The Toronto Maple Leafs had yet another disappointing finish to their NHL season. Despite all that, there’s still something to look forward to in the 2021 NHL Draft. Who are Leafs draft prototypes?
Toronto Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: Finnish Forwards
How To Determine Prototypes
The criteria used to determine prototypes was explained in my Russian forwards prototypes and CHL forwards prototypes pieces. I also did prototype pieces on USHL and Swedish leagues forwards. If you haven’t read those pieces yet, and you’re a Leafs fan, you should. Today, we’ll be focusing on the Finnish ranks, which the Leafs have drafted two forwards from in the recent past in Veeti Miettinen and Roni Hirvonen. Take a closer look at their stats here:
Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: Who Fits From the Liiga?
The Finnish leagues are split between two leagues: Liiga and SM-Liiga. The Liiga is a Finnish men’s league, similar to that of Sweden’s SHL or Russia’s KHL. The SM-Liiga is a U20 league, similar to that of Sweden’s SuperElit or Russia’s MHL. Here are the 2021 draft eligible players playing in those two leagues this year:
Combined between the two leagues, there are six positive fits. Those six are Samu Salminen, Ville Koivunen, Samu Tuomaala, Brett Harrison, Aatu Raty, and Kalle Vaisanen. Of those, there is only one safe bet to be available at the Leafs pick, and four more that could slip. Raty is firmly in the first-round; unless the Leafs trade up, he won’t be there for them.
Vaisanen is my 115th ranked prospect in the 2021 draft, and has been ranked as high as 74th and as low as 214th. What makes him line up as a draft fit for the Leafs is his size, experience in the World Juniors, and his assists per game in the SM-Liiga.
If the Leafs select Vaisanen, their fans should get a little excited. While he does not have a particularly high ceiling, he has an enticing set of skills that are translatable to the NHL level. Vaisanen has incredible poise with the puck, sneaking in closer to the net by using his patience. In those spots, he possesses a great shot, which he has yet to take full advantage of at this point.
He also possesses strong playmaking abilities, though he tends to keep things relatively simple overall. His skating is below-average, however, and that keeps his potential held back. Despite this, his size, work ethic on the ice, and ability to play through the middle and on the perimeter are all factors that point towards him carving out a bottom-six role at the NHL as his speed and acceleration improve.
Salminen, the best Leafs draft fit, is my 44th ranked prospect. Salminen has been ranked as early as 31st and as late as 112th. This wide range suggests he could fall to the Leafs. The reason he lands on this list is due to his size, World Juniors performance, and points per game at the SM-Liiga.
Salminen is a dual-threat offensive player, who has a nose for the net and scores in a wide variety of ways. Additionally, his playmaking ability stands out in large part due to the way he processes the game. Salminen arguably has one of the highest hockey IQs in the draft. His ability to manipulate defenders with his hands, timing, and quick decisions make him a gerat fit for the Leafs. His defensive game has a solid foundation, but there are times where he looks great, and other times where he simply does not. Holding him back even further is his skating, which is below-average, similar to Vaisanen. With more defensive zone consistency, stronger skating, and a better utilization of his strong shots, Salminen could be a steal in the late second.
Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: Ville Koivunen
Koivunen had a phenomenal World Juniors performance, which led to him skyrocketing up most rankings. He comes in at 152nd on my draft board, but he’s been ranked as early as 30th and as late as 91st. His 10 points in the seven U18 games aided in his score, as did his stats in the SM-Liiga. These factors make him an ideal candidate for a Leafs draft prototype.
Koivunen plays the game with a high amount of awareness and deception. His shot, though inconsistent, has the power and accuracy to become NHL-ready in due time. Koivunen is good at reading the opposing defenders, using deceptive foot work and puck handling to control where they go. That opens up room for him to exploit on a quick give-and-go with a teammate or an open passing lane to a high-danger area. However, Koivunen’s defensive game is unorganized. He has a strong active stick, but gets caught puck-watching and gets drawn out of position quite often. Additionally, his skating needs a lot of work. If he can be more disciplined in his positioning and can take the necessary strides in his skating (pun intended), he has a chance to reach his top-nine potential. It’ll just take some time and patience.
Tuomaala is my 39th ranked prospect. He has been ranked as early as 17th and as late as 46th. He’ll need to fall for the Leafs to get him at their pick, or they’ll need to trade up quite a bit to have a chance. He lands on the list as a Leafs draft prototype for his size and strong World Juniors performance.
Tuomaala is one of the best shooters in the class. What makes him a better shooter than the aforementioned Finnish players is the fact that he utilizes his shot very often. His shot is also far more accurate then that of the aforementioned fits. Additionally, his skating is average in the Finnish ranks, whereas the previously mentioned prototypes are below-average. That also gives him an advantage and subsequently a higher draft ranking.
His defensive game is also solid, making him a fairly well-rounded player. Where he lacks, however, is in aggressiveness. That comes both in his positioning in the offensive zone and in his physical play. He works primarily from the perimeter, which hasn’t proven effective at the NHL level. Additionally, he does not get in on the forecheck very often and doesn’t tend to throw himself into board or net-front battles. This has to adjust in order to heighten his chance at becoming an NHL player.
Harrison is my 43rd ranked prospect, and has been ranked as high as 33rd and as low as 95th. His draft range makes him a candidate to slide to Toronto in the second, or even third round. After the OHL decided to postpone their season, Harrison went to Finland, where he played limited games in the SM-Liiga. Despite his limited deployment, he lands as a Leafs fit because of his size, stats, and U18 performance.
Harrison is a modern day power forward. He plays a game predicated on his power stride, aggressive play style, and hard nose for the net. He’s also a capable finesse player with excellent stick handling abilities. As mentioned earlier, he plays a power game — this means generating momentum with aggressive moves to overpower opponents. His skating is lacking in terms of speed and acceleration due to his poor stride technique. With strong coaching, that’s easily adjustable. His soft hands allow him to finish in tight to the net with eye-catching goals and assists. His play style indicates that he is often at the net-front, so he can take advantage of his hands well in those situations.
When playing along the perimeter, Harrison displays excellent vision with the puck, and is really good at finding open space without the puck. He earns additional marks for an equally strong shot. His defensive game is solid, which gives him a solid floor. With improvements to his skating, Harrison could wind up as a steal if he falls outside of the second round.
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