As the 2020-21 season amps up in Europe, another National Hockey League prospect is loaned overseas to get some valuable playing time. Also, one of the top Russian prospects of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is off to a hot start in his native country’s top professional league. Finally, we profile a defenseman who might prove to be the steal of the draft.
Luoto Loaned to HIFK
On Friday, the Winnipeg Jets announced that they have loaned prospect Joona Luoto to HIFK of the Liiga, Finland’s top professional league. He will return to the team when training camp opens, hopefully, in early December.
Luoto, undrafted, was signed by the Jets to a three-year, two-way entry-level contract on June 15, 2019, after two seasons with Tappara in Liiga. He scored 16 goals and 32 points in those two seasons, establishing himself as a solid defensive winger.
He made the jump to North America for the 2019-20 season, splitting the season with the Jets and Manitoba Moose. He had four assists in 18 American Hockey League (AHL) games for the Moose. He also played in 16 NHL for the Jets but was unable find the scoresheet.
Amirov Nets A Pair
Russian forward Rodion Amirov is expected to be a first-round pick in next month’s NHL Entry Draft. The 18-year-old’s stock is rising at the last minute as he is off to a great start in his first full Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) season.
In 21 KHL games last season, Amirov picked up just two assists for Salavat Yulaev Ufa. He has a pair of goals and four points in just seven games so far in 2020-21. He scored both of his goals in Saturday’s contest versus Vityaz
In his 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile, Matthew Zator feels that Amirov will be taken in the first round, but just not exactly sure how early.
Amirov is all over the board in the rankings, from as high as 12th to as low as 25th. Though, some teams could find his package very enticing, so he could go as high as 10th. He is a very intriguing forward with his overall consistent game and package of skill and defensive acumen. Attitude and character also matter to a lot of teams, so don’t be surprised to see him chosen in the middle or even close to the top of the first round because of it.
It is quite obvious that Amirov is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice in order to score. That will only serve him well as he tries to make it to the NHL.
Prospect of the Day – William Villeneuve
We will head over to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) for our Prospect of the Day. Heading into the NHL Entry Draft, Villeneuve is listed as the 99th-best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. He’s ranked higher by THW’s Larry Fisher as he checks in at 62nd overall and 15th among defensemen.
Related – 2020 NHL Draft Guide
While his teammate, Jérémie Poirer, gets most of the attention on the St. John Sea Dogs, it was Villeneuve who was a finalist for the QMJHL Defenseman of the Year last season. In 2019-20, he led all defenders with 49 assists and 58 points. The 18-year-old was named an alternate captain for the season as the scoresheet wasn’t the only place he was a team leader.
He showed off his passing ability with this assist in a preseason game on Friday night.
#SeaDogs 🚨 | 2-2— Denis Leblanc (@DenisL_1981) September 25, 2020
🚨 – Brady Burns
🍏 – William Villeneuve
⏰ – 3:08 | 3rd period #DefendTheDen #QMJHL #LHJMQ pic.twitter.com/PJ9a192owg
Setting up his teammates is far from his only attribute. The right-hander possesses an above-average shot that he is not afraid to unleash as he took 162 shots last season. He plays well in his own zone too. Despite getting beat with speed at times, he is positionally sound and regularly gets into passing and shooting lanes.
Villeneuve shines in the transition game. He is a dependable puck mover with both his feet and his passing. He has the sense and agility to avoid pressure and the opposition’s forecheck. He has room to improve on his skating, as do most players at this level.
Our own Josh Bell thinks that he could be a real diamond in the rough come draft time.
Villeneuve is an interesting prospect to keep an eye on. I think he could be one of the bigger steals in this draft – have I mentioned that yet? I don’t think he’ll be a top-two guy, but there’s a very good chance that he could be a top-four defender. His skating is holding him back the most, but if a team works with him on that, it’s something that can be improved in a big way. The team that takes a chance on Villeneuve could have a very good NHL d-man on their hands.
With a decent 6-foot-1 frame, Villeneuve has the tools to make an impact in all three zones of the ice. For whatever reason, he comes into the draft underrated. He has the talent to make one team very happy while leaving 30 other general managers kicking themselves for not taking him.
The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is fast approaching. Keep the Hockey Writers bookmarked and check back for all the latest news and updates before, during and after draft day.