2020 NHL Draft Profiles: Finnish Forwards
Six intriguing options across three leagues for you to consider from a hotbed of elite prospects recently
Finland is now a well-known source of elite talent, with a Finnish player going in the top-three in the last three draft classes. While our recently-profiled Anton Lundell is no Patrik Laine, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, or Kaapo Kakko, he’s likely a top-10 pick this year and another smart, two-way player to add to the NHL ranks.
It’s really easy to overestimate your perception of players who you don’t get to see very often. While many NHL teams explore the North American junior leagues in all its capacity, areas like Finland are sometimes like the “unknown” and can be more intriguing than the known quantity in the CHL or Junior A. This bias often comes across as us only seeing the positive traits of European-born players and not seeing some obvious flaws, and vice-versa for our friends in Europe who might not watch a lot of North American hockey, for example. With many teams employing few European scouts relative to those based in North America, it’s important to be mindful of this as we head beyond the Sens’ clear European comfort zone of Sweden and into Finland.
While we don’t necessarily see a lot of depth this year among Finnish forward prospects, we’ve chosen four intriguing names that’ll likely be chosen in the first few rounds of the draft, and two honourable mentions for those who are looking for some late round options.
Roni Hirvonen (C)
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Ässät||Liiga||5'9"||163 lbs||25 - 45||#10 (Euro)|
The 10th ranked European prospect by NHL Central Scouting, Ässät’s Roni Hirvonen is one of just four draft-eligible skaters to have played in Finland’s top men’s league in their draft year, along with Lundell, and rearguards Topi Niemela and Eemil Viro. His draft-year production ranks 15th over the last decade, and is comparable to first-rounders like Rasmus Kupari and Kasperi Kapanen.
Coaches Video: Roni Hirvonen ranked between second and third round for the upcoming draft. Some highlights from last week. #Hockey #HockeyCanada #HCskillscoach #NHL #NHLDraft#HockeyTwitter #NHLDraft— Mitch (@Coach_Mitch85) July 30, 2020
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Developed through the Blues junior team — formerly attached to the now defunct Liiga team in Espoo — Hirvonen has been a top point producer among his peers for years. Here are his counting stats is as a 14-year old in an U16 league, a 15-year-old in an U18 league, and finally a 16-year-old in an U20 league. You’ll notice if you click through that while Hirvonen is behind some of his peers like Oliver Suni, Kasper Simontaival, and Roby Järventie in his younger years, by the time he’s at the U20 level, he’s leading them all in terms of production measured by points-per-game.
It’s an important note to remember as you put Hirvonen’s production against men in the Liiga into context: against his own age group, he’s been a dominant offensive presence. Most Finnish analysts that I follow have been surprised at Hirvonen’s treatment internationally, where he didn’t have much of a role at the U17s and U18s last season, and was left out of the U20 team this year when the team decided to roll with 12 forwards and eight defencemen. The one tournament where he did receive a prime opportunity was this year’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he captained the Finns and led them in scoring with four goals and five points in three games while featuring a balanced, do-it-all kind of game.
Here’s what we like about Hirvonen. He’s a smart, versatile player with great anticipation and is dependable in all three zones. Like many of the undersized players we’ve profiled this year, he does not shy away from contact, and has adapted to utilize his body positioning, feet, and whatever other leverage he has to keep control of the puck. He scored at the men’s level by getting many of his 134 shots on goal in high-danger areas, and he could’ve likely had a few more goals like this one had the puck bounced his way. Against his peers, he can utilize his dangerous anticipation to steal a puck and then drive it to the net himself — a rare skill, let alone from a 5-foot-9 forward — and when he’s not the one shooting, he’s shown some creativity from his passing that flash some higher-end skill.
While most of the reports that I’ve read like Hirvonen’s game at centre, where he primarily lines up among his peers, there are doubts that he’s an NHL centre because of his frame and lack of high-end skating. In the Liiga this year, Hirvonen primarily played second-line minutes (~14:39/game) on the wing, but got some games in at centre in February and March. While scouts noted that Hirvonen is agile, he lacks a top gear and more importantly, two-step separation that might limit his ability to cut-off faster players at the next level even if he’s correctly reading into where they’re going. To me, that’s a fixable skill, and if it’s remedied, I’m fine with taking a smart, playmaking centre with a high second-round pick.
