Mystery draft pick revealed: Laaksonen gets his chance at Sabres camp - The Buffalo News
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Mystery draft pick revealed: Laaksonen gets his chance at Sabres camp

Social media blew up on June 24 in Chicago when the Sabres took Finnish defenseman Oskari Laaksonen in the third round, a player not on any lists provided by NHL Central Scouting. Things really started to bubble over when some prospect Web sites listed the 17-year-old at 133 pounds. It was widely viewed as one of the most bizarre picks of the draft by any team.

Laaksonen himself took to Twitter to discount that figure and point out he was actually 70 kilograms (154 pounds).

"I was getting a lot of tweets saying, 'Is this guy some midget?' " a smiling Laaksonen joked Sunday in HarborCenter. "I was like, "Oh God, I have to correct that one.' "

A complete unknown heading into the draft and even after it, Laaksonen turned 18 on July 2 and was an engaging presence with Buffalo reporters Sunday morning. The 6-footer is certainly raw but said he's grown nearly four inches the last two years.

He was watching the draft at home in Finland on television thinking he would be taken no earlier than the fifth round. In fact, he was pondering the possibility of not being picked at all when everything suddenly changed.

"I got a text from my agent and he said, 'You've been drafted' and I was like, 'it's the third round' and he was like, 'No, this is not fake,' " Laaksonen said. "I was like, "Oh my God, Oh my God.' I run to my mother and hugged her. It was a special moment."

As it turned out, the pick made sense to him. The Sabres were one team Laaksonen was watching closely because he revealed Buffalo flew him into town from Finland for interviews because he was not an invitee to the NHL Scouting Combine at the end of May in HarborCenter. General Manager Jason Botterill said the team's scouts like Laaksonen's offensive creativity and pushed for the pick so he took their word for it.

"I knew they were really interested. They were the one team I was looking at very much," Laaksonen said. "They talked about what my last season was like, my good and bad as a hockey player and what I need to get to the NHL.

"I think I bring offensive skill. I play with a lot of skill on the ice. I like to make good plays. I'm a good reader of plays and I think they like my talents."

Laaksonen played Junior B and Junior A hockey in Finland last season, collecting six goals and 13 assists in 37 games for Ilves' Under-18 and Under-20 entries. He said he was especially happy to get big minutes in the playoffs. He's hoping to progress to the Finnish Elite League but admits he might be kept in the under-20 group while his strength develops.

He understands why he was such an unknown going into the draft and how this camp is a first chance for him to back up the claims of Buffalo scouts.

""I have never been on the national team. That's one thing," he said. "But I didn't stress about it. I know my talents. I know that I can get my chance. I wasn't nervous. I just need to play, have fun on the ice. It's been amazing. Getting to know all the guys and meet the staff is amazing. So fun."

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More Laaksonen:

--On 6-foot-4 Finnish goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen: "He's huge, man. There's not much to shoot at when he's in the net. I have scored on him one time in under-18 league. I scored on a slapshot but there were like 100 people in the net. That's why I scored. He never saw the shot."

--On Rasmus Ristolainen's Golden Goal for Finland in overtime that won the 2014 World Junior Championships: "I was actually in Canada. They flew the under-14s guy here to live with billets and play with teams here. We were in sports bar in Ottawa and we were all screaming and jumping and yelling, "Let's gooooo". It was fun."

Mike Harrington: Draft weekend gives a glimpse to Botterill's measured approach

 

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