Kasper Kulonummi is having the best offensive season by a defender in U20 SM-sarja history—period.
Drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, Kulonummi is dominating for the unstoppable Tappara U20 squad, which sits atop the league’s standings by 17 points. In 36 games this season, Kulonummi has scored 11 goals and 43 points. His 1.19 points per game are the most ever scored by a defender in league history (minimum 15 games played).
He’s posted a staggering 1.64 primary points per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time and recorded a primary point on 36.5% of the even-strength goals he’s been on the ice for.
The Helsinki native has been one of Tappara’s most important players this season, earning himself an eight-game call-up to the Finnish Liiga. Off the scoresheet, he’s improved his one-on-one defense, exuded confidence in transition, and strengthened his shot.
Kasper Kulonummi’s success starts in transition. Through five games tracked this season, he’s demonstrated a clear skill at reversing the puck up the ice quickly even when he’s not playing the tightest of defense (which you’ll notice a lot in the more methodically-paced U20-SM sarja).
He’s successfully exited his own zone with the puck on 66.7% of attempts and won 63.6% of his puck retrieval races to the corner. Of his successful zone exits, he’s skated an impressive 55.0% out on his own—best amongst all defenders in the Nashville pipeline.
Even when Kulonummi (#26, blue) isn’t leading the rush, he’s eager to join it, providing aggressive puck support to his forwards. It gives him an opportunity to demonstrate his puck skills, as shown above, and drive to the net to generate high-danger scoring chances.
In the clip above, although he briefly loses his puck retrieval battle, Kulonummi settles into a good defensive position before quickly recognizing a transition opportunity. He looks up ice to survey his teammate’s passing lanes then readies his stick for a pass reception. Kulonummi’s agility, edgework, and use of linear crossovers are on display as he attacks the neutral zone before cutting to the inside and sniping a goal with his solid wrist shot.
Kulonummi is no slouch in his passing either. He can quickly identify the smallest of passing lanes and exploit opponents with beautiful stretch passes like the one shown above.
The 6’1” defender is a really interesting force in the offensive zone too. I love this shift shown above: Kulonummi maintains excellent puck control, manipulating where he’s handling it around his body, shows off his excellent four-way mobility, and keeps his head up while with the puck. Although this shift doesn’t result in much of a scoring chance, Kulonummi does demonstrate his smarts in activating low in the offensive zone, timing when he attacks open ice to get a jump on opponents.
One improvement I’ve really noticed this year is Kulonummi’s additional patience with the puck and the strength of his shot. I don’t expect him to score a lot of goals like this at the pro level, but it’s nice to see him building out his arsenal of skills. At even strength, he’s peppered the net with 13.90 shot attempts per 60 minutes and added 6.95 primary shot assists per hour too.
Defensively, Kulonummi plays an extremely solid game. His lack of in-your-face style defending may stand out, but on bigger ice, it’s about working smarter, not harder. For example, in the clip below, Kulonummi recognizes his partner pinching before the puck carrier has even turned up the ice. He compensates by accelerating out of his crossover steps and angles the new puck carrier out of possession quickly.
Other times, Kulonummi can struggle against zone entries. Sometimes his gaps are too big, and sometimes his pivots are just a bit late. He has allowed 51.6% of the zone-entry attempts against him to succeed, and opponents have crossed the puck into the slot on 56.3% of those successes.
In the clip below—although he recovers well to make a play—the puck carrier exploits a subtle move in Kulonummi’s stick position to cut towards the slot. Against faster and stronger opponents, that recovery chance won’t necessarily be there, and Kulonummi will need to do a better job of forcing opponents to the perimeter of the zone.
While he’s surrendered just 3.48 high-danger shots on goal per 60 minutes, you want to see Kulonummi’s net-front defense improve. With more strength, he’ll be able to dislodge opponents more and sustain better positioning against them. He’ll also need to be smarter about establishing his body against puck carriers—instead of just relying on a sweeping stick—to prevent goals like the one he gives up below.
Amidst his record-breaking year, there’s good reason to be excited about Kasper Kulonummi’s game. The Tappara program has a frustratingly deep depth chart, and he’s ready to take the step to play in the Liiga full-time next season. We’ll see what the offseason brings in terms of player movement because the pro ranks will be the true test in bettering his inefficiencies.
All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com, leijonat.fi, or manually tracked.