Since I started becoming an amateur (but enthusiastic) prospect writer, I’ve noticed that European prospects seem to be underrated in Bob McKenzie’s rankings and actual draft position. And by European, I don’t just mean that they played in European leagues like Liiga, SHL, KHL, and all their junior leagues. I also include prospects who are European and playing in North American junior leagues.
Last year, when Bob McKenzie released his final rankings for the 2020 draft, I compared his rankings against the consolidated ‘consensus’ rankings from all the major public scouting sources. I never wound up publishing it, but here were the top 10 prospects who had the biggest drop in their rankings from the public scouts vs McKenzie’s list:
- Zion Nybeck: -43
- Kasper Simontaival: -36
- Emil Andrae: -36
- Alexander Pashin: -35
- Martin Chromiak: -29
- Carter Savoie: -28
- Sean Farrell: -27
- Roni Hirvonen: -21
- Tyler Tullio: -18
- Jan Mysak: -15
Five of the top 10, including the top four in that list, played in European leagues the whole season. Two others were European, and split their season with half the games in a European league and half played in the CHL. Another thing that is common to all of these prospects is that they are almost all 6’0” or shorter. Small and European? Yuck! The last observation I can make is that these are all guys who are typically not ranked in the first round, even by the public scouting people. And if they are, it’s just inside the top 30, so they’re not considered truly elite, top 10 prospects.
I will add a caveat to not take the specific numbers that seriously. My general point is that Bob McKenzie’s rankings have been shown to be the most accurate ranking in terms of predicting the actual draft results, but even he is not perfect — especially in later rounds. What the above is meant to show is that many NHL teams seem to undervalue European players.
Now, we know Dubas hunts for “value” in his draft strategy. That’s why he has typically taken smaller players, and overagers who have shown signs of being late bloomers and worth a later pick. So I think it is worth recognizing that last year with 12 picks, he took Europeans with seven of his top eight picks. I’m feeling a bit proud that I had spotted the big discrepancy between how public scouts ranked Europeans, and how Bob McKenzie/the NHL did before Dubas made all those choices.
Which brings me to Ville Koivunen. He is not an elite prospect, and he doesn’t necessarily have any elite skills. But he is a very good and interesting prospect, and, if Bob McKenzie’s mid-season rankings are any indication, he’s being very undervalued.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
Ville Koivunen is listed as 6’0” winger, and also pretty slight at 165 lbs. He played his full season in Finland’s U20 junior league. Between being an average-height but pencil-thin forward, and playing in a European junior league, he meets the two requirements to go undervalued at the NHL draft mentioned above.
But he has some solid numbers at every level in which he has played this year.
He played for Kärpät’s U20 junior team. He finished 3rd in the league in points with 49 in 38 games, which also led the league among other draft eligible players by eight points. As a result, he was also named the Rookie of the Year for the league. The previous season, Koivunen played in the U18 level and led the league with 71 points in 37 games. It was a six point cushion over second place, who also played in nine more games than Koivunen.
But Finnish junior league is not the strongest competition, so it’s also good to know how he played against tougher competition that is also his age. This year, he played for Finland at the U18 World Junior Championship, where he finished tied for 5th in points with 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in 7 games. Last year, he finished third on Finland’s U17 team with 11 points in 16 games. Quite simply, Koivunen has produced everywhere and every level he’s played.
Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:
- Bob McKenzie: 91st
- Will Scouch: 26th
- Scott Wheeler: 43rd
- Elite Prospects: 34th
- Dobber Prospects: 61st
- Smaht Scouting: 30th
THE GOOD: COMPLETE OFFENSIVE PACKAGE
In an earlier profile, I wrote that Logan Stankoven was so interesting as a prospect because he had no big weakness offensively while he has elite skills almost across the board. If you take that same sentiment, but replace “elite” with “very good”, you describe Koivunen.
