infer that for all his reported flaws, Vainio was damn effective.
Vainio likely won’t be drafted in the second round, even if his statistical pedigree puts him in top-half of the first round range. The scouting community believes he’s a high-risk prospect, and in lieu of better information, we have to believe their claims are at least somewhat accurate. Offensively though, there’s just too much there to ignore. His skating is top-notch and his playmaking ability is excellent. When he is eventually selected, he’ll likely have the highest upside of any player left on the board.