2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #4 Joni Ikonen

Although Ikonen was strong in SuperElit action, his game reaches new levels while sporting his national jersey. | Photo: Geisser, All Over Press

If one prospect in the Canadiens organization who exemplifies multidimensionality in attack, it’s Joni Ikonen.

Not only does the 5’11” forward have a reputation as a sniper, he’s a legitimately talented playmaker who creates lanes like few prospects can.

In any given year, glancing over the NHL’s top scorers is generally filled with multidimensional offensive threats. Few are unidimensional, as in having one aspect of the offensive game that’s far beyond any other element. Even players given the label of playmaker like Joe Thornton or Ryan Getzlaf, have enough skill in other elements of their game to score the odd sniper’s goal.

So, in what will be a long, but hopefully engaging read, here’s what makes Ikonen a multifaceted offensive threat..

#4) JONI IKONEN
Acquired: 2017, 2nd round, 58th overall
Position: C/RW | Shoots: R
Birthdate: 1999-04-14 | Nationality: Finland
Team: Frölunda J20 (SuperElit)
Height: 5’11” (180cm) | 176 (80kg)

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4425204518213.74%0.571.020.74.1432.61%10.00%

Series Navigation:
Top 30 Prospects: Ranking Methodology – Integrating Statistics into Analysis
Top 30 Prospects: #30 – #26 – Success Rates of Swedish Jr. and USHS Defenders
Top 30 Prospects: #25 – #21 – Success Rates of CHL Overage Forwards
Top 30 Prospects: #20 – #16 – Balancing Players with Opposing Skill Sets and Development
Top 30 Prospects: #15 – #11 – Weighing perceived NHL-readiness with NHL Upside
Top 30 Prospects: #10 Will Bitten – Why His Season Was Better Than You Think
Top 30 Prospects: #9 Victor Mete – How Undersized Defenders Can Excel Defensively
Top 30 Prospects: #8 Josh Brook – Improving Shooting Location Through Movement
Top 30 Prospects: #7 Michael McCarron – Do Big Players Really Take Longer to Develop?
Top 30 Prospects: #6 Charlie Lindgren – The Reverse-VH and When Skill Takes Over
Top 30 Prospects: #5 Charles Hudon – A Case Study on the Impact of Aging for NHL Chances
Top 30 Prospects: #4 Joni Ikonen – Multidimensionality in Attack
Top 30 Prospects: #3 Nikita Scherbak – Comparing Scherbak In and Out of Form
Top 30 Prospects: #2 Noah Juulsen – How to Excel at Defending the Blue Line
Top 30 Prospects: #1 Ryan Poehling – Full Breakdown, Importance of Little Details, and More

Passing, Playmaking, And Creating Lanes

First, I think it’s important to draw some completely arbitrary distinctions that I use while discussing a player’s ability to pass the puck.

I distinguish between vision, technical passing ability, and puck distribution. Vision is the ability to create and locate lanes, technical passing ability are the skills and mechanics involved in sending a pass (i.e., speed, saucer, ability to pass off backhand, etc.), and puck distribution is willingness to use teammates.

I think of playmaking as a product of vision, technical passing ability, and willingness to pass. So:

Playmaking = Vision + Technical Passing Ability + Puck Distribution

Players can lag in one of these elements, like puck distribution. They have the vision and technical ability to complete high-skill passes, and do so with enough regularity to know the skill is there, but need to distribute the puck more often to increase their effectiveness. And this describes Ikonen perfectly.

But I don’t want to focus on why his puck distribution falls behind, but instead on why his vision and passing ability are so good, and why I believe his puck distribution is only going to improve. It starts with an innate ability to create lanes, combining his vision, technical passing ability, and stickhandling proficiency.

We will begin with this primary helper from the 4 Nations Tournament last November:

Ikonen’s movement in the above clip is purposeful with the intent to create a lane. Recognizing that lane is vision. During the entire sequence, Ikonen’s head is up and looking away from his target to fool the defender(s). The result is Ikonen baiting the defender(s) into thinking that he’s either cutting outside along the boards, or passing to his teammate in the slot.

Ikonen intentionally works up the boards as his teammate drifts into a scoring area. As he moves off the boards, the defender protecting the lane to the net is forced to challenge Ikonen. As the defender steps up, Ikonen drags the puck across his body. This is a purposeful movement to manipulate defender’s stick out of the passing lane.

With the defender’s stick protecting Ikonen’s outside lane instead of the pass, Ikonen slides the puck to his teammate–his target the whole time–who has since drifted from a low-danger area to a medium-danger location with a clear lane on net. 

