Joakim Kemell (left), NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile did not expect to see Finnish forward Joakim Kemell on the board when the franchise was on the clock with the 17th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft Thursday night in Montreal.

But seeing a consensus projected top-10 pick there for the taking in the middle of the first round presumably made Poile’s decision an easy one.

“We always say the same thing, ‘I can’t believe a player was there,’” Poile told the Sportsnet broadcast. “We had him rated in our top 10. And at 17, I think that’s pretty good. We did not feel that he would be there. So, it was a little bit of a surprise for us but maybe a good start to next season getting [him].”

Kemell has a strong case as the Predators' top forward prospect, joining a talented group that also features 2019 second-round pick Egor Afanasyev, 2020 second rounder Luke Evangelista and 2021 first-round picks Zachary L'Heureux and Fedor Svechkov.

“He’s a talented offensive player who can beat you in a lot of different ways,” Predators Assistant GM/Director of Scouting Jeff Kealty said. “He’s very strong on his feet, he can play in traffic, and he’s got an excellent shot and release. He can score in a lot of different ways. He has top-six ability and the ability to produce at the National Hockey League level.”

Originally ranked as the No. 2 overall skater by NHL Central Scouting, Kemell got off to a hot start last season, scoring 12 goals in his first 16 games. But a shoulder injury derailed his momentum. 

Kemell was solid after returning to the lineup but wasn’t as dynamic as he had been at the beginning of the year. He finished with 15 goals and 23 points in 39 games with JYP in Liiga, winning the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

Kemell plays with an edge to his game and the tenacity of a player much bigger than his 5-foot-11 frame. He earned glowing reviews from scouts who were impressed with his shot and ability to sneak one-timers past goaltenders.

What Kemell lacks in size, he makes up for in offensive prowess. Nicely blending speed and skill, Kemell is a smart, puck-moving forward who sees the ice well and thrives in a playmaker role.

Kemell is well-seasoned against international competition as well. He was an alternate captain for the Finnish U18 national team in 2022, when he totaled 12 goals and 15 points in 12 games, including five goals and six points in five games at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and six goals in five matches at the U18 Championship.

“He’s versatile, but the first thing about him is that he’s a goal scorer,” Predators European scout Janne Kekalainen added. “He’s an extremely confident kid and has a presence and swagger about him. He can shoot from all places and knows how to finish.”

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_