Debuting at 22nd, Veeti Miettinen is the Winter T25U25’s first new player to the series.
Back in the summer when we did our rankings at the traditional time, but before the NHL actually had their draft, I wound up being someone who ranked our draft picks — even our fourth and fifth round picks — more aggressively than others. My mindset was that most of the guys being ranked from 15th to 25th were guys who were themselves drafted in the same area, if they were drafted at all. I looked at guys the Toronto Maple Leafs had drafted in those rounds the previous years and saw where we all ranked the likes of Mikhail Abramov (4th round pick), Nicholas Abruzzese (4th round pick), Filip Kral (5th round pick), and even Pontus Holmberg (6th round).
My conclusion: I trust that the Leafs under Dubas find ways to draft guys in later rounds who we will come to like. Or, at least we like them enough to rank them in the second half of our T25 series. This year when I looked more at draft rankings and prospects than any other year, I specifically looked at players who had rankings in the first or second rounds by some people but who seemed likely to fall to later rounds.
One such player I had in mind was Veeti Miettinen. In fact, I even wrote a profile just on him and why I wanted the Leafs to draft him. I thought he could be a decent pick in the second round, depending on who else was available. I thought he’d be a steal in the fourth round. So imagine how funny I thought it was when the Leafs were able to take him in the SIXTH round.
How We Voted
Winter T25 Votes: Veeti Miettinen at 22nd
|Summer 2020 Rank||N/A|
|Birth Date||September 20, 2001|
|Spread in Rank||10|
I am a big believer in Miettinen, while the others I think have some cautious optimism leaning more to the former. Hardev ranked him 18th, and a few others had him around 20th to 24th.
Whereas I ranked him 14th on my list, well ahead of any of the voters. But I hate rankings like this for a reason, and it’s because it can be misleading. The way I did my rankings was taking the full list of eligible players and putting them into tiers. Once you get to Miettinen, I was in my final tier which was a big pile of maybes for one reason or another. Maybe they were more likely to make the NHL or were already there, but I didn’t see much upside beyond a depth 4th liner. Maybe they had some exciting potential but had some other question marks that made me really uncertain if they’ll ever even play a game in the NHL.
Basically, you could take any of my rankings from 14th to 25th, re-sort them, and I’d accept it. They’re more or less the same to me, in the end. I put Miettinen at the front of this tier because I really, really like what I see from him, even if I also really, really have some questions about his future.
Here’s what the other voters had to say:
Fulemin: You know what this organization needed? Another smurf-sized winger who put up a whack of points in a junior league. We only have like twelve of those. I have no problem with us drafting these players, but I’ll wait and see a little bit before I rank him.
Katya: I don’t get it.
Hardev: The Leafs don’t have a great history of NCAA prospects making an impact in the NHL. With the exception of Zach Hyman, the Leafs tend to sign free agents to play on the Marlies and Growlers and that’s about it. But Nick Abruzzese is doing well for a fourth round pick, and I think the hope is Miettinen can succeed there too. Miettinen is a skilled shooter who played on a bad team in Finland and now is in the NCAA where he’ll still get to be a productive shooter on probably another bad team. I think he gets knocked for playing in Finnish Jr. A (he couldn’t play pro otherwise he wouldn’t be able to play in college), but at least he led the league in goals and points by significant margins.
What Makes Miettinen an Exciting Prospect
I want to write a bit more about what I’ve personally seen out of Miettinen. Take this with a grain of salt, because I’ve seen all of two games that he’s played this year in the NCAA and one game he played vs Team Canada at the U18 WJC in April of 2019.
There are two parts of his game that always stood out, even in games where he didn’t look very good in general and didn’t put up any points.
First, his shot. It’s the easiest thing to notice. He shoots a lot, and will get a shot off lightning quick. Despite the speed of the shot, it is not lacking in power. I’m by far not an expert, but I would say his shot is NHL-level already. It is hard, quick and accurate. It helps him turn shots from locations where you would consider it a low quality scoring chance and make it seem dangerous. It’s the kind of shot where when it hits the boards or a goalie’s pads, it sounds different.
