2019-20 Team: Ässät (Liiga)
Date of Birth: Jan. 10, 2002
Place of Birth: Espoo, Finland
Ht: 5-foot-9 Wt: 163 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2020 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting: 10th (Among EU Skaters)
- Future Considerations: 21st
- McKeen’s Hockey: 25th (Mid-season)
- Bob McKenzie, TSN: 57th (Mid-season)
- EliteProspects.com: 29th
- Josh Bell’s Rankings: 22nd (February)
- Andrew Forbes’ Top-217 Rankings: 39th (March)
- Larry Fisher’s Top-400 Rankings: 44th (May)
Center Roni Hirvonen shined at Finland’s top level of hockey, Liiga, where he finished in second place in points among U-19 rookies. Scoring 5 goals and 11 assists in 52 games, the silky playmaker made a strong argument for why he should be a first-round selection in the upcoming 2020 Draft.
At 5-foot-9, 163 pounds, Hirvonen is on the small side for your prototypical NHL center, but his puck control, smooth hands and vision are what make him an exciting prospect. He’s a relatively average skater who lacks explosiveness, which may come as a surprise considering his size. But, he does have agile feet and a quick upper body that allows him to maneuver and dangle with ease – and that actually makes him one of the better puck handlers in this draft.
Related: THW’s 2020 Draft Guide
It bodes well for Hirvonen that he earned decent ice time for an 18-year-old center playing in a men’s league – he often saw north of 15 minutes per game. He spent much of the season in Ässät’s top-six, playing with seasoned wingers and being deployed on the power play as well. With that in mind, his stat line of 16 points in 52 games could be better, but it’s still impressive for a young, undersized prospect in his first professional season against men.
Prior to his first year in Liiga, Hirvonen flourished in Jr. A in 2018-19, where he scored 21 goals and 55 points in 50 games. Like all young hockey players graduating to the NHL level, Hirvonen will need to add muscle as he looks to tackle the next challenge, but it’s especially important in his case because the weak points in his game can be improved by simply adding lower-body strength.
He has the sharp offensive instincts to set up his teammates and scores most of his goals battling in front of the net. However, he often gets out-muscled by bigger defensemen in one-on-one battles. His skating lacks explosiveness and power, and his shot could also use some work. It may take several years for Hirvonen to be viable at the NHL level, but with the proper conditioning training, he could become a serious threat.
He’s a high-intensity player who likes to have the puck on his stick. When he doesn’t have the puck, he’ll force his way to the front of the net where he battles for rebounds and tip-ins. Despite being undersized, he has no hesitation to drive the net, and he excels in the role of net-front presence.
One particular plus to Hirvonen’s game is that he adapts well to his linemates, which allows him to play different styles based on his teammates’ strengths. That kind of versatility makes him an easy linemate to develop chemistry with.
It may be more practical for Hirvonen to play wing at the NHL level, like he occasionally did with Ässät this past season, but if he can transform his game into a more NHL style – emphasizing strength, speed, and a strong two-way game – playing center can still be possible.
Other THW Draft Profiles
Roni Hirvonen – NHL Draft Projection
Playing a full season in Liiga will certainly boost Hirvonen’s chances of being drafted in the first round, but there’s no question he’s going to be a long-term project. With an interesting blend of playmaking and aggression, teams may be intrigued enough to take a chance on the Finnish center. However, I still predict Hirvonen will be selected in the early-to-mid second round, around pick 40 to 45.
“Hirvonen is primarily a playmaker but he also has a decent shot and a good nose for the net. His skating is good but there’s room for improvement. He doesn’t necessarily have high-end skill in any area but his effort level is great and he plays a reliable two-way game. He battles for pucks in the corners and goes to the dirty areas of the ice. He put up a lot of points in the junior league a year ago but I wouldn’t read too much into that. He is on the older side for this draft class and very mature for his age.” – Jokke Nevalainen, Dobber Prospects
“Hirvonen is much more of a natural playmaker than a goal scorer but can play an all-around game. He has a decent shot but could stand to add a bit more power. His wrist shot features a quick release and with his soft hands, he can change the angle on it before letting it go. Hirvonen does not play a perimeter game. He is willing to get to the dirty areas of the ice and take a hit to make a play. Hirvonen is also not afraid to physically engage in battles along the boards. However, he needs to get stronger to play this type of game effectively at the professional level.” – Ben Kerr, Last Word on Hockey
“Hirvonen is an aggressive two-way center with quickness and tireless approach towards every shift while keeping his feet moving at all times. There are games where he will keep his foot on the gas from start to finish and maintain the intensity from start to finish. Even on power plays, Hirvonen stays in motion and will alternate sides of the ice. He handles the puck with ease and is agile in all directions, which helps him run the possession of a power play from the right half wall. Hirvonen also plays on the penalty kill and will pressure the points without overcommitting himself.” – Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst
- Stick handling & puck control
- Shot & pass accuracy
- Competitiveness & Fearlessness
- Hockey IQ
Under Construction – Improvements to Make
- Strength – specifically lower-body
- Shot power
Many of Hirvonen’s shortcomings will see a big jump in improvement once he adds more muscle mass. A stronger Hirvonen will also amplify his tenacious play style. With the proper coaching and development, Hirvonen projects to be a middle-six forward in the NHL. While he’s a natural center, left wing may be a better fit for him in the NHL due to his current size and strength.
Risk – 3.5/5, Reward – 3.5/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offense – 7/10, Defense – 4/10
Hirvonen won a pair of silver medals in 2018-19 – one for Finland at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge, and another with the Blues U-20 in Jr. A SM-liiga. The season prior, he won the Heino Pulli Award for Rookie of the Year in Jr. B Sm-sarja – the top level of U-18 hockey in Finland.
Matt Cosman is a Sheridan College print journalism graduate from Oakville, Ontario. I’ve been with THW since 2019 covering the Carolina Hurricanes, one of my favorite childhood teams. When I’m not in my hockey bubble you can probably catch me jamming out on the piano or losing money at the poker tables.