Drafted 83rd overall in the 2019 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, Anttoni Honka was coming off a decent year. He had shown that he was too good for the U-20 league by putting up 9 points in 6 games, including 2 goals. But hadn’t found his footing in the Liiga quite yet, only having 4 points in 16 games with a staggering -7. He then found himself heading to KeuPa HT, a team in the Mestis league, adding 7 points in 11 games in the regular season. Honka played in the playoffs for KeuPa, putting up 11 points in 17 games. He’s one of the many 2019 draft picks that don’t have their ELC but he has taken a large step up towards getting that contract.
Coming into the draft, scouts had some interesting takes about Honka’s game. From current Carolina Hurricanes scout Jokke Nevalainen’s report on Anttoni Honka in 2019, “The first thing everyone should know about Anttoni is that he’s an amazing skater. As an undersized defenseman (standing at 5 foot-10), you need to be a good skater. But he’s not just good, he’s great” He also goes on to say “Honka also has high-end puck-skills. He can make tape-to-tape breakout passes. He can make plays at high speed. He can slow down the game and create space with his puck-handling”
But everything wasn’t always so positive in reviews about his game. His defensive game is suspect, as he needs to work on his positioning without the puck in the D zone and he needs to get better at reading the play better in the defensive zone. His physical presence also isn’t there yet but that is something he can easily grow into, especially if Bill Burniston gets his hands on him. There were some reports about his attitude being a potential problem but members of JYP staff have shut those rumors down.
Going into his draft plus one year, it looked like it could be Honka’s breakout year. JYP needed some help on the backend and finally, let Honka hold a roster spot and he did pretty decently. Over the course of 43 games, Honka put up 3 goals and 16 assists for 19 points. The biggest improvement to the eye test is only having 8 penalty minutes, which is big for a 19-year old.
Looking through his 2019-2020 highlights, I can see why scouts adore this kid. His vision took another step towards the elite level, his passing is spectacular to watch. His shot is something to behold, as this clip from the Finland 2020 World Juniors shows the power he has
Going into the 2020-2021 season, Honka had developed into a top 4 defenseman for JYP and was a leading player for the team. He wasn’t getting major power play time but that didn’t matter to him. Honka took another jump last year, putting up 31 points in 58 games for JYP, which would be good for top 5 in the whole league for points by a defenseman. JYP wasn’t a good team and ended up not making the playoffs but it was clear that Honka was breaking out. He was starting to round out the rest of his game while still improving the already strong offensive abilities that he possesses.
Now, heading into this season, Honka was expected to be the number one defenseman. He has blossomed into that role for a young JYP team and evident by his start to this year, he is ready. Playing basically top pairing minutes so far this year, Honka has amassed 10 points in 12 games. That would be good for 3rd in points by defenseman so far in the Liiga. As well, on October 9th, Honka had 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) in a comeback OT win.
Now, the only people that have signed their entry-level contracts with the Carolina Hurricanes from the 2019 draft class are Ryan Suzuki, Pyotr Kochetkov, Jamieson Rees, Blake Murray, and Tuukka Tieksola. But this is the last year for the Canes to get Honka on a 3 year ELC if I am reading the NHL rules correctly. Once he turns 22, he is only able to sign a two-year ELC. Judging by Honka’s development over the last 2 years at least, he deserves at least a shot. At least to me, Honka has low-end top 4 potential and can be a power-play specialist.