That Hirvonen was able to play 50+ games at the pro level this year with Ässät eases some of my concerns about his physical strength, as you’d expect someone with his size to get injured at the pro level. Moreover, despite being two years younger than any of his teammates, Hirvonen was trusted with top-six minutes from his coaching staff. With Liiga getting underway this month, seeing if Hirvonen can play centre will add some certainty to his projection and could impact his final draft slot.
You can also watch Hirvonen’s report on Scouching here.
Veeti Miettinen (RW)
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Kiekko-Espoo U20||U20 SM-sarja||5'9"||159 lbs||33 - 86||#72 (Euro)|
I’ll be up front about this: I believe Veeti Miettinen is a first round talent, even for a draft class as deep as 2020. I’m still just as baffled five months after NHL Central Scouting ranked him as the 72nd best draft-eligible skater in Europe, a placement that typically borders on being drafted late to passed on completely. Let’s put some respect on Veeti’s name by diving into what makes him such a fascinating prospect.
Starting with the stats, Miettinen’s dominance started long before this season, breaking the single-season scoring record in the Finnish U20 league for U18 players, with 61 points in 48 games. Playing alongside Hirvonen for the Espoo Blues, the two were a force to be reckoned with on their way to a finals loss. But with Hirvonen moving up to the Liiga this season and Espoo going bankrupt, Miettinen was left to fend for himself on a weak Kiekko-Espoo team, with his 16-year-old brother Verner playing as his new centreman.
On top of this, Miettinen committed to play at St. Cloud State University in the NCAA starting in 2020-21, and in order to preserve his eligibility he couldn’t move up to play in the Liiga. Going to college still remains his plan for next season, as he’ll continue his education while playing for a team with a history of welcoming Finnish talent. Regardless, it was a limiting factor for him heading into 2019-20, as he couldn’t play on the big stages like Hirvonen and Lundell.
The result? Another record-breaking season.
With 73 points in 52 games, Miettinen led the league in scoring by 12 points, placing second in the per-game category right behind D+1 Tuuka Tieksola. And with 42 goals, he broke the single-season record as only the second player to hit 40+ goals in a season. He also led his team in scoring by 24 points, with Kiekko-Espoo finishing near the bottom of the league despite Miettinen carrying them on his back. An incredible 24.4% of his team’s goals came off Miettinen’s stick, something that you can only really fathom in this specific kind of scenario.
As you can imagine, goalscoring is Miettinen’s bread and butter, with a snappy wrist shot that can find the back of the net from seemingly anywhere. He’s very agile around the ice too, with speed that can make him dangerous at seemingly any moment. He couldn’t just be a sit-back-and-snipe type player with his surrounding talent, though, as he can also be a patient playmaker, something that lends especially well to his role as a power play quarterback.
But if there’s one thing you need to know about Miettinen, it’s that he loves to shoot. Even that might be an understatement. The average forward in the Finnish U20 league took roughly 1.6 shots on goal per game. For Miettinen? He averaged 5.6 shots on goal per game, with no one else in the entire league even reaching four. Whenever he could get the puck on net, he would. The result is a 14.5% shooting percentage, a sustainable level that you can easily expect to carry over given the quality of his shot. It all coalesced into tearing the Finnish U20 league apart as an 18-year-old.
So what’s the deal with Central Scouting, and why do even public scouting sources have him pegged as a 2nd to 4th rounder? A big part of that has to do with the lack of exposure by getting zero games in the Liiga to preserve his commitment, as well as controversially being cut from Finland’s World Junior roster.
There are notable deficiencies to his game, however, and for me a lot of it comes down to his shot selection. Shooting lots is fantastic, and is usually a great indicator for players progressing to higher levels. But at what point is he shooting too much, and just getting the puck on net from low-danger areas out of habit? It was a strategy that worked well in a league that’s a shade below the QMJHL in comparable difficulty, but he’ll have to continue diversifying his offence if he wants to build on his success.
His skating is occasionally brought up as a concern too, although I wouldn’t classify it as a detractor given that he can still separate himself from opponents and tear around the offensive zone on his edges. In fact, he’s even adapted it to be a part of his underrated two-way game, also serving as one of his team’s better penalty killers this season. The fact that he’s listed as a generous 5-foot-9 will certainly scare some teams away, and while he still has plenty of room to build his strength, he does a great job at positioning his body to fend off opponents.
The last factor worth discussing is his age — Miettinen is one of the draft’s oldest first-year eligible players, born five days after the cutoff date for the 2019 draft. It’s obviously something he has no control over, and despite this his numbers still fare really well when comparing him to D+1 players. But it’s a proven variable to account for when discussing draft prospects, and in a draft year with plenty of top prospects on the older side (Lafrenière, Rossi, Lundell, Quinn, etc.), Miettinen can be added to the list.
