Throughout June, the FFH staff will be giving you in-depth profiles and thoughts on potential Coyotes draft targets in the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft on June 23rd. This is the first in that regular series.
Finland. Home of lakes, Lapland, myth, and legend...and traditionally, some pretty good hockey players.
The Arizona franchise has found a happy hunting ground when it comes to Finns, especially defensively. From the less-well-known names like Sami Lepisto, through Ossi Vaananen and Jyrki Lumme, to the Coyotes legend and former captain (and NHL modern great) Teppo Numminen, the Arizona blueline has never had a Finn far away. Up front, Lauri Korpikoski won many friends, too.
One of several Finns who may get the chance to follow their storied forebears into the desert is HIFK's Miro Heiskanen (which, for those of you who don't speak Finnish, is pronounced "ees-ka-nen".)
Miro Heiskanen - Flash Stats
HIFK - 37 Games Played - 5 Goals - 5 Assists - 10 Points - 4 PIM
Champions' Hockey League - 6 Games Played - 0 Goals - 3 Assists - 0 PIM
Worlds U18 - 7 Games Played - 2 Goals - 10 Assists - 12 Points - 0 PIM
A product of Espoo in the Helsinki suburbs (and home of their own storied team, Blues Espoo), the 6 foot, 174lb HIFK Helsinki blueliner is one of the most exciting back-end prospects in the 2017 NHL entry draft; partially because he's already taking a regular shift in one of the best leagues in the world at 17 years old, as well as being a key contributor for his country at both the U-18 and U-20 levels.
Miro Heiskanen NHL draft scouting report | SB Nation 2017 NHL ...
Miro Heiskanen has skyrocketed up the NHL draft rankings! Do you want your team to take him?Posted by SB Nation NHL on Friday, May 26, 2017
Heiskanen is a fast, mobile, two-way defenseman who, like many Finns of his ilk, relies as much on quicksilver agility and speed as physical play to earn a living. His skating and lateral speed are already at an elite level, with puck-moving and vision not far behind. He's playing with one of the better teams in one of the best leagues in Europe at an age when all but the elite juniors in North America are still finding their feet amongst their peers, and not looking out of place.
This really stands out when playing with his own age group. At the U-18 World Championships this year, he was comfortably the best defenseman there and already has a gold and silver medal in what is looking to be a very good group of prospects for Finland the next few years.
But what's really impressive is watching him play in the Finnish Liiga (and also the European Champions' Hockey League, which this year saw his HIFK come up against former Minnesota Wild Pierre-Marc Bouchard's EV Zug and Washington Capitals' Jakub Vrana's Linkopings) while facing fellow draft prospects both past and present, as well as former NHLers and the best that minor pro has to offer.
Here are six minutes of highlights from a season in which Heiskanen (he wears number 41 in these clips) scored 5 goals and racked 5 assists in 37 games. Among the players he outscored are names like former NHL first round defensive pick Joe Finley, his oft-partner for HIFK, and Brett Carson (former Carolina Hurricane and Calgary Flame).
Although the opening clip is a nice look at his shot, the first highlight I'd like you to focus on is the one after that (which starts around 0:34). This is a great example of the way Heiskanen loves to activate on the blueline, with patience and composure on the puck. You have to remember in all these clips that this is a 17-year-old taking that pass from his partner cleanly after misjudging the initial move slightly (he moves a moment or two early, and the pass is not a great one) and driving to the net with confidence before ripping off a shot.
The clip immediately after that, though, shows Heiskanen at his best going forward. He loves to pinch into that spot just above the circles and his composure to take a pass after skating the length of the ice, look up, and take the extra second to pick his spot is something you're simply not going to see in many 17-year-olds.
1:57 is assist time - he shows good strength pinching in behind the net before finding a teammate in a play that eventually leads to a goal for his defensive partner.
The last clip to focus on is at 4:12 - in this highlight, we get a sight of Heiskanen's speed and vision as he confidently carries the puck from his own zone before making a pass at the perfect time to a teammate, who finishes it nicely.
The key theme in all these clips, though, is activation. Heiskanen loves to receive the puck on the blueline and make things happen with his excellent skating and vision, whether it be a goal or an assist. He makes good decisions pinching and even when he's out of position, his skating usually allows him to cover.
He'll likely need to grow a little. At 6'0 and 174 lbs, he's small for an NHL defenseman of any kind and physically he's not the most dominating as a result, preferring once again to use smarts and stickwork against forwards and out-think rather than outmuscle them. His puck movement and skating are elite-level, though, and he could easily be a top-four NHL defenseman given a little time to develop and the addition of some muscle. Certainly with his two-way game he's the ideal complement to someone like Oliver Ekman-Larsson or, to use another Yotes prospect, Cam Dineen.
Heiskanen may still not be around when the Yotes pick at 7, but if he is, he's a very safe pick indeed, and will certainly improve the Yotes blueline going forward, even if the fans in Arizona have to wait a season or two to see him on NHL ice.