Konsta Helenius talks Friday after Buffalo drafted him in The Sphere. ©2024

Sabres select center Konsta Helenius 14th overall at the NHL Draft

LAS VEGAS – Konsta Helenius, the prospect the Buffalo Sabres selected 14th overall tonight 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 men’s league.

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

Overall, he has registered 47 points, the second-highest total by a Liiga player before his 18th birthday. Florida Panthers captain Aleksandr Barkov, one of the NHL’s best all-around players, owns the record. Barkov, of course, won the Stanley Cup on Monday.

Helenius prides himself on his two-way game.

With Jukurit, Helenius played for coach Olli Jokinen, who played 1,231 NHL games. Jokinen challenged him to become a better two-way player.

“The biggest reason was my coach, Olli Jokinen,” he said of his improved defense. “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 in The Sphere. “… 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.

That strength helped during a marathon 2023-24 season in which he also represented Team Finland in junior and men’s tournaments. He played over 90 games.

Helenius said he hasn’t decided where he will play next season but he’s open to anything.

He’s the latest high-end center prospect the Sabres have drafted. The Sabres selected Matt Savoie, Noah Ostlund and Jiri Kulich in the first round in 2022. Savoie and Kulich have each played one NHL game.

The Sabres acquired the 14th and 42nd picks Thursday from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for the 11th selection. The Sharks received the 14th pick last year in the Erik Karlsson trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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