At this time last year, Timothy Liljegren was heralded as the best defender in this Draft. Boy, how times have changed. Liljegren should still make an intriguing prospect, but Miro Heiskanen has essentially taken his place as the top defender available this year. Heiskanen’s shot up draft boards everywhere; he wasn’t ranked in ISS Hockey’s top 31 prospects for April but now finds himself at #5 in their May edition. This rapid change isn’t all hype and no substance either. This kid is the real deal.
It’d be a stroke of incredible luck if he’s still around at 9th overall, but if he is, the Wings would be out of their minds to pass on this kid. I’d be surprised if he makes it out of the top-five.
Name: Miro Heiskanen
Date of birth: July 18th, 1999
Birthplace: Espoo, Finland
Weight: 174 pounds
NHL comparable: Marc-Edouard Vlasic
ISS Hockey: 5
McKeen’s Hockey: 11
Future Considerations: 11
NHL CSS: 4 (European skaters)
You could argue that Miro Heiskanen is the most-complete defender available in this Draft. There are literally no areas of his game that need polishing, and he’s one of the youngest players eligible for this year’s Draft. Heiskanen checks all of the boxes. His skating is fluid and looks effortless, and he makes great use of his agility to walk the blueline in the offensive zone. Heiskanen makes a great first-pass out of the defensive zone and handles the puck well. He isn’t the biggest defenseman out there, but his positioning, anticipation and stickwork make him a force in the defensive zone.
Heiskanen’s already logged roughly half of a season in Finland’s Liiga against men where he fit right in with the tight-checking and structured style of play. Although he only produced 10 points in 37 games, consider that the Liiga isn’t a wide-open league and his .27 points per game ranked 2nd among U20 defensemen (Robin Salo, a projected 2nd round pick this year was first with .30).
Against players his own age at the U18 World Junior Championship, Heiskanen dominated the competition. His 12 points in seven games ranked 2nd among all players and he was named the tournament’s top defenseman. Although Finland was eventually defeated by the United States in the gold medal game, it was clear Heiskanen was a step above the rest of the competition.
About the only “hole” in Heiskanen’s game is that he doesn’t project to be a big point-producer in the big leagues. He’s got an incredible skillset and a finely polished game, but he’s more like a Roman Josi or Marc-Edouard Vlasic than an Erik Karlsson as far as point production goes.
Credit: Sabres Prospects.
We can debate the Wings’ needs on offense versus on defense all day long. And while I might say that the Wings have a nice crop of young defensemen who should be challenging for NHL time within these next few years, would adding another one to the mix really hurt? Especially one with a ceiling as high as Heiskanen’s.
This guy has gone from being a mid-late 1st round selection all the way up to a near-lock to be picked in the top 5 of the Draft. He’s already established himself as a mainstay defender in a men’s league where he’s playing against competition much older than he is, and he’s shown on the international stage that he’s just simply better than players his own age. A low-risk, high-reward defenseman like Heiskanen seems just like what the Wings are in need of.