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Hirvonen is another example of a prospect that's difficult to really project because of where and how he's played. He's been in Finland's pro league before Toronto even drafted him, as well as being part of Team Finland in various junior tournaments for years.
|Age as of July 1||21.47|
But how he's looked Playing Against Men™ vs playing against his peers internationally is quite different. And if there's one theme that's come through a lot in this year's T25U25 series, it's the stats or even scouting reports for how a guy looks in every European pro league should be taken with a modicum of salt.
Last year, Hirvonen was 7th on our list. The year before he was ranked 8th. And in 2020, the year he was drafted, he was ranked 11th.
So he's had some pretty steady rankings, even as the other eligible players around him changed or saw more volatility. In some ways, Hirvonen has been a pretty consistent player... but that's not necessarily a good thing when it comes to a younger player who we'd have hoped saw more dramatic improvement as they developed.
By now, we have a pretty good idea of who Hirvonen is as a player. He's small-ish (5'9", 172 lbs), a forward who has played at center but more recently as a winger pretty much full-time, and was one of the first players drafted by Toronto that we heard the usual "we liked him because he's smart" talk from their scouting team.
Looking at his stats, it gives the impression of a prospect who has the consistency I mentioned with a very slight, slow upward trajectory.
- 2019/20: 5 goals, 11 assists in 52 games
- 2020/21: 6 goals, 15 assists in 54 games
- 2021/22: 9 goals, 17 assists in 46 games
- 2022/23: 15 goals, 13 assists in 57 games
Internationally, Hirvonen was always one of Finland's top forwards – but also always riding shotgun to their actual top player. At first it was Anton Lundell, and then Aatu Räty. In 43 international games for Finland since the 2019/20 season, Hirvonen has been a consistent point a game player with 43 points in 37 games. He also had some big moments for them.
So the overall impression for Hirvonen has been, perhaps, about what we'd expect from a later second round pick. He is a strong performer for his age group, but he's not elite in any particular area – this is another theme for the past few prospects we've talked about on this list.
For his strengths, Hirvonen is a smart and crafty player on the ice in terms of his positioning, timing, skating routes, and so on. He's always had a mindset focused on getting the puck or being in dangerous in the offensive zone. This is the main offensive value he provides, and how he generates his points. He has a very good wrist shot, but again I wouldn't call it elite. His positioning and timing means he can get his shot off in more dangerous areas that has helped his shot have a better impact than it would if he were a perimeter guy firing from distance. He also gets some goals and assists being around the net either creating or jumping on rebounds.
Hirvonen also has some two-way potential and has a good track record at transitioning the puck. Most of the defensive value comes from the craftiness mentioned above, making smart reads as a play develops and positioning himself accordingly.
Overall, he is not a very flashy player. He is more about ruthless efficiency and making the smart, effective plays. That's not to say he is not skilled, because he very much is. This is honestly something I wish he would have tried to expand more often, to try and make riskier plays at times that have a bigger potential payoff. I can't recall ever seeing him try something like this in real games:
The issue with Hirvonen is that as a smaller player, there's some skepticism that he can do the same kind of things at higher levels. He's not an elite skater, just a good one. He's crafty, which does help, but lacking any real explosiveness or speed I think he'll have trouble getting where he needs to go in the NHL considering how much better the players and teams are at locking things down defensively.
This year is going to be a good test for Hirvonen, as he finally is making the jump to the AHL which is a different beast from the Liiga. It's pretty clear by now that it is easily the second best pro league in the world, only behind the NHL itself. The quality of competition and the level of play is simply better.
Unfortunately for Hirvonen, he's going to be starting his first AHL season on several back feet. First, he suffered a pretty brutal looking concussion at Toronto's rookie camp during their scrimmage. Then in late July, his father died after having been diagnosed with cancer in June. It's been a rough couple of months for him.
So while I'm not expecting Hirvonen to come out of the gates blazing and beating up on the AHL, I'm hoping that he can adjust to the new league and settle in as a useful, productive top six forward for the Marlies by the end of this season.
I'm actually surprised to see I was one of the voters who had him the lowest at 13th. That's not necessarily a real reflection of what I think of him as a prospect. I consider him basically equal to who I have at 8th, which gives you an idea for the tier I had in mind for this range.
Here's what the other voters had to say:
dhammm: I remain pessimistic about Hirvonen because his size issues are real and he just hasn't scored enough to warrant hype, but I come away from every viewing impressed with his motor and his ability to find open ice and opportunities to impact the game. Things will still need to break a certain way in his development for him to surpass the heights reached by, say, Colin Blackwell, so we'll see what the move from a middling HIFK club to a Marlies team wide-open with opportunity brings.
Catch-67: It’s been exciting following Hirvonen playing in pro and at the World Juniors in the context of a Leafs prospect pool where few players made the Juniors or succeeded in pro. That said, I have a hard time figuring out what Hirvonen is and what he projects as. I’m looking forward to getting a better sense of what we’ve got in him this upcoming season when he plays his first full season in North America.
Cathy: I just really feel for the guy right now. This is going to be the hardest year of his life, and I think I’ll just press the pause button on all expectations for him.
Hardev: Coming into this summer, I was hoping for a big season next year on the Marlies for Hirvonen. But after the sudden passing of his father, it seems cruel to judge him in the same way. I like Hirvonen as a player, I think he'll be a good, attacking third liner who can maybe fill in higher, potentially in a Yanni Gourde-type role (when he was on the Lightning). But, yeah, let's put that on the back burner for the 21-year-old until he's ready.
That's what we all think, and now it's your turn! What are your thoughts on Hirvonen's slow but steady progression the past few years? Are you hopeful that he can hit the ground running in the AHL despite of the adversity he's already facing?
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