LA Kings prospect Samuel Helenius had an impressive 2020-21 campaign with JYP Jyväskylä. Team assistant coach Marko Tuomainen speaks about it.
When they drafted Samuel Helenius last month, the LA Kings knew there were getting an exceptional talent in their second-round draft choice. While the centerman may not be relied upon to score every night, Helenius’s towering 6-foot-6 frame makes him an intimidating force on the ice. That helped push the 18-year-old to a successful season for JYP Jyväskylä in 2020-21 — the youngster’s first in the Finnish Elite League.
I recently spoke with JYP Jyväskylä assistant coach, and one-time LA Kings right-winger, Marko Tuomainen about Helenius’s play this past season and how the youngster’s experience representing Finland at the World Juniors helped his confidence along the way. First, we discussed the elephant in the room (no pun intended), speaking about Helenius’s size.
“Obviously, his size gives him a big advantage in one-on-one situations where he can protect the puck and beat defensemen coming out of the corners,” Tuomainen told me, but went on to cover a certain area in the 18-year-old’s game where the Kings have more-or-less struggled in recent years.
“In front of the net, he is tough to move away from the goal when he is screening the goalie,” added the assistant coach. “Defensively, his long reach makes him hard to beat, especially when he learns to use his long stick more effectively.”
After representing his native Finland in the 2019 Under-18 Worlds, Helenius missed out on the honor of donning his country’s colors in 2020 due to COVID-19. However, the center earned the privilege of representing Finland at the 2021 World Juniors, scoring two goals and two assists in seven games, helping his country win bronze. Overall, suiting up for the World Juniors was a rewarding experience for the youngster, but the experience only helped him moving forward.
“That was a big help for him mentally and gave him a lot of confidence,” Tuomainen noted. “[It was huge] seeing that he could perform at his best level against the best of the world and be one of the leaders of the team.”
Of course, with greater success comes greater responsibility.
“This year, it is time to take even another step forward as he has a chance again to compete in the tournament,” Tuomainen added.
Like any coach, Tuomainen has dealt with players with differing attitudes. Some may be unpleasant but those who possess great attitudes and an unwavering aptitude to improve more than make up for it. With no hesitation, the JYP Jyväskylä coach admitted that Helenius is part of the latter group.
“Samuel is a great young player to work with,” beamed Tuomainen. “He comes to work every day with a smile on his face and never misses a chance to get better as a hockey player. He is very interested in his development. He is really receptive and a quick learner, which makes him a great pleasure to work with.”
As for what’s to come this season, Helenius, Tuomainen, and his coaching staff have it mapped out.
“Last year, he came to the league as a very young player, and did a lot of good things already, especially defensively,” the former NHLer observed. “This season, we want him to control the puck more, building more speed with the puck through the neutral zone and making plays to his wingers. Also, he could use his size even more effectively going the net and staying there to direct point shots in and scoring on the rebounds.”
A second-generation player, Samuel Helenius is a lot like his father, Sami, who established himself as a tough-as-nails enforcer during his playing career. Unlike Sami, though, who stood at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, the younger Helenius provides more offensive punch than his father. The elder Helenius is very excited for his son to take the next step in his hockey career, and that was no more evident than when I spoke to the former NHLer just last week.
“Work hard every day and believe your dreams,” Sami stressed when I spoke to him, referring to his son needing to focus on elevating his career.
Whether it’s with the big club or in their system, the LA Kings certainly do not have any shortage of centerman. Of course, that only makes earning a spot between wingers that much more invaluable. Samuel Helenius knows this and will have to work extra hard if he hopes to crack the Kings’ roster down the road. It may seem daunting on the surface but given the big man’s attitude and desire to keep getting better, the road may not be as difficult for Samuel Helenius as some may believe.
We will of course see what this coming season and beyond has in store for him but we can all be certain that Samuel Helenius will work his butt off to prove just how invaluable of a talent he really is.