Whichever team drafts Miettinen will know what they’re getting: a volume-shooting, goal-scoring, high-flying Finn who makes the players around him better. His development route going to the NCAA is an unconventional one, but he’s stepping into a team where he’ll almost certainly be their best player the second he takes to North American ice.
Check out Miettinen’s video-filled scouting report on Future Scope Hockey, as well as Jokke Nevalainen’s Twitter feed of clips from the past two seasons.
Kasper Simontaival (RW)
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Tappara U20||U20 SM-sarja||5'9"||172 lbs||31 - 75||#21 (Euro)|
The other standout draft-eligible forward in Finland’s U20 league, Tappara’s Kasper Simontaival finished fifth in league scoring, fourth on a points-per-game basis, and second among draft-eligibles to earn a second-round grading by most scouting outlets.
This group of four players we’re profiling today have been peers since their time at the U16 level, with Simontaival dominating as a 14-year-old by outscoring Järventie and Hirvonen. It’s this offensive ceiling that have many noting that he’s got some of the highest potential in this draft class if he can put it all together.
A dual-threat by all accounts, Simontaival has a wicked shot that opponents respect, and has the vision to spot open teammates if his shot isn’t the most dangerous option. When he’s shooting, he’s capable of beating goalies in tight and from long distance, and he’s adept at changing the angle of his release to keep opponents wondering until the last moment. When he’s passing, he’s often doing it from the half-wall and can pass and receive on his forehand and backhand. While he’s small, reports are clear that Simontaival isn’t afraid to dump-and-chase, and he’s got a rock solid lower body that allows him to absorb contact and win puck battles on the forecheck.
All of that sounds great, right? So, let’s talk about what isn’t: his skating. Unlike the agile Hirvonen, Simontaival doesn’t feature top speed nor is especially agile in his undersized frame. Here’s a look at his stride in speed, during a zone entry on the powerplay, and you can see how limited it is.
Kasper Simontaival with a nice zone entry before a pretty tic-tac-toe powerplay goal by Santeri Aalto #2020NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/b8oD1gw7zV— Brandon Holmes (@BHolmes_Hockey) April 14, 2020
Simontaival has also missed big chunks of the last two seasons with injuries, as while some of his smaller peers try to evade contact or absorb smartly, Simontaival can sometimes rush right in on the forecheck and trust his lower body too much. Drafted by the Ottawa 67’s in the CHL Import Draft, Simontaival also has to work on his defensive play. While he’s shown great improvements off the puck this year, he can sometimes get drawn to the puck while chasing along the right-wing boards instead of understanding his coverage, and is prone to being a bit too confident with the puck by passing over some higher percentage plays for the home-run seam pass.
Ultimately, a team drafting Kasper could potentially get a high-end, top-six talent in the second- or third-round — a home-run — or get a player who doesn’t make it. For a team like the Senators, flush with pucks and in need of elite talent, Simontaival is potentially a bet that you make, putting him on a development plan similar to Mark Stone’s and letting Andre Tourigny and co. work on rounding out his game while he plays junior locally. He’s an intriguing high-upside option with one of the team’s four second round picks.
You can watch Simontaival’s video report on Scouching here.
Roby Järventie (LW)
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|KOOVEE||Mestis||6'2"||185 lbs||41 - 76||#18 (Euro)|
Today’s group of profiles focuses very heavily on short players, and while Roby Järventie is the only player we’re discussing over 5-foot-9, buckle up because he’s probably the most chaotic of the bunch.
Järventie was in a unique situation this past season, taking an uncommon development path by playing in the Mestis league — Finland’s second tier pro league. He was more than ready to handle playing against older competition, but not enough to jump right into the Liiga like Lundell and Hirvonen. Nevertheless, his 23 goals and 38 points in 36 games broke the record as the highest scoring U18 player in Mestis history. The list of competition is pretty thin, with Patrik Puistola (2019), Jesse Ylönen (2018) and Julius Nättinen (2015) being the only other forwards worth any mention from the past decade. But scoring at over a point-per-game rate against men is no easy task, with Järventie playing a key role for KOOVEE.
There’s a lot to love about Järventie’s game, and while I’ve said that about a lot of prospects this year, there really are some special elements to his toolkit. Most prominently is his goal-scoring ability — he just has a nose for getting pucks to the back of the net, and a whole arsenal of ways to do it. He has a powerful and accurate shot to beat goalies clean from a distance, the nifty touch to create openings in tight, and the size and awareness to be a natural finisher.
