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2021 NHL Draft prospect profiles: Samu Tuomaala and Ville Koivunen

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A pair of polar opposite Finns could be ripe for the Canadiens in this week’s NHL Draft.

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Normally in a draft profile, we try to focus on one single player, but with limited time before the Draft — thanks to the Montreal Canadiens Cup run and the unique circumstances of the players involved here — we have a combined profile. The duo of Samu Tuomaala and Ville Koivunen represent very different sides of the same coin, and each presents a highly appealing skill set depending on what a team is looking for.

Both played for the Kärpät U20 team in SM-sarja league in Finland this past year, with Tuomaala earning a call up to the senior team in Liiga while Koivunen led the U20 team in scoring. Their goal and assists may have been produced at the same rate, but the style these two wingers played could not be more different.

Samu Tuomaala

Birthplace: Oulu, Finland
Date of birth: January 8, 2003
Shoots: Right
Position: Right Wing
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 176 lbs.
Current Team: Kärpät

Elite Prospects

I am far from any kind of professional scout, but it isn’t hard to discover what makes Tuomaala so appealing in this year’s draft. His skating is almost unmatched and stands out in a big way as one of the biggest flaws in this draft class is skating. He is able to generate powerful strides and speed with relative ease, and that skill set allows him the ability to create his own space when he’s in control of the puck.

It’s not just straight-line speed either. Tuomaala can easily cut across defenders who have stepped up to close down his space. His hands allow him to manipulate his way through challengers while easily shifting the puck between his forehand and backhand. When Tuomaala is firing on all cylinders he presents a multifaceted challenge for opposing defences to try and slow down.

Tuomaala isn’t just about speed though. He is also a dangerous sniper with the puck and rarely passes up an opportunity to put pucks on the net. The folks at Elite Prospects note that once Tuomaala gets the puck he makes a beeline for the opposing net. It’s not a bad game plan when we factor in how good Tuomaala’s shot is. He possesses a wicked wrist shot and a solid bit of guile to disguise his intentions when he’s preparing to fire off his shots.

Coupling this with his skating makes him a fantastic rush threat, as he will never turn down a chance if the lane opens up.

Rankings

Dobber Prospects: #34
Elite Prospects: #46
FCHockey: #33
Hockey Prospect: #46
McKeen’s: #36
NHL Centreal Scouting: #10 (EU skaters)

This leads us to some of the flaws in Tuomaala’s game. They aren’t crippling, but in a team sport they can hamper his overall effectiveness. Both Elite Prospects and Hockey Prospect note that Tuomaala plays a game outside of the structure, which can be fine if they can also play within the structure when the situation calls for it. Tuomaala doing so much on his own means he isn’t using his teammates in any way, and it hampers the overall offence.

Some of that can come from a lack of hockey vision, he misses give-and-go opportunities, or doesn’t recognize lanes opening for his linemates because he has a case of tunnel vision. This plays into his other big flaw. Just because he has a great shot does not mean he always has to default to it. Far too often Tuomaala breaks into the offensive zone, fires off a shot and then the puck is going the other way in a “one and done” moment.

Ville Koivunen

Birthplace: Oulu, Finland
Date of birth: June 13, 2003
Shoots: Left
Position: Right Wing/Left Wing
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 165 lbs.
Current Team: Kärpät

Elite Prospects

Kärpät’s U20 squad was blessed to have both Tuomaala and Koivunen on it at the same time, and even with Tuomaala getting more hype, Koivunen may still be the better overall player.

Much like Tuomaala, the base of Koivunen’s game is absolute, unrelenting pressure when he has the puck on his stick. Unlike Tuomaala, however, Koivunen possesses much better vision in the offensive zone and is trusted to be the focal point of a team’s power play. He is a true dual-threat as well, with a very good shot and playmaking skills. It isn’t hard to understand why he led his team in scoring this past season.

He doesn’t have to rely on straight-line speed either. He can’t beat defenders by going east-west or against the grain to open up chances for himself or his teammates. That vision to utilize his teammates makes him a much more dangerous presence in the offensive zone than Tuomaala who is more likely to just rip the puck instead of looking for another play.

Rankings

Dobber Prospects: #51
Elite Prospects: #34
FCHockey: #74
Hockey Prospect: #41
McKeen’s: #32
NHL Centreal Scouting: #20 (EU skaters)

Where Koivunen lags behind a bit is in his skating. It’s not horrible but it isn’t at full standout strength either. He is doing well at the U20 level, but as he plays more in Liiga there will be a need for improvement as the pace of the game increases. There is a need for some defensive improvements in Koivunen’s game as well. He will track back and do the minimum asked, but it’s very clear he’s looking to get the puck and get out of his own zone as quick as possible.

Finally, through no fault of his own, Koivunen isn’t exactly an imposing body and will need to add some bulk to his frame in order to not be bullied off the puck along the boards at higher levels of hockey.

Discussion

So that brings us to our fork in the road so to speak. Which Finnish winger from Kärpät should the Canadiens opt for? In Tuomaala there is a speed demon with a wicked shot available for the taking, a true high-end sniper. Something the Canadiens don’t have in surplus. However, his vision lacks a bit and despite a great shot, Tuomaala has to learn to pick his spots better.

On the other hand, there is the more methodical, well-rounded, but lacking in truly elite skill Koivunen. His dual-threat ability as a playmaker or a shooter is highly appealing, but there’s some physical maturing and skating work to be done.

The Habs are picking 30st overall, and both options would become standouts fairly quickly in a rapidly maturing Montreal prospect pool. In the end, it all depends on the offensive make up the Canadiens want going forward. If it’s more patient and cycle-based then Ville Koivunen is their man. If they want to play run n’ gun counter hockey, then Samu Tuomaala should hear his name called.