Roni Hirvonen and Team Finland were less than an inch away from winning the 2022 Men’s World Juniors against Canada last month when Topi Niemelä’s shot was saved from the line by Mason McTavish. It would’ve capped an excellent tournament for the Finnish captain, who led the team in more ways than one, including driving offense for the first line and setting the tone with his intensity and effort.
Hirvonen isn’t the top forward prospect for the Leafs, and according to our list he’s also not second, but he brings unique, tangible skills that the others around him don’t, and he does it at a level that’s all but guaranteed to see the NHL in a significant role in the near future.
Hirvonen came to the Leafs as a second round pick in 2020, the same draft as Amirov, Niemelä, Villeneuve, and Ovchinnikov. Hirvonen was already in the Liiga in his draft year and has spent two more seasons there steadily improving his production and role. Last season he was on the third line and getting on the second power play unit as a 19/20 year old. In the playoffs, Hirvonen scored three goals and six points in the five games as he moved up into the top six.
In the Liiga for his team in HIFK, Hirvonen had a 60% shot share (top on his team) in somewhat skewed offensive minutes playing mostly as a winger, though his game is suited to a move to centre at some point. However as a teenager in a men’s league, there were just better options up the middle, but in the world juniors, Hirvonen was 1C for Finland who won silver. As Hirvonen physically matures, we’ll see him move to centre a little more often. I think he will be fighting for top-six minutes this season for HIFK, as he’s shown in the preseason already.
There are some cool stats from the Liiga stats page that I would now like to share. First, Hirvonen took 167 shots in the season, 95 on net for nine goals. His 95 shots were 30th in the league while only playing 14 minutes a night. Now here’s the even cooler part: they also tracked the hardest shot in a game for each player (I assume they have all the shot data but only shared the hardest shots). Roni Hirvonen had the hardest shot out of anyone on his team at 157 km/h or 95 mph! Compared to the league, that shot speed is seventh in the whole Liiga!
Like we’ve spoken about with other “Kyle Dubas” prospects like Pontus Holmberg, Nick Abruzzese, and to a lesser extent Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, size doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t when you have a prospect who’d “give a sh*t” meter is higher than the big guy he’s playing against. Quickness, a low centre, and a big butt can make up for pure brutish muscle. We’ve seen this be the case with Brendan Gallagher, Brad Marchand, and even Tyler Ennis who showed us in Toronto his ability to take enough space in the blue paint for him to score and get sticks on pucks.
Hirvonen was signed to an ELC by the Leafs over the summer and was sent on loan back to Helsinki. Expect him to join the Marlies at the end of the year and maybe stay, but we’re unclear on Hirvonen’s Liiga contract. It might only have one year left.
Driving to the net in smart ways.
#LeafsForever prospect Roni Hirvonen with a primary assist, carrying into the teeth of the defense and drawing several defenders to him before dishing it off for the open shot.pic.twitter.com/XhTMGM3qPN— Ale-STAN-dro Kirk (@brigstew86) March 12, 2022
Agility and one-timer.
#LeafsForever prospect Roni Hirvonen with his 8th goal of the year, and his best game of the season production-wise. He finished today with one goal, two assists and three shots on net. He's up to 23 points in 40 Liiga games. https://t.co/5ddHCbLngV— Ale-STAN-dro Kirk (@brigstew86) March 2, 2022
Separating a big player from the puck.
You would be hard pressed to find someone who wasn’t impressed with Hirvonen’s performance at the Men’s World Juniors as he captained Finland to a silver medal. He was a strong driver of offense for his line, doing a lot of the hard work and making creative plays to score. The Leafs have a trio of guys like Hirvonen (Holmberg and Abruzzese) who are small in size, but who do incredibly well in front of the net when it comes to creating space, finding rebounds, and pushing for those second chances. And they’ve all had success scoring in that way. Holmberg probably the most of the three because he’s the oldest, but I would argue Hirvonen is better at it and I would expect more offense to come from it.
Getting in front of the net isn’t the only way Hirvonen produces, he does well to play from the corners and find his linemates for chances from the wing in low-to-high plays. Hirvonen is a very strong distributer and he scores for himself plenty as well. I fully expect Hirvonen to be a middle six centre or winger within a few years, and I think this ceiling is also why I put him above Niemelä as well. For Niemelä, who I guess we’ll talk about later this week, I don’t see him reaching as high up the defense as Hirvonen can reach at forward.
Roni Hirvonen Votes
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dhammm: Reasons to be optimistic about Roni Hirvonen: he’s been playing against men since his draft year despite being a little guy and his production has increased on a fairly linear basis. Reasons to be pessimistic about Roni Hirvonen: he still doesn’t score all that much and he looks to be delaying his AHL debut until at least next spring. I have a lot of doubts about his development path combined with the production and size, and Hirvonen doesn’t look all that great when you look at him quantitatively. His production continuing to ramp and a convincing AHL debut towards the end of the 2022-2023 season will do a lot to make me believe in him relative to the consensus, but it is only his age and the room for growth that makes me rate him above Joey Anderson or Alex Steeves, two players who also profile as future depth/energy forwards who have both done more, proven more, and are far closer to the NHL than Hirvonen is.
Brigstew: He is a real dual threat offensively with both his playmaking plus he has a real good shot. He plays hard and is underrated as a pest with his style of play – not that he’s dirty or that physical, but he seems to annoy his opponents at times. He could make for an interesting two-way winger on a third line in a couple of years, though he has some improvements to make to get there. It’s the standard sort of things: get stronger, keep working on improving his skating to get a bit more explosive and fast, and so on.
TomK421: Roni! Roni! Roni! Oi! Oi! Oi! Yep, I’m very much on the Team Finland bandwagon for this summer’s WJC. The framework of a middle 6 forward is there and like the other guys I have ranked in this area, the year by year improvement is measurable and noticeable. I think he’s got a real shot at being a useful Leaf in a few years.
When does Roni Hirvonen make the NHL?
This poll is closed
2022-23 season (age 20)
2023 spring/playoffs (age 21)
2023-24 season (age 21)
2024 spring/playoffs (age 22)
2024-25 season (age 22)
2025 spring/playoffs or later (age 23)
What role do you expect Hirvonen to play when he is an established NHL player
This poll is closed
Second line centre
Second line winger
Third line centre
Third line winger