By: Isaiah Bouchard
As the NHL pre-season is coming to an end and teams are finalizing their opening night rosters, all eyes are on the future as another season of hockey is finally here. And if there is one thing that is consistent, it’s that hockey fans are never satisfied. We want more games, more wins, more cups, and more superstars. And what better place to start looking for future stars than the NHL entry draft.
In this seven-part series, we at DraftPro hope to showcase the cream of the crop in this years NHL entry draft. Last year’s flock saw the likes of Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson, and Matvei Michkov. But as one generation passes us by, a new one moves in. So without further build-up, here are five players that are coming out of the OHL.
Hockey’s legacy is filled with rich history and interesting stories. Whether you look back at the first indoor hockey game in Montreal or the earliest forms of hockey played with simple balls and sticks. The game has come a long way and has experienced a lot of changes since we starting playing on skates in Montreal. Since the NHL’s formation, hockey has grown to become a dominant global sport. Spanning the globe and enrapturing multiple nations in this beautifully violent past time.
That is why we are going to take two parts to introduce the draft eligible players that are coming from across the pond in Europe. Last year saw Leo Carlsson go #2 overall, David Reinbacher at #5, Dmitriy Simashev #6, Matvei Michkov #7, Dalibor Dvorský #10, Tom Willander #11, Daniil But #12, Axel Sandin-Pellikka #17, Eduard Sale #20, Otto Stenburg #25, Theo Lindstein #29, Mikhail Gulyayev #31, and David Edstrom at #32. And with a total of 78 players drafted from Europe in last year’s draft, (not including Europeans playing in north American leagues) it’s no wonder we need 2 separate introductions.
So let’s start part 2 with none other than Aron Kiviharju. Kiviharju is a prospect that scouts have been talking about for a long time. He was projected as an easy top 10 pick last year due to his incredibly gifted skating abilities and his intriguing offensive defensemen tool set. But as the months moved on, Kiviharju’s placement as a top 10 prospect has some concerns. Scouts mainly note that Kiviharju’s progression from 2022 to 2023 was disappointing. Playing for TPS in the U20s, Kiviharju scored 30 points in 35 games in 2022 as a 15-year-old. This is where most of his hype stems from. But last year, his leap in points was not as impressive as many expected.
With 20 points in 22, and a few games in Liiga, Kiviharju didn’t get the chance to showcase his skills as well he would have hoped.
DraftPro’s General Manager Daniel Stewart had this to say on Kiviharju: “Has the speed to control pace, escape pressure, rush the puck, and then get back in defensive positioning. Incredibly active stick that he uses to take the puck off opponents and show off his elite transitional game. He has incredible skating ability and agility. He generates a ton of controlled exits and breakouts. Uses his skilled hands and head fakes to make his way deep into the offensive zone or skate the puck out of his own zone. The puck just finds him. He flashes offensive flare and creativity. Shows impressive vison. His current lack of strength does play into his inability to bring a physical element to his game as he often gets outmuscled in the dirty areas and relies more on positioning and smarts.”
This year Kiviharju is starting off in Liiga from the get-go. His time playing with the big boys will certainly determine just how soon he is drafted. Scout interest in Kiviharju hasn’t faded quite yet, so there is still plenty of time for the young fin to regain that trust and hype he has since lost from 2022.
Moving on to our next fin, and just warning you, there is a lot of them, we have Emil Hemming from TPS. Hemming offers a good size on a very explosive offensive forward. Throughout 2022 and 2023, Hemming was split between the U18 and U20 leagues. While he was never quite outstanding by any means, but scouts saw the potential in his game and so ranked him at around the 25-40 position. But if any player is going to have a positive change in his preliminary rankings and final position, it’s going to be Emil Hemming. Because as of writing this, Hemming has been phenomenal in the U20s, scoring 15 points in only 8 games. He’s earned the trust of management to go play in Liiga, where he is still scoring goals amongst men. If his trends continue in Liiga, then Emil Hemming is a safe bet to go in the first round.
But while his offensive is bright, there are still flaws in Hemming’s game. DraftPro’s Joseph Stanislau had this to say about Hemming: “The biggest part of Hemming’s game is his shooting and passing. And on top of this he can skate at a good pace. But the biggest concern for Hemming is his lack of effort in the offensive zone. If his effort is improved he could be even on the level of Patrick Laine on offense. His overall lack of defensive awareness will have to make an offense first player. So he needs to improve in that area as well.”