His greatest strength is as a playmaker. He has good vision and accurate passing, and he doesn’t just make easy, safe passes to wide open teammates. His passing helps with zone exits and zone entries, and setting up dangerous scoring chances in the offensive zone. But it goes beyond that, to the point that I’m almost willing to call him an elite playmaker, but I’d want to see how his playmaking holds up in the Liiga against professional competition. Here’s what Josh Tessler from Smaht Scouting says:
Koivunen is a crafty passer. As shown above, he can generate great accuracy on his backhand attempts. But, he has also proven that he can complete crisp diagonal feeds and smooth tape-to-tape feeds with a light gentle release. You can also expect Koivunen to place deceptive drop passes. He will skate with the puck in one direction, a teammate will follow, grab possession of the puck off of the drop pass and go in the opposite direction.
Here’s a great example of Koivunen’s puck handling, skating, and playmaking setting up a goal. He is #14 in white, and the one carrying the puck for the whole start of the clip.
Lukko and Kärpät are tied at 1-1 after 20 minutes of play. Aleksi Antti-Roiko opened the scoring for Kärpät after a nice setup by #2021NHLDraft prospect Ville Koivunen. Jeremi Tammela would tie the game late in the period. SOG 13-9 for Kärpät. #U20SM #Game2 pic.twitter.com/hmQfFetSzf— Finnish Jr Hockey (@FINjrhockey) April 7, 2021
The other standout skill, which I have trouble separating from his playmaking because that’s where it shows up the strongest, is how smart and clever Koivunen is with and without the pick. He can anticipate play well and use several tricks to create more dangerous scoring chances, for himself and his teammates. But he also anticipates plays defensively, to get the puck back and go the other way. That has helped him create very strong possession numbers wherever he has played. Here’s what Marco Bambino from McKeen’s Hockey says:
Koivunen is a highly intelligent player and his hockey sense has stood out in my viewings, from the U16’s up to the U20 league. He has patience, puck poise and he consistently chooses the best option while pressured. He has superb offensive vision: when he sees an opportunity, he will take an advantage of it. He is alert in his own end and his stick placement enables him to intercept passes and strip players off the puck, making it difficult for opposing teams to establish offensive zone pressure. He plays smart both offensively and defensively.
Lastly, we come to Koivunen’s skating. While he is not the fastest skater you will see, he is very agile and maneuverable, and his speed is good to very good. This is something that helps him with his playmaking, because he is very adept at using quick cuts and sudden changes in direction to elude defenders and open up better passing or shooting lanes in the slot. From Curtis Schwartzkopf at Future Considerations:
Koivunen has great balance on his feet and has surprising strength in front of the net when battling for position for someone weighing 161 pounds. He has good awareness about when to start breaking out of the zone to make himself open for a pass and does this by keeping his feet moving up ice. One thing that stuck out was how Koivunen would come to a complete stop to change direction instead of a long sweeping turn which gave him an edge in chasing down the play. Koivunen seems to always keep his body square to the puck which makes him always open for a pass. Finding open ice seems to come easy to Koivunen as he scored his goal by discretely sliding into a wide open area in the slot for a point blank chance he buried.
This is a good example of how Koivunen uses his skating to set up a good shooting chance for himself:
Going back and watching a bunch of Ville Koivunen as a I prepare for my report on him.— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) May 4, 2021
Koivunen LOVES to play the puck up the boards, cut in as soon as he has cleared the perimeter, goes to the slot and fires a wrist shot. It's like clockwork and he thrives at it.#2021NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/w9BxDE4skb
The overall profile for Ville Koivunen is as a jack of all trades, but a master of one (maybe one). He is an extremely solid all-round player everywhere on the ice. He is one of the better defensive wingers in this draft, but doesn’t lack for offensive talent either. I may have some questions on how much both his offense and defense would play up at higher levels, but he has time to develop and get stronger as he plays up in the Liiga, AHL, and NHL. What you cannot deny is that his skills and his statistical profile are extremely impressive, even for the level he played.
