The Buffalo Sabres started off the fifth round of the 2018 NHL Draft by selecting another defenseman, Miska Kukkonen.
No, the Buffalo Sabres’ fifth round draft pick is not from Sweden. He does, however, come to Finland, which is Sweden’s next door neighbor.
Miska Kukkonen is Buffalo’s fourth defenseman selected in this year’s draft, which will help bolster their defense with young, motivated players that hold a lot of potential. He’s a 6-foot, 183-pound puck-moving defenseman with a lot of promise, as he is just 18 years old.
Kukkonen played great defensively as a member of the Ilves U20 Junior team in Finland (SM-Liiga). He’s not necessarily known for his offense, only producing two goals and two assists in 12 games with the team, but he did tally 33 penalty minutes and a +2 line.
He also spent time with the team for the 2016-17 season, appearing in 24 games and finishing with one goal, seven assists, 44 penalty minutes and a +4 line.
As stated above, Miska Kukkonen is more of a puck-moving, defensive-minded defender that won’t bring much to the table offensively. He does bring with him somewhat of a physical game, but it’s his vision that allows him to navigate the ice smoothly.
In 2016, Kukkonen played in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge for Finland, where he finished with two points and six penalty minutes in five games. In 2017, he competed in the Five Nations event, totaling two penalty minutes and zero points in three games. His maturity will definitely help him develop as he begins the next step, which is a good trait to have for an 18-year-old.
Miska Kukkonen even has familiarity with some of the players on the roster already. Oskari Laaksonen, a defenseman who was drafted by Buffalo in the third round of the 2017 NHL Draft, is a teammate of Kukkonen. The two played together the past two seasons in Tampere, a city in Southern Finland.
Kukkonen may not be a flashy player, but he will get the job done defensively and will move the puck very well, which is a good way to upstart your offense. Plus, when you own the worst defense in the NHL, you’ll take any help you can get. Expect this young defender to continue to grow and develop over the next few years.
It’s also possible we haven’t even seen the best of Miska Kukkonen, which could be why he was left off of most team’s scouting report. Kukkonen only appeared in 12 games this past season in Finland, missing a large chunk of games to injury. Even further than that, many are saying there’s a chance he wasn’t even fully healthy the year prior.
A healthy Miska Kukkonen will be exciting to see as he enters a new chapter of his hockey career.
Do you think Miska Kukkonen’s injury history will hold him back at the next level? Leave your comments below!