Overall Hemming is a hard player to predict. He clearly has offensive potential, and sometimes the best defense is an overwhelming offense. If Hemming can prove to be capable of changing games with his offensive skills than perhaps GMs will be more than willing to grab Hemming early in the draft. His time in Liiga will certainly be influential no matter what.
Speaking of Liiga, we have next a player who is practically playing in Liiga full time already at only 17-years-old. To say hopes are high for Konsta Helenius would be an understatement. He’s already proven to be capable of scoring points with men in Liiga last year, and a whole other year has since passed, and Helenius isn’t looking like he’s going to slow down anytime soon. With 10 points in 18 games already this year, Helenius is on pace for a very impressive season in Liiga for an U18 player.
DraftPro’s Dany Gelinas has this to say: “Konsta continues to develop quite well and has already taken a step forward since the start of the season. Improving on his skates and puck battles, despite facing more pressure in Liiga. His puck management is also improving, and he’s gaining confidence and maturity in the game. He has a good sense of angles to lock up his opponents, and his speed allows him to do the rest.”
With his performance in Liiga, and his naturally gifted skating, Helenius is an easy top 10 pick. If he wants to get into that coveted top 5 position, he’ll need to improve his pure defensive game. While his defensive awareness is good, his lackluster size is holding him back. A finetuning in how he plays defense and properly showcasing his wide array of skills in Liiga will go a long way for GMs who are going to be considering him on draft day.
Next up, from Norway, we have one of the best players to come out of the HockeyAllsvenkan this year: Michael Brandsegg-Nygård. The 6’1” Norwegian has gained a lot of attention from scouts due to his good size and useful tool set. Playing his 2021/22 season in Norway, MBN moved on to Sweden to play in the J20 Nationell and HockeyAllsvenkan. He played well in his 11 HockeyAllsvenskan games, getting 3 points. This year he is the very common positon that many high end European prospects find themselves in, which is too good for the U20s but not quite good enough to impress scouts in the big leagues. MBN is in a similar positioned that Aron Kiviharju is in, which is that his progress has not been as impressive as many scouts had hoped.
DraftPro’s Brogan Houston had this to say about MBN: “Offensively, he loves to wait around the top of the crease, looking for tip-ins and nifty passes. He’s also the first guy in the corners when the puck goes into that area of the ice. He also has a sharp playmaking eye on top of that. Defensively, MBN is an excellent forechecker. He consistently puts enough pressure on the defensemen to make them retreat, but he never gets sucked in too far. When he gets to the NHL, this skill will be invaluable as a dynamic defensive forward. Similar to Quinn Hughes or Cale Makar, loving to draw forecheckers out and then go right around them.”
MBN is an intriguing prospect with a high ceiling. His position come draft day will depend entirely on how he grows his physical play. As of right now he is showing bursts of great potential as a strong forechecker, but if he can get his defensive game down by the time he bulks up, he could be a dangerous NHler, and one that will be playing NHL games sooner than most would expect.
Lastly, we are going back to Finland to go over one Veeti Väisänen. Väisänen offers a well-built defensemen who has a reliable skill set that coaches love. A pure two-way defender if there ever was one, GMs are certainly going to be intrigued by Väisänen’s ability to play effectively at all ends of the ice. Starting off the 2023/24 season in Liiga, Väisänen is off to a solid start for a defenseman, having 4 points in 20 games.
“He is a quick skater and has good edge work. Possesses great vision and can find his teammates anywhere on the ice. He’s also not afraid to rush the puck himself. Not overly creative but takes what the opposition gives him. Under pressure he displays great quickness and tight turns to escape pressure. Plays with no panic regardless of the situation he finds himself in. Though he isn’t a big defenseman, he initiates physical play and uses his body to jolt players in battles around the defensive zone. Has some bite to his defensive game. He doesn’t always win his battles, but he was consistently willing to engage. His current strength level works against his desire to physical play. He plays with good overall awareness. An all-situations defender who has some room to improve defensively.“ Said DraftPro’s GM Daniel Stewart.
Overall Väisänen offers a solid argument for a top defensemen in the draft. And his main weakness is a lack of ‘X-Factors’ that could push him over the edge. He doesn’t have particularly excellent point numbers, height or weight advantage, or anything else similar. Because of this Väisänen is likely to fall around the 2nd round range, though this shouldn’t take away from his great qualities. He could very well be an easy steal if he is still around during the later rounds, though it is likely that he isn’t going too far down the draft board.
For more on European prospects, and the 2024 draft class as a whole, be sure to pick up a copy of our 2024 Draft Preview Magazine available later this fall and subscribe to our bi-monthly DraftPro newsletter full of up-to-date info and scouting reports.