The Detroit Red Wings have a deep prospect pool made up of scorers, grinders, playmakers, offensive and defensive defensemen, and starting-caliber goaltenders. They really don’t have a huge weakness when it comes to youth, so it’s always exciting to follow the progress of the pipeline throughout the season. So in the spirit of that, I thought it would be great to shine a spotlight on a few of them as we continue to count down the days to training camp and the Traverse City prospects tournament.
During this ongoing series, I will get you caught up on their 2022-23 season, what to expect during 2023-24, and their current place on the prospect depth chart. Finally, I will endeavor to project a ceiling and floor for them moving forward. After starting with a forward in Red Savage, let’s turn to underrated Finnish blueliner Eemil Viro.
Spotlight on Eemil Viro
- How Acquired: Selected 70th overall by the Red Wings in 2020
- 2022-23 Team: Grand Rapids Griffins/Toledo Walleye
- 2022-23 Stats: 48 GP – 1 G – 7 A – 14 PTS / 5 GP – 3 A – 3 PTS
- 2023-24 Contract Status: Second year of a three-year contract with a cap hit of $828,333; Restricted free agent in 2025-26.
- 2023-24 Team: Grand Rapids Griffins
2022-23 Season Recap
After spending his entire hockey career in his native Finland with TPS, Viro made the trek over to North America to join the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins for the 2022-23 season. He played 48 games in his rookie season and scored his first professional goal on Oct. 30, 2022, against the Texas Stars in what ended up being a 4-3 win. He ended up finishing the season with a goal and eight points along with a plus/minus of minus-7. He also played five games in December with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye where he recorded three assists.
Since the Griffins weren’t able to make the playoffs in the AHL, Viro was sent back to the Walleye where he played 13 games in their run to the Western Conference Final. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to play in the Kelly Cup Final as the Walleye were eliminated in five games by the Idaho Steelheads.
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All in all, Viro had a solid first season in North America, even though he was “demoted” to the ECHL for a while in December. According to Red Wings assistant general manager Shawn Horcoff, it wasn’t because of his performance that he was sent down to Toledo. But, it ended up being beneficial to the young Finn’s development anyway.
“I thought that was good for him,” Horcoff said. “He handled that extremely well. He went down there and did everything he could to play a lot, to play in some situations that he probably would not have played in Grand Rapids…And when he did he did come back up (to Grand Rapids) I thought his best hockey was at the end of the year…He looked more comfortable.”
The logjam of defensemen in Grand Rapids necessitated the move, but Viro benefited from the extra ice time and responsibility in the ECHL. He returned to the Griffins with more confidence and played out the season in the AHL before going back to Toledo for the playoffs – which will also help him going into 2023-24 as he experienced the high pressure of the postseason in a lengthy run to the Western Conference Final.
2023-24 Season Outlook
With Simon Edvinsson likely on the shelf to begin the 2023-24 season, Viro will be battling with the likes of Albert Johansson, Antti Tuomisto, William Wallinder, Jared McIsaac, Brogan Rafferty, Josiah Didier, and Wyatt Newpower for ice time in the AHL. He will most likely be in the opening night lineup for new Griffins head coach Dan Watson, who also coached him in the ECHL with the Walleye.
Even though Edvinsson won’t be anchoring the top pairing (at least to start the season), the Griffins still have Johansson, Wallinder, and McIsaac as left-handed options. However, considering Viro’s two-way skillset and ability to complement offensive defensemen, he might usurp McIsaac or play his off-side in the top four. The only real locks for right-handed defensemen are Rafferty and Tuomisto, so he might be a good partner for Johansson or Wallinder to start the season. We will just have to see how Griffins’ training camp plays out.
Unfortunately, Viro is not slated to play in this year’s Traverse City prospect tournament, so fans will have to wait until Red Wings training camp and the NHL preseason to see him in action.
Where is Viro on the Red Wings’ Prospect Depth Chart?
The Red Wings added five more defensemen to the pool at the 2023 Draft, including blue-chipper Axel Sandin Pellikka in the first round and mid-tier prospects Andrew Gibson and Brady Cleveland in the second round. That means Viro, by no fault of his own, probably dropped a few rungs on the depth chart as a result. In my mind, he is hanging out with Shai Buium and Tuomisto in the third tier below Edvinsson and Sandin Pellikka (top tier), and Wallinder and Albert Johansson (second tier).
What is Viro’s Ceiling & Floor?
Viro’s main strengths are his skating, work ethic, and competitive nature. He also plays a very calm defensive game that should be able to complement someone like Moritz Seider in the future. Because of that, I am projecting his absolute ceiling as a top-four defenseman who plays a major role on the top-unit penalty kill.
As for his floor, I am still projecting an NHL future for the 6-foot-0 Vantaa native as a sixth/seventh defenseman that can jump into the top-four in a pinch and not look out of place. He might not be a full-time fixture, but he will be a reliable contributor to an NHL blue line – be it in Detroit or elsewhere in the league.
NHL ETA: Viro will be in tough getting a call-up from the AHL this season with the veteran logjam in Detroit and the many prospects ahead of him in the depth chart. His future in the NHL is likely still a few seasons away.
“He’s obviously very competitive and he can skate…The biggest things for him are strength and the overall maturity of his game is going to continue to grow. We’re very happy with the way he finished his season.” – Shawn Horcoff
“Eemil Viro remained true to character in his first season in North America. He played a quiet, steady game, but didn’t really pop in any particular area…He’s never going to produce a ton of points from the blue line, but he can carve out a permanent role for himself by becoming a consistent shut-down defenseman.” – Devin Little, The Hockey Writers
Viro might not be the flashiest defensive prospect in the Red Wings system, but he might become one of the most useful in the long run. After all, you need the Chris Tanevs and Jaccob Slavins of the world to win games in the NHL; the penalty killers and shutdown defenders who quietly do their job and eliminate the top threats on the opposing team.
I believe Viro has the potential to become just that for the Red Wings in the future. He just needs to continue to round out his two-way game and make a name for himself as one of the AHL’s top shutdown defenders. Then maybe he will jump up the list for Watson and be one of the first names on his lips when Steve Yzerman and Derek Lalonde call down to Grand Rapids when injuries strike the Red Wings’ blue line.