Here are some good clips of his two-way play without the puck:
Ville Koivunen was named the rookie of the year in FIN U20 league. A smart, skilled and unselfish winger who creates lots of offense. But his ability to win possession also makes him tough to play against. Here are some takeaways and pass interceptions from No. 14. #2021NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/6yFdR2URD4— Marco Bombino (@marco_bombino) April 8, 2021
If you look at the manual tracking data from either Lassi Alanen (free) or Will Scouch (paywall), you will see that he leads or is among the leaders in just about every category. He drives possession, he drives dangerous scoring chances while suppressing them by the other team, and he drives zone exits and entries on transition.
THE FLAWS: NO ELITE SKILLS
This is my only question about Koivunen. He has a solid all-round skillset, with no big weaknesses. But there are some skills that are only good or okay, and may hold him back in the future, unless he improves on them. The two things that come through from the games I had seen, and what I’ve seen other scouts say, are his skating and his shot.
I feel like the issues with his skating is a bit nitpicky, but it does exist. While he is quick and agile, his top speed could wind up be lacking at higher levels. Because of how effective he can be in terms of quick changes of direction and sharp cuts, I don’t think he’s lacking for athleticism. It sounds like something that may be more an issue of strength and mechanics, both of which are things that can be worked on. From Marco Bambino, at the same link as above:
If there is one particular area which requires improvement, it would be his skating. He often takes wide turns and glides on the ice a bit too much for my liking, instead of using his edges more consistently. Additionally, his knee bend and ankle flexion are not optimal. His acceleration does not give him a considerable advantage either. Although his skating is not high end right now, I think it is largely caused by his raw physique. I firmly believe that Koivunen will improve his speed, acceleration and edge work as he gets stronger.
The other nitpicky thing is that Koivunen doesn’t really have a great shot. Again, this seems to be something due to strength and mechanics. From Josh Tessler at Smaht Scouting:
While Koivunen has proven to be an effective goal scorer at the U20 level, there is work to be done on his shot. Right off the bat, he will generate good height when scoring goals, but it is far from consistent. One of the things that I noticed about his shot is that his stick blade will occasionally be closed and not open. You need your stick blade to be more open (raised) in order to generate height. In addition to generating height, I’ve also noticed that Koivunen will struggle with shooting accuracy and shot selection in well-defended situations.
When it comes to his shot, it’s not something that has prevented Koivunen from scoring a good amount of goals at any level he’s played... so far. He’s gotten by to date by taking shots from dangerous locations. You don’t need an elite shot to be a good goal scorer, after all. But as he plays against better defenses who are able to block him off or push him out of those dangerous areas, he’s not likely to be a 30+ goal scorer in the NHL. But he could be a 15-20 goal guy that drives good results and gets to 50-60 points based on his playmaking.
Bob McKenzie has said ahead of his final rankings that there will be some dramatic changes compared to his mid-season rankings. He tied that the U18 tournament, where some prospects got a lot more attention or even got to play at all. Ville Koivunen was fantastic in the tournament, as an example, so even if he was originally ranked at the end of the third round before, he may shoot up into the second round now.
My original hope was that he would stay somewhere in the third round, so the Leafs could trade down and get him AND another good prospect for the range. That may or not be realistic now, depending on how the final rankings change to give us an indication of what NHL teams are thinking.
The other thing is that, by all accounts, Koivunen got must stronger down the stretch. Some public scouting reports I read on Koivunen weren’t too high on him on early-season viewings, but those same people started to rave about him more leading into, during, and after the U18s. I think he is someone a lot of teams like and are hoping to get later, but that also may mean some team may take him earlier.
I don’t know why but I tend to like jack of all trades prospects, even if they don’t have a high end elite skill to carry him. Not that Koivunen is perfect, but he is just solid in so many important areas, and his flaws are things that can be fixed. He has the foundation of being a very useful two-way winger who can influence both sides of the ice, more than you’d expect of an average winger prospect.
If neither Stankoven or Morrow fall that far, Koivunen is one of my first choices for the Leafs to take with their second round pick — whether they trade down once or not.
Is Ville Koivunen your preferred choice for the Leafs’ second round pick?
This poll is closed
Yes, I’d take him without trading down
Only if they trade down and get someone else too
No, there are others I want more.