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2020 NHL Draft prospect profile: Can Roni Hirvonen’s intelligence compensate for his lack of size and speed?

An undersized centre raised in the same system that brought us Jesperi Kotkaniemi. This is Roni Hirvonen.

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Finland is lacking high-end prospects this year. Anton Lundell will be selected on day one, but he might end up being the only Finn in the top 31 of this year’s draft class. Due to various flaws, be them perceived or legitimate, his closest countrymen talent-wise seems to tread water between the first and second round. Roni Hirvonen, a 5’9’’ forward with scoring ability, is one of them.

Birthplace: Espoo, FIN
Date of birth: Jan 10, 2002
Shoots: Left
Position: C
Height: 5’9’’
Weight: 163 lbs.
Team: Ässät (Liiga)

I know that there is a bias against bringing in additional undersized players to the Canadiens system. It seems like every time I write one of these reports, there are a few comments calling out for more size, deeming it a necessity if the Habs should rise from their current mediocrity. No matter what your opinion is on the matter, and how you may roll your eyes when reading about a 5’9’’ centerman, there is something to be said in the matter of Hirvonen. You have to be gifted to just make the leap to a top-five men’s league as a 17 year old. You have to be even more gifted if you do it as a 17-year-old, 5’9’’, 160 lb centerman. That is exactly what Hirvonen did last year.

There is a disclaimer to my praise though. During the season, Hirvonen was mostly used as a winger. Possibly, this was to ease him into senior hockey and let him first and foremost focus on his offense. Sixteen points in 52 games is respectable for a youngster in his freshman year, but nothing that has made him skyrocket up draft boards.

Elite Prospects

Still, when Hirvonen left his parent club Espoo Blues’ youth organization for Ässät in May 2019, few could have predicted that he would spend the entire season in Liiga without needing a single spell in the minors to regain strength or confidence. Dominating the youth leagues is one thing. Having the physical and mental toughness to get through 50+ games of pro-league hockey without fatigue or injury is a different matter. And Ässät does like their youngsters. During last season they had ten players on their roster born in 1998 or later, but Hirvonen stands out by being two years younger than any of his teammates.

Hirvonen is an intelligent player, which you can see when he has possession of the puck and manages to hold off opponents just long enough to create open lanes for scoring chances. He is responsible in all zones, and although his lack of height and weight means that he won’t win many battles in front of the net, he is feisty, tough-minded and won’t let his lacking physique prevent him from joining crowded areas.

Hirvonen is an average skater, meaning that he will not only have to compensate for his lack of size but also for his lack of skating speed. For players of his size, it is almost a given that you are supposed to be swift and agile to compensate for an obvious lack of physical edge. Corey Pronman of The Athletic says that there is quite the hesitation among scouts regarding Hirvonen’s ability to beat defenders with pure velocity, instead of just being tricky and elusive.

Current Rankings

Future Considerations: #22
Hockey Prospect: N/R
ISS Hockey: N/R
McKeen’s Hockey: #35
McKenzie/TSN: #54
NHL Central Scouting: #10 (European skaters)
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #28

There is a strong possibility that Hirvonen will enter NHL as a winger. If it wasn’t for his physique — or rather, lack thereof — he’s got traits that could make him a middle-six center at the NHL level. Even if I could argue that Lundell is the level above Hirvonen skill-wise, there are similarities to their game. While they won’t immediately dazzle you with their speed, skill or shot, they are both crafty players with high hockey IQ. More importantly, they both have a knack for finding ways to produce points.

HockeyProspecting

I would be thrilled to see Hirvonen at the center position this year, just to see how he holds up against bigger opponents. Ässät’s head coach, Ari-Pekka Selin, seems to be of the same mindset, and has played him in the middle next to Carolina Hurricanes prospect Lenni Killinen in a middle-six role this preseason.

If he can up his game during his sophomore year and prove that his real future lies at the center position, he could straighten out most of the question marks surrounding his size and speed.

Hirvonen’s work ethic and intelligence are what makes him a solid prospect. His statistics on every junior level combined with top league experience at a young age puts him into a first-round contention. For better or worse, I expect him to be gone when Montreal hands in their card with pick number 47.