This month and into June, we'll break down NHL draft options for the Flyers, who have seven selections this year and would currently pick 26th in the first round.
Today, we’ll look at Roni Hirvonen, an undersized center who was on the ice for about 15 minutes per game this season in Finland’s top league.
Hirvonen transitioned to Finland’s Liiga this season and had 16 points in 52 games for Ässät (five goals, 11 assists). In 2018-19, he had impressive production at the U-20 level for his hometown team, Kiekko-Espoo, with 21 goals and 34 assists in 50 games.
His modest numbers for Ässät this season shouldn’t be discouraging. Playing against adults for the first time, Hirvonen was good enough to earn a regular spot in the lineup. The 18-year-old plays a relatively mature game, reading the play well and showing a solid sense of where he should be positioned on both ends. One of his strengths is moving the puck up ice with crisp long-distance passes.
Though he’s unafraid to grapple in difficult areas, Hirvonen’s size is a concern, and it’s possible he’ll need to play on the wing in the NHL. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler praises his “feistiness,” which is a trait that should serve him well moving forward. Even when Hirvonen is giving up height and muscle, he finds ways to get to the front of the net. Despite not recording a power play goal this year, Hirvonen has the potential to be impactful on the power play because of that knack for sticking himself in dangerous spots, his vision and his puck handling.
His skating sometimes appears effortful and it takes him a while to accelerate, but he's generally pretty smooth once he gets going. Hirvonen told Jokke Nevalainen of DobberProspects.com in October that he feels his skating has recently improved.
“I’m a smart player,” he said to Nevalainen. “Versatile. And as previously said, a dynamic skater. I have a warrior’s mentality.”
Fit with Flyers
NHL Central Scouting ranked Hirvonen 10th among European skaters, while ESPN’s Chris Peters has him at No. 36 overall and TSN’s Craig Button puts him at No. 57. He’s worth consideration in the first two rounds for the Flyers, who took an undersized player at No. 34 last season in 5-foot-8, 164-pound right winger Bobby Brink.
"Obviously you’d want the big, scoring, playmaking center, anybody does,” Flyers assistant GM Brent Flahr told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jordan Hall in a phone interview on April 25. “We’re in a position where we’ll likely be taking the best player available.
"Realistically the players you draft now are two or three years down the road, best-case scenario. Some cases you get surprised. But by then, your team needs are different. We’ll do the best we can, we have an idea of where our holes are going forward and places where we certainly want to add depth to, whether it’s center or scoring winger or defense, we’ll see what happens. We’ll prepare, we weigh guys against each other, the pros and cons and we’ll do the best we can there.”
Though Hirvonen successfully took the step up from the junior level this year, the typical timeline of at least “two or three years down the road” likely still applies. He’s not the classic, can’t-miss center Flahr described, but he’s an interesting prospect.
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