17-year-old forward Roni Hirvonen is a rookie in the Finnish Liiga and a potential first round pick for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Although, at 5-foot-8 and 159 pounds, Hirvonen is definitely undersized by NHL standards which means he could end up being more of a second round pick.
As a 16-year-old, Hirvonen had an incredible season in Jr. A SM-liiga, the top junior league in Finland. He scored 21 goals and added 34 assists in 50 games. 55 points puts him fourth among under-17 players on the league’s all-time list.
But no one should expect him to put up those kind of numbers this season in the Liiga. “The pace of the game is faster in the Liiga than in juniors. More speed and smarter players means scoring chances are harder to come by”, Hirvonen said.
Hirvonen played in the Espoo Blues organization which didn’t have a team at the professional level, so that meant he had to switch organizations this past summer to play at the professional level during his draft season. Hirvonen chose Pori Ässät, a young team that is rebuilding after a disaster of a season where they were dead last in the league by a wide margin. “I went to Pori for a visit, and it was an easy decision after that. Very good facilities and the right kind of people in the organization. They have a good rebuild ongoing, so it was a good place for me”, Hirvonen explained.
I asked what kind of promises he got from Ässät about a roster spot and usage before he signed. “No promises were made”, he said promptly. “Nothing is handed out at the men’s level, you have to earn your spot.”
Even though he played at center last season in junior, like many young players before him, Hirvonen had to transition to the wing to start his professional career. “I’ve always been a center, haven’t played much on the wing. It didn’t take long to adjust to it. It started feeling natural after a few games”, Hirvonen said. “I’m a natural center. I want to be a center but of course it’s also fun to play at wing – you get to play and do mostly the same things there as well. At the end of the day, the difference isn’t so drastic.”
Lately Hirvonen has been playing on the second line with Red Wings prospect Otto Kivenmäki at center and Swedish winger Edwin Hedberg at the opposite side. “Kivenmäki in the middle, he’s a tremendous skater and sees the game well. I really like playing with him. Hedberg, he’s also a very good skater and a good goal-scorer. So we have a very good line”, Hirvonen explained.
Speed is not really considered to be a strength for Hirvonen, so I asked if he feels like he can keep up when both of his linemates are such great skaters. “Yes I do. My skating has improved. I’m a dynamic skater, it’s one of my strengths at the moment”, Hirvonen said.
Speaking of strengths, I asked Hirvonen about his. “I’m a smart player. Versatile. And as previously said, a dynamic skater. I have a warrior’s mentality”, he explained. I also asked what kind of goals he has for this season. “To improve in each game. We’ve been playing well but I want to score more goals. But the goals will come because I’m getting chances in each game”, he said.
Because Hirvonen is born in 2002, he is still eligible to play at the under-18 level in international tournaments. But considering he’s already playing a regular role in the Liiga, the under-20 team is a realistic target as well. “We’ll see what happens when an (international) event is happening, to which age group I’ll be going to. Hopefully I get invited to the U20 team. Of course I would like to play there. But no matter which level it is, it’s always an honor to wear the Lions jersey”, Hirvonen said.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of assat.com