The defenceman has a multitude of strengths, chief among them being his awareness on the ice. That skill is most obvious in his own end, where he is usually found in excellent defensive position to deal with the opposition’s attacks. As a result, he does well at occupying shooting lanes to either block the puck from getting to his net or forcing a player to look for another option.
He pefers a more active style of defence, however, using his stick to break up passes and take the puck away from his check along the boards. Once he has obtained it, his great awareness allows him to locate the best passing option to get out of his zone.
He can also lead the breakout himself, thanks to his exceptional skating ability. He has a smooth stride and is able to glide forward or backward with relative ease. When that is combined with his awareness, he’s virtually improssible to beat to the net in a one-on-one situation.
There’s little doubt about Vaakanainen’s defensive-zone play or his ability to transition the puck up ice. The biggest question marks around his game are how he has fared at the opposite end of the rink.
Birthplace: Joensuu, Finland
Weight: 185 lbs.
His offensive totals alone aren’t going to impress any scouts. He has had a few good offensive seasons in his lifetime, but the production hasn’t followed him on his rapid ascent through the ranks of Finnish hockey.
Given his style of play, you would expect that his passing and skating abilities would have at least seen him rack up a steady amount of secondary assists, but that has not been the case.
The fact that someone had to go through video from a seven-year span to get enough material to create a highlight pack is an indication of the state of his offensive game.
He had experienced fairly pedestrian showings on the international stage over the last three years. The low point came while contributing just one point for Finland in a 2017 World Junior Championship that saw his coaching staff fired partway though the event. However, his most recent international tournament was the best yet, as he scored three goals and assisted on three others as Finland rebounded with a silver medal at the Under-18 World Championship in April.
That performance alone likely played a major role in slotting him as a first-round prospect on several scouting lists, keeping the hopes that he can develop into a complete three-zone defenceman alive.
Future Considerations (May 2017)
Positionally sound defender who has composure and is aware of what’s happening all over the ice. A marvelous skater with an effortless skating stride to go with great lateral and reverse technique. Blends into the play a lot due to his consistency. Passing game is high-end, although not immune to the hiccup pass or bobble of the puck that gets picked from time to time. The IQ to get to spots to block lanes and get pucks out of the zone is superb. Sound player in most regards.
Mark Edwards, Hockey Prospect Black Book (June, 2017)
Urho is a smart all around defenseman with great hockey sense. He has good puck moving ability and strong offensive upside. He is also a good skater and can rush the puck up ice with confidence. He has a decent shot from the point. Along with his offensive tools, Urho is probably best known and even more successful on the defensive side of the game. He is very solid defensively without playing a very physical style of game. He wins a lot of battles using his stick and body positioning down low. He has the skating to keep up with opponents down low who have possession. He is excellent on the rush and is extremely difficult to beat in one on one situations on the rush. He handles all game situations well and has skills that make him an asset, regardless of the situation.
Hockey Prospect: 11
Future Considerations: 30
Central Scouting service: 8 (European skaters)
Corey Pronman: 38
Some outlets see him as one of the top players available in the draft. Others have him outside of the first round altogether.
Urho Vaakanainen has the potential to become a complete player, with strong defensive play and helping to set up a team’s offence. But as of now that player only exists in the world of potential that has swallowed up other prospects who seemed destined for greatness but never did come close to reaching that level.
With him, even if the offence never arrives he should still be a solid player in his own end, with a defensive game and transition ability that are already regarded as NHL-calibre. His ability to play at the top level isn’t dependent on a single aspect of his game seeing a drastic improvement.
If he can add scoring to his game, Vaakanainen could turn out to be one of the best mid- to late-round selections in a draft with few can’t-miss prospects.
Stats from Elite Prospects.