The Toronto Maple Leafs have a plethora of prospects in their system that focuses on skill, speed and smarts. They have done a tremendous job to keep their prospect pool filled with players that can make a significant impact down the line.
Topi Niemelä has top-four potential and is an untouchable prospect as a defender, Matthew Knies is a strong power forward/ sniper in the making and Nick Robertson and Rodion Amirov have speed and creativity. Though one prospect has been waiting in the shadows and is now starting to show his worth consistently.
Roni Hirvonen has continued to improve every season with his development and appears to have even more potential than before. After his impressive World Junior tournament, captaining Finland to a silver medal, we should expect big things from him in his fourth season at the pro level in Finland. He may not have the high upside as the other prospects, but he’s still going to be a very valuable piece to the Maple Leafs’ success.
Continuous Progression with Production
Ever since his draft year and being selected by the Maple Leafs while playing a game, we’ve seen improvement upon improvement in Hirvonen’s game. He immediately made the jump to the pro level as a teenager and he hasn’t looked out of place in terms of his placement in the lineup and overall consistency.
Given Hirvonen’s age at the time and how he isn’t the biggest player, he continued to be effective no matter what situation he is in or where he is in the lineup. He is constantly giving it his all, displaying great work ethic and compete.
In terms of production, there has continued to be an increase each season. He finished with 16 points in his rookie season with Ässät, in his sophomore season he finished with 21 points and surpassed every statistical category in his third season with nine goals, 17 assists and 26 points in 46 games with HIFK last season. Not a bad finish considering he didn’t have the best start to the season. Overall, he finished ninth in team scoring and was playing third line minutes, averaging 14:18 per game. Let’s not forget how he managed to be a P/G player in the playoffs with six points in five games.
Even taking a deeper look at his underlying production, you can notice the improvement each season.
|Statistic||2020-21 (DY+1)||2021-22 (DY+2)|
Despite seeing a very slight drop in even-strength production, Hirvonen managed to have the best primary point per game average of his career. On top of that, he had his best point per game average of 0.57. As he continues to gain more ice time and more responsibility, he’s going to continue to be a factor with his production and ability to be a driver in offensive output. As a result, he earned an entry-level contract from the Maple Leafs as he inches closer to making the transition from one pro level to another. Given his all-around skillset, he’s going to be a impactful every shift.
Smart, Simple and Effective
If I were to describe Hirvonen’s game, is that he is always displaying his smarts and decision-making while being simple and effective in what he does. He is going to be a thorn in every player’s side when he gets the chance. All of that, and more, was on display at the recent World Junior Championship.
Even though he didn’t lead the team in scoring– finished with seven points in seven games– Hirvonen was effective as the captain, showing great poise, confidence and conviction with everything he did when on the ice. While looking at his play last season along with the tournament, he was very competitive and displayed a high-end work ethic, showing no fear when going up against bigger opponents. One thing that always stands out is Hirvonen’s body positioning when engaged on the forecheck. Like this play to set up Kasper Simontaival for the first goal against Slovakia, 35 seconds into the game.
Hirvonen does a great job to quickly activate and attack on the forecheck. Going up against Rayen Petrovicky (6-foot-1, 179 pounds), Hirvonen might be at a disadvantage already because of his 5-foot-9 height. As mentioned, Hirvonen knows exactly how to position himself to cut off and separate opposing players from the puck exceptionally well. He does just that while forcing a turnover and regaining possession of the puck in the process. He quickly spots Simontaival and he finishes off the play with the goal. Plays like this really caught my attention throughout the whole tournament.
Hirovnen doesn’t excel in one specific aspect of the game. His ability to read the play and quickly adapt on the fly, being quick in transition, his playmaking, his sound two-way game all stand out as his greatest strengths. He can do it all. While he might look to work on shooting the puck more, his style as a smart and tenacious playmaker is definitely a play style that’ll work to the Maple Leafs benefit. Even when he doesn’t have the puck, he’s quick on the backcheck and isn’t afraid of getting into lanes to block a shot.
Maple Leafs assistant general manager Hayley Wickenheiser had a glowing review of Hirvonen’s play at the tournament.
“He makes plays, he can distribute the puck and he’s not afraid to get into battles,” Hayley Wickenheiser said when evaluating Hirvonen’s play at the World Juniors. “He created some turnovers in the tournament that resulted in goals, and he’s a good leader for them. He, of the three, is probably the most well-rounded at this point.” (from ‘Hayley Wickenheiser rates the Leafs world junior prospects: the sniper, the straw and the surfer dude’, The Star 8/22/22)
The Maple Leafs love their smarts and skill. Hirvonen has that and more to showcase when he eventually makes the jump from the Liiga to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.
Keep a Close Eye on Hirvonen
Even though he may not have the highest ceiling like Niemela or Knies, Hirvonen brings a balanced skillset as a prospect and value to the Maple Leafs organization. While most of the attention is focused on those big names, players like Hirvonen tend to fly under the radar. But that might change quickly.
Hirvonen may project as a middle-six centre or winger. While that may not be high, he has limitless potential to thrive in that role, being a player that can make life miserable for the opposition with his speed and ability to go to the tough areas on the ice. He’s no doubt a top-five prospect within the system. With his developing skillset as a two-way playmaker and production continuing to improve, keep a close eye on Hirvonen as he could turn some heads with a big season in 2022-23.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.