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Maple Leafs sign Mikko Kokkonen to an ELC

Relax SPC counters, it’s for next season.

Finland v Russia: Bronze Medal Game - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs announced today that the club has signed defenceman Mikko Kokkonen to a three-year entry-level contract beginning in the 2022-23 season. The average annual value of the contract is $846,666.

Kokkonen, 21, skated in 58 games for the Lahti Pelicans of the Finnish Elite League (Liiga) this season, recording one goal and 14 assists. In 216 career Liiga games, the Mikkeli, Finland native has registered 54 points (eight goals, 46 assists). During the 2020-21 season, Kokkonen appeared in 11 AHL games with the Toronto Marlies where he picked up one goal and six assists. Internationally, Kokkonen won a bronze medal with Finland at the IIHF World Junior Championships.

Kokkonen was selected by Toronto in the third round (84th overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft.

The first thing to remember about Mikko Kokkonen is that he’s only 21. He has a January birthdate too, so he only just turned 21. For Europeans who play pro before they’re ever drafted, it can seem like a player has been around forever, and then you remember: He’s two years younger than the rookie that was just signed out of the NCAA.

Kokkonen played his entire career in the Jukurit club until this season. A move to the more likely to be a playoff team Pelicans got him exactly what he hoped for — playoffs. They only lasted three games, however, as his team lost in the first round.

If he’s up for it, and the visa can be had quickly, a PTO on the Marlies for the rest of this season would be extremely handy right now as that team might be running short on experienced blueliners. Kokkonen joined the Marlies last year for 11 games, and he took about one game to get used to the place and then settled into his usual routine.

I find his game dull, and it really is supposed to be. He moves the puck well — you don’t play defence in Finland without puck skills — but he’s not offensively gifted. He’ll be your PK guy, not your PP guy, although the Marlies tried him on the power play last year. It wasn’t a disaster, but it seems highly unlikely he needs that skill.

Like most defenders who get points as assists, his went up on a better team this season, and were very high (for him) on the Marlies. Points aren’t the point with a guy like him, though. The issue is his defending. It’s not bad against his peers at the WJC, and he was fine in the AHL. He needs a D-partner who is more dynamic, and he’s not a great big guy who is going to clear the net front. I think Timothy Liljegren is clearly more skilled defensively, but there is no question Kokkonen can play a meaningful AHL role. The question is can he leap over to the NHL?

He’s still young enough his ELC is three years, and since it starts next year, he’ll be 24 when it ends, and we’ll know exactly what he’s capable of.

He faded from our collective imaginations at T25 time last summer, eclipsed by Topi Niemelä, who does not play a dull game. He still hung around at number 12, though, in with the maybes.