Devils Draft Series: Roni Hirvonen, Undersized Finnish Playmaker

Roni Hirvonen is a two-way playmaking center. (Photo courtesy of Hirvonen’s Twitter)

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Roni Hirvonen is a Finnish center that may move to left-wing at the next level. He is listed at only 5-foot-9 and 164 pounds. He is 18 years-old with a January birthdate, so he is middle-of-the-road in terms of age. The left-handed shot has played his whole junior career in his native country. In the final 2020 Draft Prospect Rankings, he checks in at tenth among European skaters. 

The Statistics 

Hirvonen started his junior career at the age of 14 in the under-16 Finnish system. He spent two seasons in the under-16 league, parts of one in the under-18 league, then finally played in the under-20 league during his draft minus-one season. He was terrific, as he played 50 games and tallied 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists), as well as 15 points in 11 playoff games. His draft minus-one season was impressive, to say the least. 

He most recently played this season in the Liiga, the top Finnish league. He played in 52 games and totaled five goals and 11 assists. At first glance, these are solid totals for an incredibly young talent in a league with men. However, he did play a ton of minutes for his age, specifically in a top-six role while serving on the power play. So this number is a bit underwhelming.

Hirvonen’s Scouting Report

Strengths

Hirvonen’s game is focused on his playmaking ability. His best skill is his stickhandling and puck control, coupled with solid awareness, as well as hockey-IQ, and you get a great playmaker. Also, his accuracy, whether it be his shot or passing, is great. This passing accuracy furthers his playmaking abilities.

He has also been described by many to have an elite motor and one of the more competitive players in this class. And given his size, he has to be. Evidence of this being true is where a lot of his goals are scored. In the Liiga, most of, if not all, of his goals were scored in and around the net. At 5-foot-9, this is not easy to do. It reflects on his high-motor and relentlessness. 

Because of the high work ethic and competitive nature, Hirvonen is solid – for the most part – in his own end. This capability allows him to be categorized as a two-way player, and as a center, he has certainly earned this designation.

Weaknesses

Overall, although not an extremely young prospect, Hirvonen is pretty raw. He has several areas of his game that need improvement, and the number one concern is his skating. Players of his size need to rely on skating to get by, and Hirvonen’s skating, to put it lightly, is not good. He lacks the power, explosiveness, and stride to be a good, let alone average skater. The Liiga tracks players’ top-speed, and his was below league average.

Another area that needs work is his strength. At only 164 pounds, he needs to put on more weight. Although he has a high motor, he still gets knocked off pucks and loses board battles. Adding strength would not only improve this but also add the power needed to help his skating. 

His shot, although very accurate, needs more muscle. The main reason why he scored so many of his goals close to the net was because he lacks the shot power needed to challenge goalies from the outside. Another benefit of adding strength would be seen in this area of his game.

Hirvonen may be forced to switch positions at the next level, which can set him back. He played both center and wing in juniors and played much better down the middle. However, given his lack of size and skating, it is hard to see him successfully develop in this position at the NHL-level. Thus, a change to wing – where he struggled more in juniors – may be the case.

Projection

Hirvonen projects out as a two-way, top-nine forward who can serve on both the power play and penalty kill. For me, although raw, he has a lot of areas in his game that still need improvement, so I feel his ceiling is somewhat limited. But given his versatility, as well as high effort, teams will certainly be after him.

A late first-round selection is what I see for Hirvonen come draft day. There is a strong possibility he falls into the beginning of round two. But expect him to come off the board between picks 29 and 32. 

Hirvonen’s Fit With the Devils

It is unlikely the Devils will take Hirvonen. This more so due to how the team’s draft picks are slated to be located. It is very unlikely the Devils will see a first-round pick as late as Hirvonen is expected to be taken, and the team does not own a second-round pick. A trade-back is the only scenario I see him as a fit in the red and black.

Ranking of Evaluated Prospects

1. Alexis Lafrenière (Profile Coming Soon)

2. Tim Stützle (05/07/2020)

3. Quinton Byfield (05/08/2020)

4. Marco Rossi (04/30/2020)

5. Lucas Raymond (04/28/2020)

6. Cole Perfetti (05/06/2020)

7. Jamie Drysdale (05/01/2020)

8. Alexander Holtz (04/29/2020)

9. Yaroslav Askarov (05/05/2020)

10. Anton Lundell (05/11/2020)

11. Seth Jarvis (05/13/2020)

12. Jake Sanderson (05/04/2020)

13. Dawson Mercer (05/16/2020)

14. Noah Gunler (05/19/2020)

15. Rodion Amirov (05/12/2020)

16. Jack Quinn (05/09/2020)

17. Kaiden Guhle (05/31/2020)

18. Dylan Holloway (05/14/2020)

19. Connor Zary (05/15/2020)

20. Jacob Perreault (05/26/2020)

21. Maverik Bourque (05/20/2020)

22. Hendrix Lapierre (05/21/2020)

23. Lukas Reichel (05/18/2020)

24. Jan Mysak (06/02/2020)

25. William Wallinder (05/23/2020)

26. John-Jason Peterka (05/28/2020)

27. Roni Hirvonen (Today)

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