Montreal has had a dearth of quality centers for years but can take solace in the fact that they stronger up the middle in the draft with the selection of Joni Ikonen.
The Montreal Canadiens have amassed more Stanley Cups than any other franchise and they’ve almost always done it with skill and finesse. In Finnish center Joni Ikonen, they’ve got a kid for the future who can really make things happen with the puck.
“He makes moves on guys in the neutral zone – very dynamic,” said one scout. “He’s a boom-bust guy, but I like him.”
At the World Junior Summer Showcase in Michigan this summer, Ikonen played far bigger than his 5-foot-11, 177-pound frame. In fact, in the closer against archrival Sweden, he notched a hat trick in a losing cause – but he certainly kept his boys in the hunt until the end.
And while it may sound like heresy, the 2017 second-rounder (58th overall) actually spent the past two seasons developing in Sweden, not Finland.
“It felt like a good option for me to play for Frolunda,” Ikonen said. “They have a great junior program and when I look back it was a good decision. I learned a lot.”
He wasn’t even the only Finn there. Kristian Vesalainen, who went 24th overall to Winnipeg this summer, also played for the Frolunda program, as did native Swedes such as Carl Grundstrom (TOR), Jacob Larsson (ANA) and Rasmus Dahlin (2018), among numerous others.
But now, Ikonen is coming home to Finland, where he will suit up for KalPa, the team owned and now coached by ex-NHLer Sami Kapanen. It will be Ikonen’s first full season in a top league (he played much of last year in Sweden’s junior circuit) and the kid is excited for the opportunity. That will be one more high in the span of months, after he was selected in the draft by the Habs.
“It meant a lot,” Ikonen said. “It’s a dream to get drafted, especially by a team like Montreal – it’s a great hockey city.”
Ikonen attended development camp with the Canadiens, staying in town for about a week and getting a sense of how things worked. He loves the city and the organization and he has already realized that his interview duties will likely take a big bump once he gets to the NHL and Montreal’s famously large press corps.
“Pretty much a lot of media,” he said. “It’s something to get used to, but it was fun.”
It’s also fun watching Ikonen play. He’s pretty fearless out there and the offensive skills are top-notch. Like many teenaged players, he knows that overall strength is something to work on and Ikonen does want to get bigger and stronger. He also wants to work on the details in his game, so playing against the top men in Finland will be a nice challenge. As for his strengths, it’s probably no surprise that Ikonen’s influences tend to be on the flashier side.
“I really enjoy watching the offensive guys,” he said. “When I was younger I liked to watched Pavel Datsyuk. Tyler Seguin and Jordan Eberle…they’re always fun to watch.”
Montreal has had a dearth of quality centers for years now and while the ascension of Alex Galchenyuk may help that, Habs fans can take solace in the fact that their favorite club got stronger up the middle in the draft with Ikonen and first-rounder Ryan Poehling. And with Ikonen in particular, that traditionally Montreal skill game is already there.