The In Lou We Trust Top 25 Devils Under 25 finally begins counting down the players who made it into our top 25 in voting. As a quick refresher, the way this worked is that I gave each of the writers a list of all the players in the system under the age of 25 and told them to rank them. It's a subjective ranking, but as you'll find, it led to some interesting consensus. The #25 player on our list, however, wasn't one of them.
#25 - Harri Pesonen - LW - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 194 lbs. - Age: 24 - 2012-13 Team: Albany (AHL)
As you can see from the stats from Elite Prospects, Pesonen is a product of the JYP system. He moved up through their youth teams, got a little time with the Finnish U-20 national team, and has secured his spot on the JYP senior roster in the last two seasons. He was not drafted by any NHL team, and the New Jersey Devils just signed him to an entry level contract in the summer. Here's the post I wrote about the signing, which includes plenty of details about Pesonen. Pesonen was slated to appear in July's rookie camp but he got injured mowing the lawn and could not attend.
The writers were either quite optimistic in Pesonen or rather pessimistic. Karen, Nate, and Kevin didn't think too much of him, while Matt, myself, and especially Jerry had a more positive opinion of his future in New Jersey. Let's go through the optimism first. Pesonen has what most of the prospects don't have: professional experience. He's been in the SM-Liiga for several years, he's been playing against men, and he's been quite successful at it. In 2011-12, he led his team in goals and finished tied for sixth in the league with 21 goals while putting up 288 shooting attempts. In the playoffs, he finished fourth in the league with six goals and 62 more attempts. He's averaged 16-17 minutes with his team and has been a big part of JYP. Clearly, one of the Devils' scouts have been keeping tabs and so he got offered a one-year deal by the team.
Between his slick highlights and his good-relative-to-his-league numbers, it's clear that Pesonen is an offensive winger. The Devils don't have a plethora of those players in the system. The ELC is a two-way contract , so if he didn't make New Jersey out of camp, Albany would definitely benefit. He meets a systemic need. I personally appreciated the number of attempts he's taken. (Aside: I'm doubtful he only scored 21 goals out of 288 shots. Does the SM-Liiga combine shots on net and misses? If so, why?) That suggests that he's not just a player who got hot for a season or got carried on a line; it appears that Pesonen generated offense at JYP. Combined with the fact that he was one of the top goal scorers in the SM-Liiga and it's not a stretch to say that his shot is good in addition to being prolific.
This leads into the pessimism, which I think is understandable to a point. First, he did all this at the SM-Liiga level. While it is a professional league, Finland hasn't produced a lot of quality players in quite some time. The quality of the league isn't as strong as the KHL or the SEL, so it's a question whether Pesonen's good results are a sign he's just good or SM-Liiga good. That may translate well to the AHL, but perhaps not to the NHL. Second, Pesonen's work ethic doesn't have the best reputation. Elite Prospect profiles usually doesn't have a lot of details; so when something like "Can appear lazy at times." appears for Pesonen, it must be telling. Hockey's Future's profile had the same criticism too. Hopefully he'll be able to shed that rep in North America because it will do nothing but hurt him over here. Third, Pesonen just turned 24 in August. He isn't likely to develop any more than he already has. Even after adjusting to the smaller rink and different style of game, it's either a case of whether Pesonen is good enough for the next level right away or he's not.
If he's not, the contract is only for one year so it's a low-risk for the Devils. The question is whether there will be any reward. I believe that hinges on how you see those three factors in light of his accomplishments. For an example of the optimistic, Jerry clearly favors his professional experience even knowing these limitations to rank him as high as he did. On the other end, Kevin wasn't all that impressed due to those same factors. Both are reasonable conclusions. Combined, it resulted in the bottom end of this list. I think that's appropriate for a winger who brings something to the table but it's not obvious whether he
He missed rookie camp, so he's still an unknown quality among his peers at the time of voting. Pesonen is with the Albany Devils training camp. Those questions of how he would perform on a smaller rink and in a more physical style of hockey are being answered to some extent right now. He'll likely start 2012-13 with Albany so he'll have additional time to get used to the game on this side of the world. Among all the other players down in the A, I'd keep an eye on him to see how he acclimates. If he's firing pucks regularly and racking up goals, then you know the Devils found a real player out of JYP. That would be a first for the organization as the all-time Finnish leader in games played and points is defenseman Taipo Levo with 23 points in 104 games for Colorado. Pesonen may be a long shot to become that first Finnish success story for the Devils, it's still something to cheer for at least.
Now that you know how we rated Pesonen, I want to know what you think. Do you agree with our combined ranking of #25 for Pesonen? Are you optimistic for Pesonen's chances with New Jersey? Do you then think he would do enough to get a look with New Jersey when play does resume? Are you pessimistic and think he won't translate his skills to the next level? Do you then think he'll just do a season with Albany and go back to Finland at the end of his contract? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Pesonen in the comments. Thank you for reading, #24 will be revealed on Wednesday.