The jury is still out on Ville Pokka, the New York Islanders' 2nd pick (34th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft, but that's a good thing.
There are obviously fewer eyes, and fewer brains to pick, regarding prospects in Finnish junior leagues. So selecting one at age 18 after some exposure to "playing with men" carries some risk even beyond the uncertainty around North American prospects who have been watched by legions of teen oglers.
One year later, Pokka is still looking like a good selection, his development continuing apace and affirming the strengths seen in him on draft day.
He had a taste of the big leagues in 35 games with Karpat at age 17 in 2011-12. This past season at age 18, he picked up where he left off, playing in 47 games, adding some offense (6-6-12) and increasing his responsibilities without missing a beat.
He also added an impressive performance for Finland at the IIHF World Junior Championship, playing well in all situations against his own age group.
Pokka is seen as a quick decision-maker, a smart player in all three zones -- in short a strong candidate to rise among the Islanders' glut of blueline prospects.
Here is how our Top 25 Islanders Under 25 panel ranked him in Spring 2013:
For comments, we'll sample the high votes and the low votes:
Keith Quinn, Eskimo of might:
This is mostly based on my lack of familiarity with Pokka and the Isles organizational depth at the position. I actually believe that talent-wise, he should be ranked higher, but being that he is in a foreign league, he has time to marinate there and I figure the Isles won't rush him here.
Chris McNally, cartographer extraordinaire:
Don't put too much stock in Pokka's offensive numbers in the low scoring Finnish league. A defenseman that is known for being a steady defender, Pokka won me over with his play in the WJC. He tallied 6 points in 6 games (small sample size alert!) but looked very well rounded playing against the world's best. He has good vision and moves the puck well, qualities I covet in any of my blueliners.
Mike (ICanSeeForIslesAndIsles), master of FIGs and power tablature:
He's done well for your cliché "boy-against-men" in
Sweden's Elite League[edit: er, I mean Finland's SM-Liiga]. Of course, most boys aren't 6 feet, 200 pounds. He's responsible, having only 8 PIM in 47 games, and being a "plus" player.
David Hanssen, master of prophecies:
I almost had Pokka and Reinhardt flipped. Pokka impressed me by playing in his second full season against the big boys in the SM-Liiga at the age of 18, putting up decent +/- on a mid-table team. By the time he comes over to North America at age 20, he will have 3 full seasons under his belt. He might wind up being the best defenseman of the gaggle selected in 2012.
As always with our 25U25, chime in who's wrong, who's crazy, and where you would put this guy on your own list. All Islanders properties (including current NHLers) under age 25 are eligible.
25U25 Spring 2013 Countdown (vote breakdown in each)
15: d Calvin de Haan
16: F Anders Lee