Miro Heiskanen has taken over the talk of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft talk with his meteoric rise into the top 10.
Playing for HIFK in the Finnish Liiga this past season, Heiskanen had a good showing with 5 goals and 5 assists in 37 games. That production isn't eye popping at first glance, but simply being a 17-year-old with regular minutes in a men's league is already something that take note of.
Measuring in at 6-feet and 175-pounds, Heiskanen has the frame to be an NHL player and plays the game with confidence. He is a very smooth skater that isn't afraid to carry or move the puck to get the puck out of his own zone. He is constantly thinking the game and makes the high percentages plays that help push the needle.
He doesn't actively engage physical play, but is not afraid to take the body when it's needed, while being very dependable in his own zone. His positioning is a real strength to his game, as he uses his excellent skating skills to pivot on players, constantly pressuring them and their lanes. As he gets older, he will need to add some strength to be more effective in battles along the boards. That will also improve his shot, which isn't a strength currently.
The left-handed defender led all Liiga under 18 players in goals, assists and points while appearing in the second most games. He averaged 18:59 of ice time during the regular season. Despite not scoring in the playoffs for HIFK, he was able to put up three points in eight games and bumping his average ice time to 20:30.
So not only just sticking around in Liiga, but making a tangible impact for them in all situations. It's very rare to see players that young become such a main stay. Quite often those types of players are sheltered to allow the players to get their feet wet, but Heiskanen was not hidden or sheltered in any way. As they say, he was thrown to the wolves and showed extremely well.
Video: Miro Heiskanen - Prospect Profile
There had been some suggestions that Heiskanen was just going to be a defensive defenceman as he moved up the professional ranks, but a fantastic performance at the Under 18 World Championships squashed some of those concerns. In 7 games for Finland, he put up an extremely impressive 2 goals and 10 assists. He quarterbacked the Finnish powerplay with complete confidence and patience.
That point total was second only to his teammate, forward Kristian Vesalainen. While being the most amount of points by a defenceman in that tournament since 2010-11, tieing Minnesota Wild defenceman Matt Dumba who had 12 in 2011-12. The only defenceman to have more points in a single tournament was Ryan Murphy in that 2010-11 edition.
If there was one take away from the tournament for Heiskanen to improve on, it would be his shot rates. Despite leading the defensive scoring, his 2.57 shots per game were ranked 9 amongst all defencemen. It's not something to be concerned about, but if Heiskanen is to take that next step, he will need to round out his game completely and that for him that is about adding more offence.
There isn't much to critique about the defensive side of his game, so adding that offence will only make him a more desirable player.
Heiskanen was paired with Canucks prospect Olli Juolevi for the World Juniors in December and although the tournament didn't go well for Finland, Juolevi and Heiskanen played well together. Transitioning and moving the puck with speed to reduce pressure from opposing teams and giving the Finnish forwards a chance to create offence.
Although the Espoo, Finland native enters the draft as the 4th ranked International skater, there is a chance that Heiskanen is the first defenceman off the board in Chicago at the NHL Entry Draft. His game has taken steps over the course of the season that has reduced concerns scouts had to start the year.
His performance at the U18 tournament shouldn't be overvalued but will be rightfully used as a positive metric. Heiskanen was a dominant force for the Finns, and showed that he could be that effective two-way defenceman who helps his team in all three zones.
There is obviously work needed to be done to complete his game, but Heiskanen could very well be the best and most well rounded defenceman in this draft class.