On the second day of the 2016 NHL draft, you get drafted by a team in the fourth round as a 17-year-old. During the 2016-17 season, you play top-six minutes in one of the top-tier leagues in the world, the SM-Liiga in Finland at the age of 18. Between your two seasons there, you put up 19 goals and 57 points in 103 games, leading to you signing your entry-level contract at 19. Now, at 20, you are the first-line center for an AHL team.
Islanders fans, meet Otto Koivula.
Koivula grew up in Nokia, Finland, the birthplace of former New Jersey Devils and Atlanta Thrashers defenseman, Anssi Salmela, and current Calgary Flames defenseman, Juuso Valimaki. He spent time on the Ilves U-16 and U-18 teams from 2013-16, scoring 89 goals and 203 points in 134 games before getting called up to Ilves’ main team in the SM-Liiga. That offseason, the Islanders traded their 2017 fourth round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for the 120th pick in the 2016 Draft, where they drafted Koivula.
The six-foot-five, 190 pound forward hasn’t lost a step since getting drafted, playing two full seasons with Ilves, two World Juniors, and now is putting up dominant numbers as of late in Bridgeport.
Koivula has played in all but four of the AHL’s second-place Sound Tigers’ 32 games this season, but only started to get hot in his eighth game of the season, when he scored his first goal. Overall this season, he has seven goals and 17 points in 28 games with 12 penalty minutes and a plus-11. For someone whose first step on North American ice for a regular season game was his debut this season, that isn’t bad at all.
Everyone is talking about Koivula. Most notably, Arthur Staple has projected that Koivula could be a notable contributor for the Islanders within the next few seasons.
Comparing Koivula’s transition from Europe to Bridgeport to Sebastian Aho’s last year wouldn’t be crazy, as they both had to make a quick transition to North American ice, and they both have been very successful. And just like Aho, Koivula may become a priority call-up option for Barry Trotz’s squad towards the end of the season.