I’m also a fan of Järventie’s skating stride, which is really smooth and can quickly build up speed through the neutral zone. A big winger who can skate may already be enough for a team to latch onto him at the draft, but combined with his natural goalscoring instincts, there’s a high ceiling on Järventie’s future as a potentially lethal threat at even strength.
The concerns with his game remind me a bit of Jacob Perreault, another fantastic goal-scorer who would occasionally be very inconsistent with his level of play. Every so often it felt as if Järventie’s pace of play would slow down drastically, not only on the backcheck but in the offensive zone too. Tied into this, a common sentiment I’ve seen among scouts is that Järventie’s game is still very raw, and that he’ll need to figure out how to piece all of his individual skills together. Part of this may be tied into his early August birthday making him one of the draft’s younger players, but it elevates the risk of selecting Järventie when there’s a chance his treasure trove of skills don’t end up flourishing.
Digging a bit deeper on Järventie’s stats, his accomplishments become even more impressive given that he was only being deployed in third line minutes (15:12 per game), and even more surprisingly, deployed as one of his team’s go-to defensive players, with a faceoffs ratio of 45.1% — 50% would indicate he had an equal amount of faceoffs in the offensive and defensive zone, with his percentage being one of KOOVEE’s most defence-heavy.
Overall, I still like Järventie a lot in this draft class solely because the potential is feasibly there to one day be a dangerous top-six goal-scoring winger. Patience will be required, but the fact that he’s already been able to translate a lot of his abilities against pro competition is already a big plus. He’s expected to play in the Liiga next season for Ilves with Lassi Thomson, where I’ll be curious to watch how his skills come together.
|Player||Pos||Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Juuso Mäenpää||C||Jokerit U20||U20 SM-sarja||5'7"||141 lbs||78 - 126||#75 (Euro)|
|Kristian Tanus||C/W||Jukurit||Liiga||5'8"||159 lbs||104 - 191||#94 (Euro)|
- Juuso Mäenpää was a player I recently wrote about in a Five Thoughts column where I gave him the award for Best Small Boi, so I suggest checking that out to learn more about one of my favourite prospects in the later rounds. He’s very small, but he’s a treat to watch. Here’s an excerpt:/
The Rookie of the Year winner in the Finnish U20 league, Mäenpää is one of the league’s speedier players who can fly all over the ice. He’s electric in transition, seems to be all over the place in the offensive zone, and as a natural centre did a consistent job involving himself in his team’s backcheck. He’s seemingly fearless with the puck on his stick, with solid puck skills to make him versatile as a playmaker from the boards or even a one-timer option in the slot.
- A player I’ve been clamouring to see drafted the past two years has been Kristian Tanus. He was ranked consistently in the mid-to-late rounds by scouting services (including the NHL CSS), but was passed over due to his 5’8” size and lack of high-end skating ability. That combo can be a recipe for disaster, but Tanus is also one of the draft’s smartest playmakers outside the first round, who can see the ice extremely well and operate at a high pace. He’s been very successful internationally leading Finland in scoring at the 2020 World Juniors, and started to find his footing by the end of his first season playing in the Liiga. The danger is there to completely flop, but he’ll definitely be on my radar for a team to take a flyer on in the late stages of the draft.
- And that’s unfortunately where we’re ending this week’s honourable mentions. Unless we want to look really deep for players like Petteri Puhakka or Mikael Pyyhtia, we’d just be grasping at straws for some players who put up okay numbers in a weak international league without any individual standout skill worth taking a gamble on. Even Markus Nurmi was an intriguing prospect back in the 2016 draft for his combination of size and goal-scoring despite his middle-of-the-road production, and it was only after he was let go by the Sens that he started to manifest some of his potential. Finland still has an excellent crop of talent this year and the U20 league is still generally under-scouted, in our opinion. We just believe there isn’t as much value to be had this year./
More Draft Coverage
|--- Individual Profiles ---||--- Grouped Profiles ---|
|Alexis Lafrenière||First Round Forwards|
|Quinton Byfield||First Round Defencemen|
|Lucas Raymond||OHL Forwards|
|Tim Stützle||WHL Forwards|
|Jamie Drysdale||QMJHL Forwards|
|Marco Rossi||CHL Defencemen|
|Cole Perfetti||USDP Skaters|
|Alexander Holtz||USHL Skaters|
|Jake Sanderson||Swedish Forwards|
|Anton Lundell||Next week: Russian Forwards|