Konsta Helenius goes through fitness testing June 8 in LECOM Harborcenter in Buffalo. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

NHL Draft: Sabres thrilled to pick center Konsta Helenius, can’t make trade

LAS VEGAS – Konsta Helenius, the prospect the Buffalo Sabres selected 14th overall Friday at the NHL Draft, turned 18 on May 11. Still, the Finnish center has already played 84 games over two seasons for Jukurit, a team in Liiga, a top-tier men’s league.

Against stronger and more experienced talent, the 5-foot-11, 189-pound Helenius has thrived. Last season, he scored 14 goals and 36 points in 51 games and added two goals and six points in six playoff contests.

“Very unique,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams of Helenius’ production as a teenager facing men. “I mean, that’s something you don’t see very often, certainly his underage year.”

Overall, Helenius has registered 47 points with Jukurit, the second-highest total by a Liiga player before his 18th birthday. Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, one of the NHL’s best all-around players, owns the record.

“There’s a lot to like,” Adams said after the first round ended Friday in The Sphere. “He’s a, we feel, natural center, (possesses) really good two-way game.”

Helenius, who has also represented Team Finland at the World Championship, takes pride in that two-way game. Jukurit is coached by Olli Jokinen, who played 1,231 NHL games and was Adams’ teammates in Florida.

Jokinen challenged Helenius to become a better two-way player.

“The biggest reason was my coach, Olli Jokinen,” Helenius said of his defensive development. “He said before every game that you need the defense first and then you get the puck and you can do whatever you want.”

Naturally, for a skilled youngster, embracing the defensive side wasn’t easy.

“I like to do a lot of things with the puck,” Helenius said. “… It was hard for me but it was good for me.”

So was playing against men for two years.

“It was good for me to play against men because I like to battle hard, and I’m not the biggest guy, but I think I’m a very strong guy,” he said.

Helenius, who will attend development camp next week in Buffalo, might be ready to play hockey in North America. Adams said right now, anything’s on the table for the upcoming season, including Helenius vying for a spot in Buffalo.

“He’s a very competitive player that’s got a skill set that we think will translate really well to the National Hockey League,” Adams said. “You never know the timeline when a player like this will be ready to help you, but when you have the experience that he’s gained through the men’s league, through the World Championships, that certainly expedites things.”

Last season, winger Zach Benson, the 13th pick in 2023, surprised the Sabres by earning a roster spot and playing 71 games.

“Go back 12 months ago, we’re open to these things,” Adams said. “… This is a player (Helenius) we have really high expectations for we think is closer rather than further away.”

After the Sabres acquired the 14th and 42nd picks Thursday from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for the 11th selection, it was believed they might try to flip the 14th pick to acquire established talent.

Adams said he aggressively pursued deals Friday. Teams, however, would only part with pick. Zero players were dealt during the first round.

“That’s just the way these things go,” Adams said. “But that’s why you still do the work and make sure you’re prepared with your list. But we’re going to do everything we can to make our roster better. That was what I was making clear to teams around the league. We were open to anything.”

Before the Sabres picked, Adams said he received three or four calls within a minute with offers to trade down again. But they coveted Helenius, a player they had ranked in their top 10.

“We didn’t feel that moving down made sense with Konsta on the board,” Adams said. “That was the guy we wanted.”

He’s the latest high-end center prospect the Sabres have drafted. They selected Matt Savoie, Noah Ostlund and Jiri Kulich in the first round in 2022.

Teams, of course, inquire about Buffalo’s prospects.

“That’s a great thing because it speaks to our prospect pool, teams checking in, are you willing to do this?” Adams said. “And if the right trade’s there, we’re gonna make it to make our team better, including our prospects. And I’ve made every team aware of that. …

“If we’re gonna move a prospect, especially a top prospect, it’s with the goal of us improving our roster right now. And that just hasn’t been available yet.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *