I’m a Spartan, have been my whole life, and currently in my senior year at MSU. I have broadcast close to 20 MSU hockey games the last four years for Big Ten Network and felt I could give everyone my input on the Taro Hirose signing. I know college hockey doesn’t have a huge following, and even though Hirose is a local guy, not many will know much about him. I figured I can put in my own scouting report on what I have seen over the years from the Calgary, ALB native.
To me, this term is the most overused word in scouting. Whether it’d be pre-draft prospect or someone in the system, too often people throw out a player has a “high hockey IQ” that it sort of diminishes player’s with actual high hockey IQs. I’ve watched my fair share of college hockey over the last four years, and outside of maybe Ohio State’s Tanner Lacysnski, Taro Hirose has the best hockey IQ I have ever seen in the NCAA. Granted, that doesn’t hold as much weight as I never saw Tkachuk, Eichel, Vesey, etc. play, but if you ever watched Hirose, you’d know what I mean.
He knows where everyone is on the ice at all-time. He quarterbacks the puck up on the PP and rarely has issue’s entering the zone. He’ll zig-zag through several defenders at a time and just when you think he’s lost the puck, he’ll sauce a no look back hand pass to a wide-open winger. I’ve seen this happen multiple times. He just knows what he’s doing when the puck is on his stick and is usually two moves ahead of everyone else. The game just seems so slow to him whenever he’s on the ice, that it truly is the most impressive part of his game.
One of Hirose’s biggest assets is he tries to get everyone involved offensively. He is always thinking to pass no matter the situation. However, this has been a cause for concern at times as I’ve seen him pass up open shots (more on that later). If you get an odd-man rush with Hirose leading the charge, you never know what can happen. There have been several tic-tac-toe’s between Hirose and the rest of the “KHL line” in East Lansing (Patrick Khodorenko and Mitch Lewandowski) that end in goals this year alone, and leave everyone wondering, “How did that play happen?” Well it happened because Hirose’s patience and IQ came into play so much that it seemed like he knew where the opposing defenders would go even before they did.
I’m going to get killed for saying this probably, but Hirose, at times, has reminded me of Datsyuk. No, and I can’t stress this enough, I am not saying Taro Hirose is going to be Pavel Datsyuk. He’s not even in the same category, but just the way he plays the game is similar. He’s small in stature like Datsyuk was, has a great hockey IQ with great hands as well. He’s got some weight to put on to really be ready for the NHL-level, but their strengths are both similar at their respective levels.
Let’s talk about those hands, they are always moving. His heads is always up when he quarterback’s the puck up ice, and with just subtle movements he’s able to get around defenders with the quick hands of his. His hands are really a big part of why he’s such a great passer, he can do things with the puck while blanketed by defenders that are rare to see at any level of hockey, not just college.
Look for Growth
Hirose’s game is really centered around his passing, hands and hockey IQ. Put them together and you’ve had one hell of a player in college. However, like many young guys, you have a lot to build off of to make it in the NHL
He’s just 5-10 and 160 lbs. I mentioned the Datsyuk comparison, and the magic man was listed at 5-11, 195 lbs at the end of his career. I’m not sure what he was at the beginning of his career, but I’m sure it was probably around 170 lbs if you’ve ever seen pictures of Pav as a rookie. Hirose needs to bulk up, and with Holland letting him get ice time this year in Detroit, that will will be helpful in getting him to understand how much stronger he has to get. If he can add some lbs and not be pushed around so much on the ice, it will only help his game excel.
I mentioned his first move is always to pass, probably because his shot isn’t all that powerful. His snap shot is decent for the college-level, and he works the point on the PP with it, but overall his shot needs to be vastly improved. Some of that will happen when he gets stronger, the rest of it he probably needs just needs more practice. Even some confidence in the shot could help. If he ever develops even an above-average shot, he really could become a complete offensive threat.
I pencil Hirose in pretty much as an average skater across the board. He occasionally can give you a good burst, but his first step isn’t quite there yet, and for being the size he is, you’d expect more speed. However, I feel this will develop the most of any of these three areas once he puts in some work at the pro-level. He knows what to do at all times when he’s on the ice, and with some extra strength and skating work in the Red Wings organization, I expect him to evolve overtime with his skating.
I know I kind of made it seem like Hirose the best thing since sliced bread, which obviously I don’t mean to do. I just wanted to give everyone some of my observations of Hirose over the years. I think his ceiling really could be a Top 6 guy, but he has a lot of work to put in if he ever were to get there. Most likely, he’ll be a depth guy is whole career, but he is still just 22. You never know what happens to these kids when they starting putting in work at the pro-level. I really think Hirose has such a high ceiling because of his awareness and hockey IQ seemingly both off the charts. But I’m not going to let myself get carried away, and you shouldn’t either. There is a lot of work to be done for Taro Hirose, but I certainly am happy to have him with the Detroit Red Wings.