Seven players in, and we have our first Finn! Miro Aaltonen also has the honor of being our first Top 20 Prospect so far to have actually received a vote from every writer.
Even though he was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2013, Aaltonen never signed with them, so the Leafs were able to get the creative forward on an ELC this past March. He’s never played in North America, so you may not have had much of a chance to get to know him yet (that’s what we’re here for).
Scott Maxwell /// Brayden Engel /// Shawn Reis: 12
Ryan Hobart /// Evan Presement /// Bobby Cappuccino /// Jon Steitzer: 13
Adam Laskaris: 14
Megan Kim: 15
Dylan Fremlin: 16
Hayley Hendren: 17
Ryan Fancey: 19
Aaltonen may be a little on the smaller side (5’11”, 176), but he makes up for his size with his energy, skating, and creativity, and he can play either center or left wing. Many Toronto fans may not be familiar with him since he hasn’t made it over from Europe yet, but he spent the last season with Chekhov Vityaz in the KHL and played for Finland in the 2017 IIHF World Championships.
First draft eligible in 2011, Aaltonen was passed over for two years before the Ducks took him at #177 (sixth round) in 2013, although he never played in the organization. It was in his draft year that he graduated to playing full-time with the Blues of Finland’s Liiga, but it was also the year he broke his ankle at World Juniors, causing him to miss most of the second half of the season.
After being drafted to the NHL, Aaltonen stayed in Finland, playing two more seasons with the Blues and another with Kärpät before he went to Russia for the 2016-17 season. His 44 points in 59 games with Chekhov Vityaz drew the attention of the Leafs, and he signed a one-year ELC for the 2017-18 season.
It’s worth noting that Aaltonen’s Liiga production stayed pretty consistent from his draft year onward, even when he moved to Kärpät in 2015-16–a better team with better players. He didn’t make quite as big of a splash as his teammate Sebastian Aho (the Finnish one), but he continued to establish his ability, drawing enough positive attention to make the jump to the KHL the following season. The KHL is certainly a more challenging league (second only to the NHL), but he improved even further, averaging .75 PPG with Chekhov Vityaz, compared to his .60 PPG the previous two years.
The Eye Test
In his draft year, Aaltonen was most noted for his skill and creativity with the puck, but his size and strength was questioned. Four years later, his strengths and weaknesses don’t seem to have changed much, as he’s continued to develop his skill but remains undersized compared to most NHLers.
The consensus is that the skill and potential are there, but he needs to improve his physicality and probably put on some more muscle in order to stick in the NHL, which is certainly doable. In his draft year, he was described as a player who “works hard but lacks physicality and needs to add plenty of strength”, and a more recent report agreed that he “will need to add muscle to survive in North America but is currently slated to put up a fight for an NHL opportunity right away.”
A consistent element of Aaltonen’s game from his draft year until now is his ability to position himself well around the net, both with and without the puck. He prefers to shoot, but he likes to do it from in close, so you’ll often see him passing the puck off while he works hard to get himself in a good position to take a second pass straight to the net.
Early in the IIHF World Championships this summer, Aaltonen spent time on Finland’s top line with Sebastian Aho and Valtteri Filppula. But his ice time was reduced as the tournament wore on, and he finished with 0 points, having not made much of an impression at all. Although it was not his first time representing Finland, it was Aaltonen’s first time on the men’s national team, and his first time going up against current NHL regulars, so I’m not convinced we should judge him too harshly based on one recent international showing.
As Seen on TV
Here is the most recent compilation of his highlights, but it includes some moments from his draft year, as well. You can see for yourself how he likes to get right in the goalie’s business for a shot or a rebound.
How’s this one for a first goal in the KHL? He’s right where he needed to be:
Four seasons removed from his draft year, it’s good to see that Aaltonen has had continued success, especially in the KHL last year. A solid showing in the KHL is not necessarily a perfect indicator of ability to transition to the NHL, but the Leafs have had some decent luck in that area recently (Zaitsev especially comes to mind). It’s likely that Aaltonen will start out with the Marlies, but Mike Babcock has by no means ruled him out as an NHL regular as soon as this season.
Mike Babcock expects Miro Aaltonen, Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen to compete for jobs with the #leafs. "We have too many players now."
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) June 21, 2017
As a 24-year-old, Aaltonen’s ELC with the Leafs is only good for one year, which gives him a little less time to prove himself than some of the other players in this series. But he also has an advantage over some of the others, namely his recent success in the KHL and several years of professional experience.
We all know how crowded the Leafs are with players at the moment (especially forwards), but Aaltonen’s history as an asset on the man advantage, his projection as a second- or third-line left wing, and his playmaking ability all work in his favour. He won’t necessarily have to make the NHL jump immediately, but if Aaltonen impresses at camp or with the Marlies, look for him to at least get a sniff of the big time this season (and maybe a shiny new deal).
Previously, on TLN Top 20 Prospect Rankings 2017…
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