TLN’s 2023 Offseason Leafs Prospect Rankings: #7 Roni Hirvonen
Photo credit:(Photo by Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff)
By Jon Steitzer29 days ago
We have updated the criteria from previous editions of TLN’s prospect rankings regarding who is considered a “prospect” for the purpose of this exercise. Rather than hard and fast limits on age or NHL games played, our group decided on a more nuanced approach to include any reasonably young player who is either under contract with the Leafs or on the club’s reserve list, who has not yet established himself as a full-time NHLer. This includes players such as Matthew Knies and Joseph Woll, who made strong impressions in limited NHL action last season and are expected to make the 2023-24 opening day roster but does not include late-bloomer Bobby McMann, who will also be vying for an NHL roster spot heading into his age-27 season.
TheLeafsNation would also like to acknowledge and honor the memory of 2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov who tragically passed away after a courageous and inspiring battle against cancer. We offer our sincerest condolences to Rodion’s teammates, friends, and family in this difficult time.
When we last saw Roni Hirvonen, things weren’t exactly ideal. It was the closing day of development camp and during what should have been a relatively relaxed scrimmage game, Hirvonen was caught coasting with his head down forgetting that there were players trying to earn contracts on the ice with him. The end result has been unfortunate for Hirvonen who has spent the summer recovering from a concussion rather than preparing for the Maple Leafs rookie and regular camps this September. No updates on Hirvonen’s status have been shared but it was an unfortunate consequence for a player that, while undersized, has earned a reputation for going to the hard areas of the ice.
Roni Hirvonen has been an interesting prospect for the Leafs so far. When drafted, he certainly wasn’t the most exciting option on the board but his post-draft performance has been a steady showing of why he is one of the Leafs’ most intriguing forwards they have developing. Initially drafted as a centre, Hirvonen’s size (5’9″, 172 lbs) will permanently push him to the wing, as we’ve seen him utilized both in the Finnish Liiga and with Team Finland at the World Juniors. Hirvonen has been a standout two-way player throughout his career but had his breakout season offensively this year, tallying 15 goals and 28 points in 57 games, both strong numbers for a 21-year-old playing in Liiga.
What comes with Hirvonen’s two-way game is an agitating attitude. Hirvonen consistently gets under the skin of his opponents and, at least against his World Junior peer group, was not shy about taking up residency in front of the opposition’s goal. Hirvonen moves around a fair bit in front of the opposing net using his mobility as the means for screening goaltenders and taking advantage of bigger defensemen. He’s a potential heir to the role vacated by Michael Bunting if the stars align for him, but even recognizing that creating offence isn’t his strongest suit, he is an incredibly smart player with decent vision. It’s just a matter of tempering expectations for a player who has more of a middle-six game than being a strong complementary top-six forward.
When assessing what Hirvonen brings to the table, it really is about work ethic first and foremost. Hirvonen fights for the puck every shift and puts himself in the right place to get it. It’s that putting himself in the right place piece that brings us to the next strength of Hirvonen, and that’s his intelligence. It’s the combination of those two things that make the hit he received in the development camp scrimmage even more surprising, as what has been seen of Hirvonen so far is that he’s normally the try-hard out there and, at least on the bigger European ice surfaces, he’s found a way to stay out of trouble. Being around faster and bigger players in a slightly more confined space will be an important adjustment for Roni and the biggest difference between a future fan favourite Leaf, and a guy who will return to the Liiga when his contract is up.
While skating may not be an issue for Hirvonen, it’s not a strength either, and it is something we can expect the Maple Leafs development team to work on with him. Given that Hirvonen doesn’t have size or top-flight offensive ability, he will likely need a bit more to have a lengthy NHL career rather than becoming a bottom-six, spot-duty player. Having the mind for the game is the most critical piece, and Hirvonen has that, along with being a hard worker, so it will be interesting to see what the best skills coaches money can buy can do with this incredibly promising canvas.
Given that Hirvonen has already suffered a bit of a setback with his injury and highlighted some concerns about his size, it seems fairly obvious that we aren’t talking about a player who will be coming into the Maple Leafs camp looking to steal a job right away. There is still some further learning to be done and Hirvonen picking up some systems pieces with the Marlies this year will also go a long way for him. That being said, a long time in the AHL doesn’t seem likely or necessary for Hirvonen either. There is a lot about his game that can add value to the Leafs in a fairly short period of time and there is some potential that he will get a cup of coffee in the NHL at some point just to remind him of what is required at the next level beyond the AHL, where I’d anticipate he’ll spend the majority of the year.
Expect to see Hirvonen get work on both sides of the special teams units with the Marlies and earn a spot in their top-six before Christmas.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)
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