Over the past two seasons, Antti Suomela has finished among the top seven in scoring in the Finnish Liiga, the top professional league in Finland. That includes last season, where the 24-year-old led the league with 60 points in 59 games, resulting in Suomela being sought out by as many as 12 teams, but it was the Sharks who were able to sign the highly touted forward.
The road to the National Hockey League for an undrafted player isn’t an easy one, as they are constantly fighting against their age to prove themselves worthy.
It was a path that Suomela followed when he began his professional career with the Espoo Blues where he appeared in 52 games and scored 13 goals with 26 points — decent numbers for a rookie getting his feet wet, but his numbers would soon take off. After most of his hockey career with the Blues, Suomela played for the U18 and U20 teams before being called up to the big club. Once he departed for JYP, his career began to flourish.
In his first season with JYP, Suomela saw an increase in goals (22), assists (23), and points (45). During his final year with the Blues, he averaged 0.50 points per game. That number jumped to 0.78 points per game with JYP. Suomela saw another bump in production in his second and final season with JYP — his points per game skyrocketed from 0.78 to 1.02, culminating in his 60-point season.
Suomela doesn’t only bring offensive skill to the table; he possesses a solid two-way game, which for now could help him make his way into the Sharks’ lineup. Whether his offense translates over to the NHL or not remains to be seen, but being protective of the puck and being sound defensively in all three zones are attributes that he can carry over to the North American style of play.
The growth in production over his past two seasons caught the eye of several NHL teams, including the Sharks where he eventually landed. Doug Wilson gave insight as to what the team liked most about Suomela and how he fits in with the Sharks in their release after signing the forward:
“Antti’s a very skilled center who has improved his development and production in each of his three seasons in Finland’s top league,” Wilson said. “We like his combination of skill, speed, and defensive awareness and think his style of play fits with the way we play as a team.”
Emmanuel Perry’s NHLe model projects Suomela to have around a 37-point season if he retains his scoring rate this season. Not bad for someone who will be looked to for either 3C or 4C in his rookie year.
What we like
The potential of being a late bloomer draws to the fascination with what the end product could be when it comes to Suomela. According to Marco Bombino of McKeen’s hockey and Finnish Junior Hockey, Suomela possesses “good passing skills and can create space for his linemates, plus he’s not hesitant to put quick wristers on net either.” These are all traits that could carry over to the NHL which could make him an effective third line player, if everything comes together.
Areas of improvement
Age is a factor working against Suomela. His prime years are quickly closing in, so he has to make the most of his first professional year. That’s a lot of pressure for someone who will also be adjusting to North American ice. He could probably stand some additional strength training as well, to improve his shot and add some size.
After taking the pass from the defenseman in his own end, Suomela strides towards the net and fires a quick wrister that Bambino mentioned in the scouting report to beat the goaltender five-hole.