To no one’s surprise, Kyle Dubas traded down in the 2020 NHL draft by using the Leafs 44th to acquire the 59th and the 64th overall pick. With the 59th pick, the Leafs drafted Finnish forward, Roni Hirvonen. The TLN consensus ranked Hirvonen in 12th amongst Leafs prospects. I personally was the highest on Hirvonen as I ranked him 6th. For what it’s worth, I strongly considered having him at number five over Mikhail Abramov and could see Hirvonen making that jump into the top five Leaf prospects in my rankings in the future.
After seeing the Leafs hit (what certainly seems to be) a home run with their 2019 second-round pick, Nick Robertson, the expectations for Hirvonen (the Leafs 2020 second-round pick)might be higher than usual. The Leafs are proving that second-round picks are valuable and even though Hirvonen might not progress as fast as Robertson, I do think he has a bright future ahead of him.
Rank – Grade – NHL Readiness
12TH – C – 2-4 YEARS
Weight: 170 lbs
Drafted: 2020 2nd round, 59th overall
What kind of player is he?
Like many of the Leafs prospects, Hirvonen’s overall hockey IQ is what drives his game. He constantly makes smart decisions in all three zones and is a perfectly reliable player as a result. I expect him to be a coach’s favourite as he also possesses a terrific motor and a desire to win.
Hirvonen is certainly on the smaller end but doesn’t really share a similar toolbox to the stereotypical “undersized skilled forward”. Those players are very fast, strong offensively, weak defensively, and tend to shy away from high traffic areas. Hirvonen is the opposite of that. Below there will be a breakdown of his game.
Playmaking and shot:
Hirvonen’s a good playmaker who has a strong read of his surroundings in the offensive zone. I picture him going home every day to study the latest heat maps and expected goals data as he’s one of those players who manufacturers dangerous scoring chances. You rarely see him shooting low percentage shots from the perimeter or making passes to empty areas. His plays in the offensive zone are meaningful.
His shot isn’t powerful by any means, but his ability to get to scoring areas makes him a threat. He recognizes space extremely well and isn’t afraid to challenge defenders in order to get to where he wants. He’s the furthest thing from a “perimeter player”.
— Josh Simpson (@joshsimpson77) November 20, 2020
Despite being on the smaller end, Hirvonen’s “office” is in front of the net. He loves parking himself there and finishing in tight. A ton of his goals come from here as he has a nose for finding loose pucks. He doesn’t fair too well in physical battles in front of the net, but he hides in pockets well enough to still be effective.
Hirvonen isn’t particularly a fast straight-line skater and takes a bit longer to reach his top speed. His edgework and overall shiftiness make up for his lack of straight-away speed though. He’s able to quickly turn in all directions which allows him to evade pressure. His backward skating is a bit of an issue which puts him at a disadvantage when he’s trying to defend with his back facing his own goal. Backward skating isn’t a make-or-break for a forward, but as a strong positional center, Hirvonen puts himself in good spots to help his defenders so being a better 1 on 1 defender would help.
Hirvonen’s stickhandling could be one of the best assets. He is able to make his opponents look silly and as a result, generates a ton of entries. He is almost the opposite of fellow Finnish forward Kasperi Kapanen in this regard. Kapanen generates entries by using his speed to back up defencemen. Yet he struggles when he has to go around opposing forwards in the neutral zone. In contrast, Hirvonen’s shiftiness gets him through high traffic areas but he’s unable to easily back up opposing defensemen at the blue line due to his lack of overall speed. There is room to grow in his overall puck-carrying if he wants to be effective in this regard at the NHL level but the foundation is there.
Hirvonen’s value in transition mostly comes from his excellent positioning (something that will be mentioned a few times in this article). He always seems to be open in the neutral zone and can receive passes with relative ease regardless of the pressure he is under. The Leafs really value players who help their team transport the puck and Hirvonen is no exception to that.
Play off the puck:
This is the area of the game I really take an interest in and one of the major reasons why I am so high on Hirvonen.
Hirvonen’s willingness and desire to get involved in the game is apparent in 99% of his shifts. He’s a strong puck-supporter in all three zones when his team is in possession. When in the offensive zone, he knows how to open up along the boards, in between checks, and by going to the net. He fights to get open and knows how to monitor his speed to make sure he’s occupying passing lanes for his teammates. This is a skill in itself.
In particular, the last pass caught my eye. Hirvonen notices that there is an empty space in front of the net, and accelerates to get there.
When his team is out of possession, Hirvonen is a relentless puck hunter. He anticipates the play extremely well, which leads to him generating takeaways. There really isn’t enough that can be said about his activeness, as he never seems to stop moving. In addition, Hirvonen isn’t shy to throw his body around to make a play and never backs down from a battle. He’s still pretty easy to physically knock around but that’s something that should improve as he gets stronger. It would be great to see him become stronger on his feet as well. The Leafs have had a number of smaller, heavy-style players come through their system like Zach Hyman and Trevor Moore. If Hirvonen follows in their footsteps, he could have a future in the NHL, even if his offensive skill-set doesn’t reach it’s potential.
By the numbers
Despite spending the full season in the Finnish professional league as a 17-year old, Hirvonen had a strong season. He posted five goals and 16 points in 52 games with Assat in Liga. Points aren’t everything, but for reference, here are Hirvonen’s draft year stats in Liga compared to some first-round NHL Finnish draft picks.
He was utilized in a third-line role for the most part and was net-positive in terms of shot-attempt share at 51%CF at 5v5. Fourteen out of Hirvonen’s sixteen points came at even strength and he added two assists on the powerplay. Hirvonen also had a positive even-strength goal share at 52%, which was positive relative to his teammates (EV GF% Rel: 6.63).
Hirvonen has been dominant when up against players his own age specifically when playing for Team Finland. Hirvonen finished the Hlinka Gretzky U18’s with four goals in five games. In addition, at the International U20’s Hirvonen finished with three points in three games.
This season with Assat, Hirvonen has eight points in 18 games so far. Most of these points have come in Hirvonen’s last seven games where he has four goals and one assist. To be consistent here is the draft + 1 chart for the top Finnish draft picks in Liga.
Kotkaniemi moved up to the NHL in his draft +1 year. Hirvonen and Lundell’s numbers are their seasons up to this date.
What’s next for Roni Hirvonen?
Hirvonen is far away from the final product. He’s played against professional grown men for his whole draft year and was one of the only players in this class to do so. His minutes in Liga, Finland’s professional hockey league, will only increase from here which bodes well for his development. As Hirvonen continues to mature, I expect him to really start catching our attention.
— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) November 20, 2020
At this moment, Hirvonen’s ceiling is a good middle-six forward in the NHL. He would benefit from working with Barb Underhill to strengthen his stride and to become a better overall skater. In addition, as his body continues to mature it will only help him play his heavy style more effectively. His willingness to engage in battles and his strong positioning without the puck certainly help his case and make me think that he has a shot at being a center at the NHL level. His offensive toolbox is always going to make him a relevant prospect, but his play away from the puck is what will really propel Hirvonen into an everyday NHLer.
It looks like Hirvonen will stay in Europe until 2021 before he potentially looks to come to North America. Here at TLN, we projected him to be “NHL-ready” in 2-4 years giving Hirvonen loads of time to develop into the NHL player we all want to see.
Thanks for reading.