Fifteen with Joonas Lyytinen

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

When you look back at recent draft classes by the Nashville Predators it is hard to look past that group in 2014 and not just stare at all the names. It was a sensation draft that helped the Nashville Predators and feed into the Milwaukee Admirals. You had Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev, Jack Dougherty, Justin Kirkland, Viktor Arvidsson, Joonas Lyytinen, and Aaron Irving. That last name on there was really the only one that didn’t stick but Irving still made his pro debut with the Admirals and continues to play at an incredible level for the Kalamazoo Wings in the ECHL.

Yet, when Lyytinen first arrived to Milwaukee it was much like Irving: at the end of the 2015-16 season. He actually showed up with a fellow Finn and Nashville Predators draft pick named Janne Juvonen. Neither played. They sat back and had the chance to see the North American game up close through an AHL lens.

It felt like neither would be coming over after a 2016-17 season flew right on by with neither leaving the pro scene in their native Finland. That changed this season. Lyytinen is here and looking to make strides in one of the most competitive defensive cores in all of hockey: the Nashville Predators organization.

Lyytinen is a product of the KalPa system which he played within from the age of 14. He worked through their youth academy system until finally playing his first senior level game with KalPa in Liiga as an 18-year old defenseman. In that time he split between the U20 team and senior team but logged 30 games in Liiga where he produced 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) while having a plus/minus rating of -3 with 24 penalty minutes. It was directly after that season that put him on the radar of the Nashville Predators who selected him 132nd overall in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

What followed from that draft would be a fantastic 2014-15 season that saw him feature exclusively with the senior team in Liiga. He produced 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) in 52 games while bettering his plus/minus to +10. He also joined Finland for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships where he teamed with Juuse Saros.

The next two seasons that followed were great progressions in Lyytinen’s game. His offensive numbers dipped in 2015-16 and he would contribute to the U20 squad in their playoff run. The next season for him was a return to all-around form. In that 2016-17 season he produced 24 points (8 goals, 16 assists) in 54 games with a plus/minus of +1 and 34 penalty minutes. He would then take part in a playoff run with KalPa that went all the way to the finals for a chance to win Liiga’s Kanada-malja trophy. KalPa would ultimately lose the series in six-games to Tappara. Lyytinen in those playoffs hauled in 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) in 18 games.

After spending eight-years of his life under the KalPa banner it seemed Lyytinen’s time to move on came in the most recent off-season. He signed a brand new contract with Kärpät to remain in Liiga. And then everything took a giant swerve. A month later the Nashville Predators signed Lyytinen to a two-year entry level contract. Still, much like at the end of that 2015-16 season as he sat around in Milwaukee, it actually wasn’t clear if this was the season he would make the leap to North American ice.

In speaking with Lyytinen at the 2017 Nashville Predators Rookie Camp it sounded as though the real decision would be coming in Pre-Season Training Camp. Would there be a fit? Is this the right situation to play in? And is it better to accelerate his North American process now or give it one more season in Finland?  Answer: Get the ball rolling now.

There was a slight log jam on defense with the Milwaukee Admirals to start the 2017-18 season. That wasn’t made any better once the Nashville Predators terminated the ECHL Affiliation Agreement between themselves and the Norfolk Admirals. Lyytinen made his North American Pro Debut as a member of the Norfolk Admirals in the ECHL and scored a goal on the occasion. It wouldn’t be until after the first week of January when it felt as though Lyytinen’s AHL standing was cemented. He has now played 24 games with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL and has contributed 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) along the way.

It has been a rocky road for Milwaukee this season but the youth movement on defense has also reflected that. There is an awful lot of learning, making mistakes, and learning again happening all the time. Lyytinen is one of those players adapting to an entirely new environment on and off the ice. What he learns this season can make for great strides by season’s end and into next season when all of his questions will have been answered.

A huge thanks to our resident Finn, Joonas Lyytinen, for taking the time to chat with us. Tomorrow we will have Fifteen with Mark Zengerle and get to hear from the former Wisconsin Badger who is settling in with the Milwaukee Admirals. From there, my guess is Fifteen takes towards a lot of the brand new faces that have been injected into the mix these last few weeks and days.

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