Second is his ability to sneakily steal pucks and lift sticks. He’s not ever going to be considered an elite defensive forward, even for a winger. I think his size will have limitations on that. But he is constantly AROUND the puck, and looking for chances to steal it back. He is not hyper-aggressive mad dog about it like Nick Robertson, another small goal scoring winger with an insane shot. He is more smooth and calculated about his off-the-puck play.
When he’s playing well, he can put these two skills together to make plays like this:
“This kid is dangerous”#Leafs 2020 6th round pick Veeti Miettinen scores his first NCAA goal with this snipe:pic.twitter.com/QP3ejju2t9— Leafs Prospect Update (@Leafs_Watch) December 7, 2020
What Might Hold Miettinen Back
On the other hand, I can very easily see why Miettinen is such a divisive prospect and why he fell to the sixth round. He is a small winger at 5’9” and 159 lbs, according to Elite Prospects. And he plays like it. He is not a guy to engage physically, and he will play more on the periphery of the play than at the center of it. He can get away with it because his shot is good enough to score from farther away than most guys, but he’s going to have two challenges.
First, at higher levels he’s not going to have the luxury of getting easier shots. Players defending him will be bigger, stronger, faster, better coached, with tighter defensive systems, and better goalies. I would give Miettinen a small chance at becoming a top 6 winger.
Second, his skills outside of his shot and his puck thievery need to be better. When I watched the game of Team Finland vs Team Canada from April of 2019, it was not a great game for him. He had a few nice plays, a couple of his hard shots from far out, and stole the puck to push the puck in the other direction a couple of times. But he could not make plays. Canada’s players were fast and challenged everyone, and Miettinen did not cope well from it. For each time he stole the puck or got off a hard shot, he was pushed outside or rushed into making a bad decision and turning it over. He’s not a very dynamic play maker, and I can see him needing to rely on his linemates to set up scoring chances than his ability to create them for himself at the NHL.
That was against the best of the best of his peers, and not even all of them will be good enough to make the NHL. He will, to be blunt, need to be better than that to make the NHL. He will need to be able to make plays under pressure. He will need to be able to steal more pucks and get more of his good shots off than he gives up the other way. He’s not bad defensively from what I’ve seen, not for a winger anyways. He can get back, he is smart at lifting sticks and deflecting passes. But there are times he was not able to do the good things because he was on the periphery too much, looking for a good opportunity to steal it and then being too late to do anything when Canada made a play.
Is Miettinen’s Middle Ground Good Enough?
So he’s got some really exciting skill, mainly the shot and goal scoring but, well, that is arguably the most important skill to have in hockey. Everything else can hold him back at times, even at the lower levels he’s played (Finnish Jr, now NCAA). I don’t think he’s a nothing prospect, but I don’t think he’s a Nick Robertson either. Aside from having a similar height and also having a ridiculous shot... no. He lacks the edge, aggression and obsession that Robertson has, which makes his game all the better. There’s a reason why Robertson only fell to the second round, and Miettinen fell to the sixth.
The way I would put my overall assessment of him, as of now, is that at the very least I can see him forming an unstoppable line in the AHL getting set up by Jeremy Bracco with Chris Mueller as their center. That does put him into striking distance of the NHL, which is a good place to be and especially for a sixth round pick.
The good news is that from the games I’ve seen of him in the NCAA so far, he looked better than he did in that international game. He is more willing to be closer to the play, even bumping other players a bit to get them off balance at least. His timing looked much better as well, and was not as prone to making frustratingly easy turnovers when pressured. But will he be good enough to make the NHL and score a bunch of goals for the Leafs?
He’s got a long ways to go still, but what he’s good at excites me more than, say, Adam Brooks or Mac Hollowell, even if it seems like the odds are they all top out as AHL or European stars.
Do think 22nd is a fair ranking for Miettinen as of now?
|I ranked him much better||14|
|I didn’t even rank him||96|
|Sounds about right||157|