Sunday, May 11, 2008

Meet Ville Leino

A couple weeks ago, at the height of the Fabian Brunnstrom madness, I was chatting a bit with Risto Pakarinen, a Finnish hockey writer based out of Stockholm. What I really wanted was a sense of what those who had seen Brunnstrom play thought of him, and where they pegged him as a potential NHL player.

Pakarinen was relatively muted in his praise of the young Swede, but he was keen on another player. Good Finn that he is, Pakarinen wanted to let me know about a countryman named Ville Leino.

"Brunnstrom is not the hottest player around here," he said. "This guy is."

I took at look at his stats, and sure enough, Leino's pretty impressive. The 24-year-old Jokerit sniper won the Finnish league MVP this season with 28 goals and 77 points in 58 games.

I'd meant to write about him ages ago, but got caught up in the NHL playoffs and filed the name away. Let's just say I wasn't surprised when this bit of news made the rounds today:
Wings sign Finnish star
The Red Wings lost out on Swedish prodigy Fabian Brunnstrom on Thursday but may have landed the Finnish equivalent on Saturday, signing 24-year-old, high-scoring winger Ville Leino to a one-year entry-level contract.
Given Detroit's success with little-known European gems, I'd bet on Pakarinen's guy.

"In the playoffs, Leino had 19 points in 14 games in Finland, Brunnstrom (had no goals and one assist) in 12 games," Pakarinen said.

"Sure, the Swedish League may be a little better, but Leino would have dominated the Swedish league as well."

Although he might need a new agent.

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At 10:38 p.m., May 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brunnstrom had 0 goals in the playoffs?

That explains why Dave Nonis was so boned up to sign him before he got fired.

At 10:40 p.m., May 11, 2008, Blogger saskhab said...

Man, over the past couple weeks I came up with a conspiracy theory about Detroit and Brunnstrom, saying their interest was merely to create a frenzy to divert teams from the real prize, a (to me, at least) unknown, unheralded guy that they were going to sign anyways and be better than Fabio.

This is hilarious.

At 11:11 p.m., May 11, 2008, Blogger Baroque said...

I read somewhere that Detroit added a new Finnish scout to their staff before this season. They must be picking Sweden clean or want some company for Val Filppula.

Man, over the past couple weeks I came up with a conspiracy theory about Detroit and Brunnstrom, saying their interest was merely to create a frenzy to divert teams from the real prize, a (to me, at least) unknown, unheralded guy that they were going to sign anyways and be better than Fabio.

Maybe you should buy a lottery ticket this week, saskhab!

At 11:24 p.m., May 11, 2008, Anonymous Django said...

Wait a minute, wait a minute.

Is he wearing a gold helmet?

At 12:09 a.m., May 12, 2008, Blogger James Mirtle said...

In SM-Liga, the top goal scorer of each team wears a Gold Helmet.

At 12:52 a.m., May 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does this mean he won't be playing there for the exhibition game in October?

Man, that helmet is AWESOME.

At 3:05 a.m., May 12, 2008, Blogger sager said...

What about that crest, eh?

How is it we got this far without anyone saying "Fabian Brunnstorm is Swedish for 'Miroslav Ihnacak?' "

At 5:00 a.m., May 12, 2008, Anonymous Marl said...

I've followed him for the last three years as he's played for my hometown teams - he changed teams but I changed towns, so I ended up seeing him quite a bit.

He was always extremely skilled with an awesome vision and smarts. In the last three years he's developed from an occasionally pouting player who'd take dumb penalties and not play defense into a great team player who never stops trying and, while not especially strong defensively, isn't a liability either.

This past season he was probably the best player the league has seen in over ten years. In my mind, Saku Koivu was the last young player to dominate like this. I see a couple of reasons for this: He's added strength, especially to his legs, and when you combine that with his ability to protect the puck he became very hard to knock away from the puck. Also, he moved from center to wing, so he could play a more offensive style and use his shot a bit more in addition to his playmaking ability that helped him to excel at the center position.

He has the potential to be a true impact player in the NHL and just might be able to learn on the job. Detroit, while a deep club, is probably a good fit because they aim for puck control and that's one of Leino's strengths.

I'm not sold on his ability to make decisions fast enough for the NHL at this time, though. That's why he didn't make the World Championships, he looked a bit lost on a smaller ice surface against NHL competition because of the higher tempo in the pre-tournament games. He'll have to work on that and develop his strength even more to be successful in the NHL. When it comes to skill, vision and systems, he should be all set.

At 8:08 a.m., May 12, 2008, Anonymous BDH said...

...looks a little like Zetterberg in that pic, no?

At 8:35 a.m., May 12, 2008, Anonymous django said...

Interesting factoid. Thanks James.

At 10:20 a.m., May 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brunnstrom can't carry Backstrom's jock. Unbelievable the hype on this guy. 3rd line Center compared to a guy that's going to set up Ovechkin 70 times a year for the next decade.


At 12:41 p.m., May 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, it's about the gold helmet. The slighly fruity looking joker on the front of the jersey is one thing, but the gold helmet makes it look like the uniforms were designed by either Liberace or Elton John.

At 1:25 a.m., May 14, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finnish rinks are inbetween Olympic and NHL sizes, so you'd think Finnish players would be able to better adjust to the NHL. Then again it's widely regarded that the Finnish elite league is a tad behind the Swedish and Russian counterparts.
Detroit's a smart organization though, so I would probably try to pick him up in my pool next year :P

At 1:33 a.m., May 14, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and Martin Kariya led the Finnish league in scoring after his tour of duty in Japan(!) and Norway. He signed with the Blues, but was unable to crack the NHL roster all year to earn any playing time with his more famous brother.

At 10:49 a.m., December 24, 2008, Blogger GriffinDave said...

I watched Leino on the ice just this week in Grand Rapids. He is a marvelous puck-handler who simply needs to become more aggressive. Watch out, when he gets hooked up with Zetterberg and Filppula with the Red Wings, he is going to be a force.

I also happened to chat with Ville in, of all places, a Grand Rapids grocery. He is about the age of my children, and I took an instant liking to him. He is not only determined to succeed in hockey, but is also well-spoken, deferential, and really funny! The Wings couldn't have come up with a better find than Ville Leino.


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