2020-21 Team: Ässät U20 (U20 SM-Sarja)
Date of Birth: May 8, 2003
Place of Birth: Pori, Finland
Ht: 5-foot-11 Wt: 170 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2021 first-year eligible
In a season where there have been precious few tournaments to evaluate draft-eligible prospects, the Under-18 World Championships became invaluable in measuring the best of the 2021 draft class. Scouts finally had a chance to see how first-round hopefuls like Mason McTavish, Fabian Lysell, and Sasha Pastujov match up against each other, giving them a clearer picture of a very tight first round. However, it’s also a great way to see lesser-known prospects and how they handle themselves against the best of the best.
Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Prior to the U-18s, Aleksi Heimosalmi was not on many draft radars. Only two top-ranking services listed him within their top 100 prospects, and even then, they placed him near the bottom of their lists. The biggest reason for that was where he played. Most young Finnish defensemen start their careers in the U-20 circuit but are soon moved to either the Liiga or Mestis (similar to North America’s AHL) before they’re draft-eligible. At just barely 18 years old, Heimosalmi has not yet played a game in either of Finland’s top hockey leagues.
His stats weren’t terrible in the U-20 league, but they definitely weren’t groundbreaking. In 35 games this season for Ässät, he put up four goals and 21 points while serving as the team’s alternate captain. However, Heimosalmi was able to produce that as a rookie in the league, finishing top-10 in scoring among defensemen. He also was handed the reigns as the team’s top defenseman, taking over for Antti Tuomisto, who left for the University of Denver this season, despite having only three games of U20 experience under his belt.
As it turns out, there’s much more than meets the eye with Heimosalmi, who exhibits all the skills of a highly cerebral two-way defender. When he has the puck, there are very few players who can pry him off of it. He keeps his stick close to his body and is able to draw in attacks and then make a quick pivot to send them reeling. He’s not the fastest player on the ice, and there have been some criticisms of his stride, but he has a deceptive quickness that he uses to create space after ducking around an opponent.
But Heimosalmi isn’t all offense. Despite standing just 5-foot-11, he can corral and trap his opponents, driving them to the outside along the boards in order to free them of the puck, which he then can quickly send to an open teammate with a clean, accurate pass. He has an incredibly active stick, and it’s just as effective as when he has the puck, using it to create false senses of security before whipping it into position for a poke check or deflection. His transitional game is equally strong, using his great stick work to either create space for himself or send it to an open teammate.
His game, of course, is not perfect. He can tend to be a little shot-happy, which creates unnecessary turnovers, and his lack of strength — he was listed at just 154 pounds before the U-18s — can put him at a disadvantage defensively. But that may not bother too many scouts right now. At the U-18s, he finished as the highest-scoring defenseman with two goals and eight points in seven games, tying Canada’s Corson Ceulemans, and helped the Finns take first place in Pool B. He’s capitalized on his opportunities at the perfect time, making him one of the hottest prospects in the last few months before the draft.
Other THW Draft Profiles:
Aleksi Heimosalmi – NHL Draft Projection
With how he performed at the U-18s, there’s very little chance that Heimosalmi makes it out of the third round. His size will still concern some of the old-school scouts, but with smaller offensive-minded defensemen like Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar dominating despite their smaller stature, more teams should be willing to take a chance on the crafty Finn. There’s also a chance he ends up going in the second to a team with multiple picks or a penchant for making riskier selections, like the San Jose Sharks, who took the 5-foot-11 Tristen Robins 56th overall last year.
“A rather smooth skater who can occasionally rush the puck through the neutral zone and defends competently with his stick and positioning.” Elite Prospects
“The most important thing you have to realize about Heimosalmi is that he is an intense competitor. Yeah, stats this and stats that. Fine. But most of these top kids put up points in junior hockey only to hit a massive wall when tougher competition limits their scoring opportunities from 10-15 a game to only one or two. Heimosalmi doesn’t need inferior competition to make his presence felt” Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst
“Heimosalmi plays in all situations for his team. He has offensive upside and power play assets, and I believe he has only started to scratch the surface of his potential. His development curve is heading straight up.” Finnish Junior Hockey
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Skating stride
As one of the youngest players in the draft, teams will have to wait for him to reach his potential. But if they are patient, there’s a chance that Heimosalmi could develop into a second-pair, two-way defender, much like Henri Jokiharju, who the Chicago Blackhawks took with the final pick in the first round in 2017. There’s even a possibility that his defensive game could end up being better than his offensive side, as he already possesses a strong defensive mindset when many his age are struggling in that area.
Risk – 4/5, Reward – 4/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 7/10, Defence – 6/10
Heimosalmi was a standout at the U-18s, earning the tournament’s Best Defenseman honor, was nominated to the tournament All-Star Team, and was named a Top Three Player for Finland. He also previously played in the U-17 Hockey Championship and was a member of both the U-17 and U-16 Finnish teams.
- DraftCast 26: Finnish 2021 NHL Draft-Eligible and OHL/WHL News
- 2021 NHL Draft Prospect Examination: Defenseman Aleksi Heimosalmi
Aleksi Heimosalmi Statistics
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.