First, a programming note... today we’re starting a daily look at the Leafs’ competing teams in the Canadian division. Keep an eye out later this morning for two pieces on the Vancouver Canucks!
Now, onto our smol Finnish son.
Any hockey player is never as good as his hot streaks, and never as bad as their cold streaks. So on the one hand, whatever praise I’m about to write about Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Veeti Miettinen should be taken with that caution in mind. On the other, it’s been fun to follow.
If you want to get caught up on who he is and his background, you can read my pre-draft profile that I wrote back in July:
And you can read our T25U25 profile written in mid-December:
In the most recent profile, I wrote about some games of his that I had been watching. I noted that he definitely has some skill, especially his wicked shot. But I also noted some concerns for being a bit passive without the puck, and being more of a perimeter guy looking to steal pucks and be opportunistic rather than engaging and shutting down offense. That’s not a huge issue for a winger, but it’s not ideal either. I also noted that he didn’t seem like a great puck handler, though he wasn’t bad either.
Since then, I’ve been able to watch a few more of his games with St. Cloud University in the NCAA. I’ll add some notes on what I’ve seen, but before then it’s worth following up on what he’s done this season.
As of writing this, he finished his 11th game. He has 7 goals and 6 assists for 13 points in only 11 games. That puts him in a tie for 11th in total points in the entire NCAA, and a tie for 12th in points per game. But among other freshmen, he’s tied for 2nd with Carter Savoie. It’s all thank to his 5 game point AND goal scoring streak where he’s had 6 goals and 3 assists in that span.
But points are points, and can be misleading. Four of his seven goals, and one of his six assists have come on the powerplay. 38% of your points coming on the powerplay isn’t an outrageous amount — Mitch Marner’s last season saw 41% of his points come on the powerplay for example — but it is a lot. On the other hand, being good on the PP is a valuable skill. And despite him having a lot of his PP points come on the powerplay, I was surprised only one of his assists have so far. Here’s a good clip of his Saturday night game. He was the PP quarterback on their top unit, and he made some very good passes.
Here’s his PP assist, which came in his last game — he held onto it a bit longer so his teammate could sneak into a spot to receive the pass, then fired a hard pass that could be tipped and fool the goalie thinking it was going across the ice:
Later in the same game, he got a powerplay goal that was a pass attempt deflected into the net by the other team. But watch this whole clip, and how many scoring chances he generated either shooting or passing:
A powerplay sequence for Veeti "Meatie" Miettinen: i) walks around a defender on the entry and gets a solid chance off, ii) sets up his buddy cross-seam who misses on a glorious chance, iii) gets a lucky bounce and goal. Funny how quickly this top powerplay unit runs thru Veeti: pic.twitter.com/Ra2hUtWglK— mostly Veeti Miettinen updates at the moment (@mostlyleafies) January 3, 2021
That’s the skill that he has. His puck handling and playmaking definitely looks better than it did in the previous clips of his that I had watched, and he is also more aggressive and assertive without it. He’s still essentially a perimeter guy, and looking to steal the puck than crash and bang. But for his size, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He also looks faster, and not as overwhelmed.
But it’s worth noting that at the start of this season, he had barely spent any time in North America due to visa issues and the pandemic. He arrived at his college in October, and his first game was December 1st. He’s been playing on the third line at even strength, and started the year on the 2nd powerplay unit before earning his way onto the top unit. He started a relatively slow in terms of production — 4 points in 6 games — and his earliest games I watched he didn’t look all that dangerous except some flashes.
Now he looks settled in and more comfortable. He looks quicker, he is creating chances and drawing penalties without taking a single minor penalty himself so far. The biggest thing is he’s able to use his very lethal shot, which is his best skill. He’s averaging a hair under 3 shots per game, which is great when your shot looks like this:
Took Veeti Miettinen (@MapleLeafs) 3 games to find the scoresheet for @SCSUHUSKIES_MH.— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) December 7, 2020
Then he scored 3 points, all in the same night, to help St. Cloud beat Omaha.
Including his first career @NCAAIceHockey goal!#LeafsForever @EliteProspects page: https://t.co/XBx9VgYBPu pic.twitter.com/pIKWrqiBe0
He is scoring on over 20% of his shots, which is also a bit high. It might come down over the rest of the season, but on the other hand his shot is so good that as long as he continues his shots per game and getting PP1 opportunities, he just might be able to maintain that.
So that’s all good. Now for the bad, or the question marks. He is still more dangerous on the powerplay than he is at even strength. He generally plays short shifts at ES, and is relied on at all in terms of defensive zone starts. The coach seems to be using him carefully to get the most out of his offensive skills, which is smart. He can also still have stretches where he might not really do anything for an entire period or two at ES, but I think that might also be because he is playing safe. He is often a guy covering for a pinching defenseman, not playing deep in the offensive zone. I don’t know if that’s a systems thing or some caution for him as he adjusts to the NCAA. He definitely looks more flashy and takes more risks on the powerplay.
So what does this all mean? Is he a legit prospect with non-zero chances of making the NHL? Not quite yet. He has a lot of work to do still. What he is doing now is what you want to see from him. he needs to sustain this over a full season, and show even more improvement the next year. He needs to become a dominant force on the PP at all times, and at least reliable and good at even strength. If he can turn into one of the best offensive players in the NCAA before he finishes his career there? Then he may be a legit prospect.
Maple Leafs training camp roster | by Hardev
Emphasis now on regular season success for Leafs | by Kristen Shilton
Everything you need to know from the start of Leafs training camp | by Nick Barden at TLN
Note on this Mirtle quote: this might only true as long as the player’s CHL league in question is not active.
Dubas confirms they can have Nick Robertson on the taxi squad. Applies to all the CHL players around league, which could mean a lot of teenagers in NHL to start.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 3, 2021
There’s a full video with the Dubas interview here:
“We have to focus on what is right in front of us, and that’s having a great camp that’s going to set us up for a great regular season.”— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 3, 2021
Kyle Dubas speaks with the media following day one of training camp.https://t.co/yJ0wg05TXa
Speaking of Leafs’ prospects in the NCAA...
Leafs prospect Mike Koster with his team's first goal post-break https://t.co/zOinTTgIAw— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) January 3, 2021
AROUND THE HOCKEY WORLD
The Chicago Blackhawks signed their RFA center to a new deal:
Which is more than can be said for the New York Islanders and their RFA center so far, and I’m sure their fans will take this all in stride.
#Isles camp has begun with off-ice testing today and Mathew Barzal is officially a holdout. Barry Trotz confirmed Barzal is not in camp yet, though he has been on LI.— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) January 3, 2021
"You have to make sure you're adaptable," Trotz said. "We're going to worry about who we can put on the ice."
Certainly will be more detail in morning, but there are rumblings Travis Hamonic will go to VAN on a PTO. GM Jim Benning and coach Travis Green are scheduled to speak on Sunday.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) January 3, 2021