#10: Lasse Kukkonen
The best players you've never heard of
Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Pos.: D Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 187
Hometown: Oulu, Finland
Key stats: Playing 18:05 a game for the struggling ‘Hawks, Kukkonen has three goals and four assists to lead Chicago defenders in points. His +4 puts him tied for Brent Seabrook for the lead among ‘Hawks blueliners, and some sources have touted him as Chicago's best defenceman so far this year.
James on Lasse: The most interesting thing I could find on Kukkonen is in his Wikipedia entry, which says he “has a severe case of Tourette syndrome” — but that’s not something substantiated anywhere else. At 25, he’s a veteran of his hometown Finnish league squad, having played five full seasons pro there and he was named to the 2006 Olympic team when Sami Salo was injured. He’s a prototypical Finnish defender: Lacking in upper-body strength, but a great skater and passer. So far, at least, he looks like a winner for a fifth-round pick (2003).
Pub for Lasse: “His confidence with the puck is much higher now because on bigger ice there's much more puck control,” coach Trent Yawney told the Chicago Sun-Times.“Otherwise, he still brings the intangibles I'd seen before. He blocks shots, and he's not afraid to stand up and be vocal in the room. He'll hold others and himself accountable [for mistakes].”