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Prospect Spotlight: Eemil Viro hopes to build on breakout season

Bronze medal and memorable playoff performance helped defenseman earn NHL contract

by Josh Berenter @DetroitRedWings / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- When looking at breakout prospects in the Detroit Red Wings' system, it's hard to ignore the accomplishments of defenseman Eemil Viro.

After being selected in the third round by Detroit in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Viro won a bronze medal for Finland at the IIHF World Junior Championship, posted one of the top-scoring seasons by any junior-aged defenseman, scored the game-winning goal to lift his club to the league finals and capped off his whirlwind season by signing an entry-level contract with Detroit on May 20.

It's a step in the right direction for Viro to make Red Wings history, as the long list of defensemen to wear the Winged Wheel has never included a player from the hockey hotbed of Finland.

Viro, who joins Kasper Kotkansalo (71st pick in 2017), Otto Kivenmaki (191st pick in 2018) and Antti Tuomisto (35th pick in 2019) as Finnish prospects in the Red Wings' system, said he was thrilled to be drafted by an Original Six organization as Detroit's 70th overall pick in 2020.

"It's a big relief for me. It's a big moment," Viro said after he was drafted last October. "I've waited a long time and I'm so happy to be part of this organization. It's amazing."

The 19-year-old defenseman is coming off his second professional season in Finland's top professional league, SM-Liiga, where he earned 14 points and a plus-13 rating in 53 games for his TPS club, helping to lead his team to a third-place finish in the regular season and a postseason berth.

Video: Detroit Red Wings | Eemil Viro | 2020 NHL Draft

The 6-foot, 171-pound blueliner skated in 13 playoff games this year, tallying four points before his team fell in the postseason finals.

Viro played with incredible reliability and poise against men in Finland's most elite league this season, averaging more than 17 minutes of ice time per game, good for third-most ice time among TPS defensemen.

The Vantaa, Finland native who models his game after his countryman, Dallas Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen, has worked tirelessly on his skating, while developing a lightning-quick first step and an ability to join the rush.

Viro continues to be a student of the game, consciously working to improve his decision making, all-around performance and ability to compete in all situations, but he said his most valuable attributes are his intangibles.

"On the ice, I can be the leader of the group and I really want to show an example to others," Viro said. "Off the ice, I really get along with everybody and I think I'm a quick learner. I have a lot of potential and I think I can be much better than I am right now."

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While other players may have been hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Viro used the time off from competition to further develop his game as he strives to make his lifelong NHL dreams come true.

"No, I don't think so," the defenseman said when asked if he regressed during Finland's pause last year. "This has been a great time to improve myself off the ice and on the ice. It's been a long, rocky road, but it's finally over, so we'll keep working."

Viro, who said he's an infectiously optimistic person who doesn't have any bad days, will continue to work on his game in Finland this offseason with hopes of joining the Red Wings at training camp in the fall and eventually earning a spot on the Original Six club's roster.

And whether or not he becomes the first Finnish defenseman in Hockeytown, Viro said he can definitely see himself fitting in with the Red Wings' roster.

"I think I'm really good at skating and playing with the puck. In the D-zone, I think I've improved, too," he said. "I'm on a good level with that. I'm a two-way defenseman who can join the rush. My skating has carried me in my career."

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