It’s time for our annual countdown of the best 25 Nashville Predators players under 25 years old.
This is not only a tradition here at OTF, but is also something that you might see at many other SBNation NHL blogs. The premise is simple: rank the 25 best players who have not yet reached their 25th birthday (as of August 1st, 2017).
At #20, Joonas Lyytinen.
The 22 year old Finnish defensman is looking to become the latest in the Predators’ organization from the 2014 Draft to make the leap to the big club (Fiala, Arvidsson, and, soon enough, Kamenev, Dougherty and Kirkland).
After finishing his fourth season with his hometown KalPa in the Finnish SM-Liiga, Lyytinen signed a two-year contract with Karpat, Pekka Rinne’s hometown squad, beginning next season. Lyytinen also signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Predator’s just two weeks after. Lyytinen, who turned 22 back in April, already has a few years of professional experience in Finland, however, the 2016-17 season was his first in two years playing every game in the SM-Liiga.
Since graduating to the men’s league in 2013-14, Lyytinen has had his feet in both pools - playing 32 games at the U20 level and 183 games at the professional level. There is a noticeable difference there, however, 2016-17 was where Lyytinen truly carved out his game at the top level.
He finished the season with eight goals, 16 assists, and 24 points in 54 games and added seven more points in 18 playoff games as KalPa captured a Silver Medal. Lyytinen has a history of being a decently strong point-producer, once scoring at a point-per-game clip in the U20 tier of the SM-Liiga.
Although his production should plateau roughly where it is now, and it will be curious to see how it translates to the North American game, Lyytinen carries the creative puck skills and quick transition ability to put points on the board. Lyytinen’s international experience includes the 2015 World Junior Championship with fellow Pred, Juuse Saros.
The video above provides a great glimpse at all aspects of Lyytinen’s game. In the first highlight (he is #57), we take notice of his possession skills in the offensive zone which are similar to that of Mattias Ekholm. He can patrol the half-wall and point well, and he dishes passes with precision.
In the fourth clip, around 1:49, we see Lyytinen make a bad pinch that results in a 3-on-1 and a goal. Next, Lyytinen slips up reading the play in the neutral zone and is caught out of position, again, leading to a goal. However, the next highlight shows Lyytinen’s intelligence up the ice as he joins the play, drives to the net, and puts home a nice goal.
Lyytinen patrols both zones well with good hockey sense with and without the puck. His style of game is similar to that of Nashville’s defense, but his neutral zone play and decision making could use some tuning. His slender build, 159 pounds, will be something to keep an eye on as well.
Lyytinen will be an interesting case. It’s unsure whether he will be in Milwaukee this coming season or back in Finland, but I think he’s closer to the NHL than most. Finnish and Swedish defensemen have struggled adjusting to the North American game in the Preds’ organization (i.e. Johan Alm, Mikko Vainonen, Kristian Nakyva), but Lyytinen should shape up to be a sharper player.
Lyytinen is signed through the 2018-19 season at a $740K cap hit per year with a $70K salary in the minors. Upon expiry, he will be a restricted free agent.