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Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25: #9 Niko Huuhtanen

Niko Huuhtanen. Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning via their Twitter account (@TBLightning)

We took a look at all 35 players in the system that are aged 25 or younger (as of October 1, 2023) and ranked them. It’s the Top 25 Under 25.

Bio

Age: 20

Position: Right Wing

Draft: 2021 7th Round, #224 overall

2023-24 Team: Jukurit (Liiga)

2022 Ranking: #20

Stats

Scouting Report

I have to give credit where credit is due. During last year’s countdown, Hardev wrote:

“You are all sleeping hard on Niko Huuhtanen. This 19-year-old, 6’2” power forward with speed and poise is a top prospect in the WHL, and should be considered a top prospect for the Tampa Bay Lightning.”

And that was before Huuhtanen went to the Liiga as a teenager (he just turned 20 in June) and put up 30 points (17 goals, 13 assists) in 48 games as a rookie. The rest of us caught up over the last year and Huuhtanen was the biggest climber in the Top 25 rankings. Should he have been in the Top 5? Not quite yet. There are still enough questions about his game, and maybe a little bias against prospects playing in Europe that kept him in the bottom half of the Top 10 for at least another year. However, if he can follow up and improve on his production from last year, there is a good chance he can make one more big jump.

Huuhtanen is a shooter first and foremost. For a fanbase used to watching Steven Stamkos snipe from the left circle, there is a sense of deja vu watching the Finnish forward score. As you see below, he’s not a one-trick pony either – he’s putting the puck in the net in all types of different ways.

That is the skill that is going to make or break him as a NHL player. His skating isn’t great. He doesn’t necessarily drive play either, but if you put the puck near him in a shooting situation, he will fire it on net. The Lightning don’t have many players that profile out as a finisher, it’s pretty much Huuhtanen and Isaac Howard, with Howard having a bit more playmaking in his game. At some point, Tampa Bay is going to need someone with that ability to take over for the players that are currently on the roster. It might be a stretch to say that Huuhtanen is going to be skating on the top line for the Lightning in the next four years, but it’s also NOT an impossible thought.

The 20-year-old will have to round out his game a little bit more to have that chance. Another season in the Liiga (where he has a goal and three assists through four games) will help with that. Following the season, there is a really good chance that he will come back to North America (he played one year of junior hockey with the Everett Silvertips) as his two-year contract with Jukurit ends this year. The Bolts do have until the summer of 2025 to offer him an entry-level contract in order to retain his rights, but if he plays well this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they offer him one this offseason.

Along with his ability to put the puck in the net, Huuhtanen also plays with a bit of an edge to his game. He doesn’t shy away from contract and uses his 6’2″ frame well to shield the puck away from opponents. Huuhtanen has also been known to drop the gloves from time to time, a fact that would likely send Don Cherry into hysterical disbelief.

It isn’t often that the last player picked in the NHL draft has a legitimate shot at making the NHL, but Niko Huuhtanen has that chance.

Highlights

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