Continuing to look at the many potential NHL draft picks this year, we jump across the Atlantic for the first time for the player many people view as the top defenseman in the draft, Miro Heiskanen.
For the previous prospect, Owen Tippett, click here.
Miro Heiskanen plays for HIFK in Liiga, the Finnish Elite League. He is a left-shooting defenseman that has made his way up the draft boards all season.
Heiskanen is 6’0″ and 174 lbs. He is the fourth-ranked international skater according to NHL Central Scouting and just finished his first season in Liiga.
Heiskanen has moved up the draft boards because of his excellent skating, great vision, ability to move the puck, and excellent decision-making. He brings a decent two-way game and has played well in his first season against grown men. His all-around game definitely makes him very appealing, and he appears to be set to go very early in the draft. Here’s what the scouts are saying.
An elite two-way defenceman in the making, Miro Heiskanen has a toolbox bursting at the seams. Very smooth skater whose general agility and athleticism is excellent and on display every shift. A confident puck mover with no issues running a play himself and starting a transition up-ice. Solid creativity and impressive puck skills. Always makes the high percentage play and doesn’t put teammates in dangerous or vulnerable positions. Willingness to play a physical game is not an issue, as he is often seen throwing the body. Defensively very diligent and proactive, keeping the opposition to the outside and cutting off open and common lanes.
Heiskanen is elite skating defenceman with plenty of speed and mobility. Already playing against men in Liiga he is an excellent puck mover and transition defenceman. His offensive ceiling is not too high and he may never quarterback the powerplay but he has good hockey sense, is ahead of his years in his defensive play. Heiskanen needs to add some bulk to his slight frame to be effective in North America but he is already proven at the pro level and may have a shorter path to the NHL than some other draft eligible defencemen.
Heiskanen has all the potential to be an excellent puck-moving defenseman at the pro level. He’s noticeably calm and confident with the puck in all situations, whether it be in the defensive zone under pressure or playing the point on power play. He has very good puck skills, keeps his head up and makes the right decisions on when to pass and when to carry the puck. Long range passes are consistently tape-to-tape. Heiskanen has both a good wrist and slap shot, especially when it comes to accuracy. He will take his chances and makes well-placed, smart shots.
He is also an elite skater who uses his edges extremely well. His transition skating from forward to backwards is very smooth. Certain times he will skate end-to-end with the puck thanks to his strong acceleration, top-end speed and ability to handle the puck at high speed. He has showed more of this in the U18 league thus far, however. His lateral movement on the blueline in the offensive zone is very good. This, along with his calm passing game, makes him a very solid player on power play. Skating has always been one of Heiskanen’s biggest assets along with his skill and smarts.
Heiskanen is not a particularly physical defenseman, but he reads the developing play well and therefore doesn’t get into trouble in the defensive zone too often. His strong gap control and stick positioning allow him to take away passing lanes and options from the oncoming forwards.
Undersized defenseman who continues to shine impressively in every international showing. Although he is slightly built and in need of beef and more muscle, he is very athletic,and has shown himself an equal to the grown men playing against him in the Finnish pro league. He possesses high end mobility, agility, an excellent skating stride and vision and makes solid defensive zone reads. A four-direction skater who easily transitions to his back pedal and calmly handles the attacker when middle zone turnovers happen. He is very good around his own net,and has a very active stick, clogs lanes and either moves the puck to the right place in transitions, or will skate the puck out, even under pressure. Plays calm and makes good decisions under pressure in his own end. Anticipates well and reads and activates from the defensive position flawlessly, as he carries and passes the puck so well. A power play quarterback who distributes well and gets it on net when he shoots. The negatives is he may not be able to get that much bigger and needs girth and muscle. So he is what he is: a extremely agile puck carrier who simply is not a big man. Hasn’t the NHL had room for a few of these?
No other defenceman combines smarts, poise and mobility in such a complete package. There is little to dislike about his potential other than lack of size. He is a viable candidate to be a top-two NHL defenceman who can play any role. Tough to beat one-on-one thanks to his elite agility and quickness…a natural, smooth skater.
Other comments from scouts through Recrutes.ca:
Great skater, thinks the game very well, He transitions the puck better than anyone in the draft, thinks quick and executes well. He defends well, he’s got good gap control. He’s a better skater than Juolevi and can execute quicker than Juolevi. Reminds me some of Duncan Keith.
just a good two-way dman..he’s got the great wheels so he can log a lot of minutes, skating is not taxing on him. He’s one of those guys. I’d like to see a little more offence but he might have it…because he’s got the skill and the vision…he can make plays…I think it’s just about getting into a role on a team where he could develop into more of an offensive type of guy. I certainly like his two-way game. He’s good in his own zone…He’s pretty good defensively, good tick, gets his body involved. When he get the puck he can move it out. He’s got that good stick, he can stay with guys. He’s not shy or timid.
Should the Avalanche Draft Him?
Everybody is very high on Heiskanen, and I get it. He’s got a lot of amazing tools that could make him very successful at the NHL level. The big question mark with him will be how long it takes him to gain enough strength to play in the NHL. Now as great of a skater as he is and as good as he is at moving the puck, that won’t always be a thing to worry about; but he is still a defender and will need to be able to go up against big players in front of his net and in the corners and will need to get stronger.
I also wonder what the Avalanche will think about their choices if he does fall to them at 4. The Avalanche definitely want to continue to build their system defensively, but the Avalanche also desperately need scorers in their system. In a draft year like this, it’s also difficult to really pinpoint who the best player available is going to be. This year is so up for interpretation that there are any number of ways you could see the first round going.
In the end, I wouldn’t be sad if the Avalanche ended up getting Heiskanen, even knowing that it is going to take some time to get him ready. Perhaps one more year over in Finland before bringing him over to the AHL. Let him mature a bit more, pack on some muscle and then begin the transition to the North American game. He has a great mind for hockey, so I imagine his transition will go pretty smoothly.