Off the rush, Ikonen can be individualistic by making that one extra move. It is a lack of vision or technical passing ability? No. It’s a lack of puck distribution (i.e., willingness to pass). He’s trying to create space, but misses an easier, higher percentage play. Sometimes, it’s really the only option. In that case, the result is often fantastic.

In this next instance, there’s only one passing option. Threfore, Ikonen cannot bait the defenders into thinking the puck is moving elsewhere. Instead, Ikonen is forced to create space. Play close attention to Ikonen’s line of travel as he crosses the blue line:

There are a couple of interesting movements and reads in this sequence.

Just as Ikonen crosses the red line, he takes a peak and sees Kristian Vesalainen (FIN10) joining the rush with him. After doing this, he speeds up with a series of crossovers, forcing the backchecking forward to maintain pace. This is how Ikonen is baiting the backchecker into challenging him in order to create a lane (vision).

Notice in Pic. 1 where Ikonen’s feet and the USA backchecking forward’s feet are going. Ikonen is making a slight cut wide, while the backchecker is drifting slightly toward the centre of the ice. By speeding up, the backchecker feels the need to challenge Ikonen, which plays right into Ikonen’s hands. Ikonen cuts toward the middle, and skillfully toedrags around the backchecker.

To rub salt in the wound, Ikonen then settles the puck to let Vesalainen (FIN10) move closer to the goal. This whole sequence turns a 1v2 in tight quarters into a high-danger scoring chance.

If you desire further evidence, here’s another clip demonstrating Ikonen’s vision, hands, and technical passing ability: CLICK HERE.

To recap, Ikonen makes purposeful movements with both his feet and hands to bait defenders to create passing lanes. He can connect with high-skill passes, both in stride and down low. His head is always up, looking for options and scanning the ice.

To be a multidimensional threat, the ability to create plays for teammates is necessary. But there’s another half of the equation: Shooting.

Shooting, Stepping into Space, And Creating Lanes

Shooting is often discussed in three elements, those being power, accuracy, and release. However, after seeing tons of players be above-average in all three elements, I believe there’s far more to be a good shooter. I think it’s important to incorporate vision into the equation, similar to the version discussed in playmaking. It’s vision that enables shooters to find “quiet” ice to get open for teammates, or to maneuver themselves and/or the puck to create shooting lanes or pockets.

While looking at shooting, complementary tools are important consideration. Ability to shoot the puck off-balance or in stride are two key elements of a quality release, for example.

I also think the volume of shooting is importance. After all, there are many players who are technically skilled shooters, but for whatever reason, chose to avoid it.

Finally, shooting includes a variety of different shots, such as wrist shot, snapshot, slapshot, and backhand. The more variety, the better.

So, let’s put all of this together in a totally meaningless formula:

Shooting = Power + Accuracy + Release + Vision + Volume + Variety

Ikonen checks off all of those boxes, albeit to a varying degree. His shot is powerful, and can occasionally overwhelm goaltenders. He can pick the tiniest of openings on goaltenders. His release is deceptive and quick, and he has the vision to find and create shooting lanes. He racked up over four shots on goal per game in the J20 SuperElit (volume), and can score with a wrister, snapshot, or one-time slapper (variety).

There are three interesting ways that Ikonen displays vision and the ability to create lanes. They are closely related, but distinct in their own ways. The first is how Ikonen changes the angle of his shot.

In the three clips below, Ikonen changes the angle of his shot just as he fires.

By changing the angle of the shot, Ikonen achieves two things: Creating a clearer lane for him to get a shot on goal and to fool the goaltender.

In the example below, watch how Ikonen uses a slick drag of the puck to create the shooting lane. He intentionally places the puck outside to bait the defender’s stick to moving out of the lane. Ikonen then quickly moves the puck into the now freed lane.

The second way that Ikonen thrives as a shooter is a product of his deft stickhandling and desire to improve the location of his shot (vision).

Notice Ikonen’s approach leading up to the between-the-legs deke. He cuts out wide and back towards the middle for a tougher angle to defend. Additionally, he strides into the deke, a testament to his skill level.

As Ikonen crosses the blue line, his eyes are locked on his teammate (FIN18), but he’s merely using him as a decoy. He successfully draws the puck back, causing the defender to reach and slow down (Pic. 1).

Ikonen catches the puck on his backhand after passing the defender, and aggressively drives his knee out to protect the puck from the defender’s stick (Pic. 3). Ikonen has successfully created a 2v1 down low in the offensive zone, giving him a high-danger scoring chance no matter his choice.

