Sabres loan Laaksonen to Pelicans in Finnish Liiga

Defenseman Oskari Laaksonen will play in Finland until NHL training camp gets underway
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By WGR 550 SportsRadio

Another young Buffalo Sabres prospect is heading overseas to get some playing time ahead of the start of the 2020-21 season.

It was announced on Monday that Sabres defenseman Oskari Laaksonen has been load to the Lahden Pelicans in the Finnish Liiga until further notice. He will likely return to the Sabres once training camp officially opens later this year.

The 21-year-old has spent the past three seasons playing for Ilves in the Finnish Liiga, appearing in 113 games while scoring five goals and registering 35 assists for 40 points. His best season came in the 2018-19 season, where he scored three goals and put up 21 assists for 24 points in 46 games.

In the 2019-20 season, Laaksonen dealt with some injuries throughout the year, and ended up taking a bit of a step back in his development with just two goals and 10 assists for 12 points in 46 games.

This offseason, Laaksonen was signed to his three-year entry-level deal by former general manager Jason Botterill. He is expected to compete for a roster spot this upcoming season with the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League.

When he was selected in the third round (89th overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft, Laaksonen did not even show up on most draft rankings. At the time, he was listed at 5-foot-9 and 130 pounds, according to eliteprospects.com. More than three years later, Laaksonen now stands at 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds.

In the three years since he was drafted, Laaksonen has shown his capabilities of becoming a very decent offensive defenseman with his smooth skating, instincts and puck control in both ends of the ice. Where he will need to groom his game when he makes the jump to North America is with his defensive game. He will need to get bigger and stronger in his own end, and will have to get adjusted to playing at a faster pace on a smaller ice surface than in Finland.

Laaksonen also got the chance to play at the international level with Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he scored a goal and was a plus-five in seven games as a top-four defenseman on that roster. He also played some key minutes for the Finns on the power play as a quarterback from the back end, and ended up winning the gold medal as they beat the United States. Also a part of that gold medal team included fellow blue liner Henri Jokiharju, as well as goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.

Laaksonen is the fourth player in the Sabres organization that has been loaned to Europe to get a chance to play some games before training camp opens. The other three players are Luukkonen, Arttu Ruotsalainen and Rasmus Asplund.