The defender plays the pass, and Ikonen quickly goes from the backhand to forehand, beating the goaltender’s movement to square up in the process (Notice how the goaltender’s position in the net doesn’t change, from Pic. 3 to 4). This gives Ikonen essentially the entire upper far side to shoot at, and he makes no mistake (Pic. 4).

Finally, Ikonen recognizes space, and actively seeks to utilize it while shooting. This relates closely the previous sequence, as the purpose is to improve shooting location.

Ikonen “steps into” this his shots, particularly from the top of the circle.

In the sequence below, Ikonen steps closer to the slot while simultaneously drawing in the defender. Compare Ikonen’s shooting lane from Pic. 1 to Pic. 2. The goaltender has a clear look at the puck in Pic. 1. In Pic. 2., the goaltender in screened by the defender that Ikonen drew towards himself. This effort improves Ikonen’s shooting location by utilizing the space given to him.

A pause before Ikonen’s weight shift baits the defender into dropping to block the shot. Ikonen slows his movement, and then wires the puck. In the slow motion clip, notice the slight change in Ikonen’s shooting angle as he releases the puck. To top it off, Ikonen doesn’t aim for the corner, instead snipes right above the goaltender’s shoulder.   

Sometimes, just wiring the puck is all you need. And Ikonen is good at that, too.

So, not only is Ikonen a powerful, accurate shooter with a deceptive release, he also creates his own shooting lanes.

The commonality in all of the clips is that Ikonen creates space and lanes for himself and teammates.

Ikonen achieves this shooting lane creation in a similar manner as he does his passing lane creation by using purposeful, methodical movements and his elite stickhandling ability. Thanks to his high skill level, he utilizes the space he creates successfully, and often in highlight-worthy fashion.

The Report

Ikonen racked up 10 SHL games during a P/GP game season in the J20 SuperElit. If there was every any doubt about his scoring ability, he returned for the U18 league during the playoffs, where he racked up 12 points in 7 games, and then 8 points in 7 games at the U18 World Junior Championship. Although he’s bounced between wing and centre in international play, he was a centre in J20 action (82% of games).

An elite stickhandler with a limitless arsenal of dangles, Ikonen attacks defenders (and groups of players) with a high success rate. Slick and smooth, but also quick on his feet, Ikonen can pull off the rare toedrag in stride, at top speed. Dynamic control in the speed skating can give him the extra step he needs to pull off his moves. Occasionally stops moving his a feet a tad too early before his dekes, enabling defenders to shut him down if they recognize his pause. Never shy of traffic, in fact thrives, while putting himself in the path of danger to generate a scoring chance.

Ikonen is a highly-skilled shooter with a shot nearing NHL level. He possesses a powerful wrister complemented with a sneaky toedrag to change the angle. Thanks to his ability to shoot and stickhandle in stride, he’s a legitimate long range threat. Ikonen can overwhelm goaltenders with sheer power, as noted by his booming one-timer. He’ll dart into high-scoring areas to battle for loose pucks, and has decent finishing ability around the crease. Not the most conscious shooter as noted by his desire to overpower rather than cleanly beat goaltenders, but on top of his game he’s picking corners and over the shoulder.

While he is an equally skilled passer as he is shooter, the usage of that passing (i.e., puck distribution) lags behind. The technical passing skills, such as accuracy and crispness are obvious by his highlight reel. To further this ability, he’s a lane and space creation machine, who can do in a variety of ways, such as outmuscling a defender in the corner, dangling through, or simply outwaiting and outmaneuvering defenders. In controlled entry attempts he can be individualistic by trying to dangle a defender when a passing option is readily available.

Ikonen is an intense forechecker with decent timing. Thanks to a sturdy centre of gravity and proactive recognition, Ikonen is quick on loose pucks and solid along the walls. He’s the type who wins a number of battles with second and third efforts. A dedicated backchecker with rapid recognition, Ikonen forces uncontrolled entry attempts often, and never seems behind the play. As a winger, he can be a passive attacking the points and seems reactive. He’s slightly stronger defensively as centre, which likely because he’s best at supporting his teammates.

The concerns in Ikonen’s game stem from two areas: Decision-making and skating.

(1) Decision-making mostly draws concern from his desire to challenge defenders and his passing/shooting balance. He’ll make that one extra move when an easier option is readily available too often. Ikonen’s production was heavily ES-tilted, with just 28% of his points coming on the PP. While less noticeable on the international circuit, in the SuperElit there were extended periods were Ikonen was ineffective on the PP as a product of his inability or unwillingness to pass. In those times, Ikonen continually stepped into a wrister, only to wire it wide or rattle some shinguards. When teams played Ikonen aggressively, he failed to adapt. Not that the PP is a huge issue, but it does make me wonder how about his ability to adapt to the professional hockey versus men.

(2) Ikonen is slippery, but his active stride makes him look quicker than he actually is. His stride is short and the width of his steps vary. This makes his skating look sloppy at times, and is detrimental to his explosiveness. The separation he creates comes from his creativity, angle changes (with crossovers), and gear cycling while in possession, not his speed. There’s no doubt that adding strength will help, but mechanical fixes are needed. There’s also the combination of his slight frame and lack of elite skating, but I don’t think that’s as troublesome as it once was.

An elite stickhandler with elusiveness, a three-shot arsenal of rockets, legitimate playmaking skills, and non-stop motor, Ikonen is a complete offensive player. There’s work to be done, as there’s definitely concerns stemming from his decision-making and skating. Ikonen has been loaned to Liiga squad KalPa. KalPa hasn’t shied away from playing younger players in key roles in recent seasons, so I expect him to have ample opportunity this season.

Ranking Explanation: Ikonen begins Tier #1, the top tier featuring three players with top-six upside and a defender with mid-to-upper second pairing upside.

Let’s discuss my thought process on ranking Hudon one spot ahead of Ikonen, and why I placed Ikonen, Juulsen, Poehling, and Scherbak is a tier above Hudon.

The first and largest portion of this article demonstrates Ikonen’s multidimensionality in attack. Simply put, this trait gives him the edge over Hudon, and ultimately creates a new tier of upside. Hudon is a shooter, but not one who consistently creates his own space. In essence, Hudon is a space exploiter with tools of a high enough level that I think he can carve out a career in the NHL doing this ala P.A. Parenteau (not a comparison to his skills or style).

Meanwhile, Ikonen is a space creator. In fact, all three forwards in this tier share that trait. Ikonen is not the shooter that Hudon is, but his shooting ability is years ahead of Hudon at the same age, and I mean this quite literally. (I’d argue that Ikonen’s shot at this stage is roughly on par with Hudon’s shot in his first professional season.) Although Ikonen’s stride isn’t as “clean” as Hudon’s, he’s far quicker and stronger on his edges, crossover:stride ratio is higher, and his acceleration is better. Additionally, there’s a sharp contrast in Ikonen’s passing ability and Hudon’s. Ikonen makes more skillful passes far more often. To top it off, Ikonen stickhandling ability is far ahead of Hudon’s, and I’d argue that Ikonen’s defensive game is stronger than Hudon’s at the same age. All-in-all, Ikonen’s skill level is higher.

Does Hudon have a higher likelihood of making the NHL? Possibly, because he’s already been a scorer against men and his waiver status likely gives him an extra shot at the line up. Plus, Hudon has a better scoring record (against men) than Ikonen. But you already expect this given Hudon’s age, that being five years older than Ikonen.

This list is about projecting what players will be, not what they currently are. Even if there’s more volatility in Ikonen’s projection, I see his upside as being greater. So, a brief reminder on how this list is constructed:

The list begins by ranking prospects in tiers. These tiers are almost exclusively established by upside. The ranking within the tiers is generally based on their NHL-readiness.

 Notes:

  1. All the information is “in my opinion.
  2. The ranking likely has limited-to-no value. Think of the ranking as a way to catalogue players, notes, and data in a non-alphabetical way. The information within the profiles is far, far more valuable.
  3. I mentioned I’m not a scout right? If not, I’m not a scout.
  4. I appreciate all questions, comments, and criticism. You can reach me on Twitter (@MitchLBrown) or email (mitchbrown31@gmail.com). You can also tell me I suck. I don’t care.
  5. AHL/CHL/USHL Stats: Prospect-Stats.com | NCAA Stats: CollegeHockeyInc.com | SuperElit Stats: Stats.SweHockey.se | NHL Stats: Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

The list so far…

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2 Responses to 2017 Top 30 Habs Prospects: #4 Joni Ikonen

  1. I love your expert analysis and enjoy reading you!
    I already guessed your top 3 in being Juulsen, Poehling and Scherback but I was wondering where you see Daniel Carr as he is not in your top 30?
    Thank you!

    Claude Lemay August 15, 2017 at 12:44 pm Reply
  2. Why is Reway not this list ?

    Steven August 16, 2017 at 5:28 pm Reply

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