Joni Jurmo is a 17-year-old Finnish defenseman who is eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. He has a very intriguing package of size (6-4, 190), skating ability, and skill. That type of package is always valued in the NHL which is why he is projected to be drafted in the second or third round.
I interviewed Jurmo over the phone in Finnish, transcribed that discussion, and then translated it to English. I hope you enjoy getting to know him a little bit through this Q & A type interview.
Q: Now that corona is on everyone’s mind, I must ask; have you stayed healthy?
A: Yes, our family is healthy, everything’s good. I’ve been trying to avoid large groups of people and mostly just stay at home. But sometimes I’ve gone to play badminton or soccer or something else with my friends to stay active.
Q: Have you managed to train during this time?
A: There’s one gym still open nearby, I’ve been there. I got a training program from Juha Ylönen, I’ve been following that. I can use it at home or at the gym. It’s very diverse. Helps me maintain basic strength and endurance.
Q: What have you done to kill time lately?
A: Just watching some TV shows and played some PlayStation, that’s pretty much it.
Q: Is it frustrating to not know when and how the NHL Draft will be held?
A: Yes it is. It’s always been a dream of mine to get to that event. At the beginning of the season, my goal was just to get drafted but now that has become more likely. Of course it would be disappointing if the event is cancelled but right now it seems like it’ll be just postponed. We don’t know if it’ll be over some video calls or what but it is frustrating. It seems like a great event, I’ve been watching it every year from home or from our summer cottage.
Q: In public draft rankings, you’ve been on second and third round in many of them. Have you followed them during the season?
A: I don’t look for them but sometimes a friend or my agent sends a link to them. I’ve seen some of them and I’ve been on the second or third round but you’ll never know where you end up going on draft day. It doesn’t really matter much on which round you get drafted but of course you want to be drafted as high as possible.
Q: You had a very good rookie season in Jr. SM-liiga (28 points in 43 games). Did you anticipate being able to be so good in your first year?
A: It exceeded my expectations but I always had the confidence that I can play at a good level. My goals at the beginning of the season were the draft and getting a good role on the Jokerit U20 team. But I also need to tip my hat to the coaches who gave me the type of role I wanted at the start of the season; I got to play on the power play and play an offensive role, so I managed to get points because of that as well.
Q: You played especially strong during the qualification series where you scored 19 points in 25 games. Were there any reasons why your scoring pace slowed down after that? I believe you had an injury around that time as well?
A: The games got tougher as the season went on. Margins were smaller, it was harder to score points and it was harder to win games. The shoulder injury kept me out for four weeks but it wasn’t anything serious and didn’t bother me in the second half of the season. I think I still played well but just didn’t get so many points because we didn’t have big wins at that point because the games were closer. Every team got better.
Q: It was a bit of a similar story for all the young rookies on your team. Did you start playing a more defensive style?
A: Yeah, we started playing a style that allows us to win more. Our goal was to earn home ice advantage for the playoffs, and we did. But I don’t know why we didn’t get so many points. The all-around game was still really good on all the cage heads (under-18 players) on our team.
Q: Despite the good season, Finland’s U18 team didn’t seem to have faith in you. You didn’t play at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and when you were selected to the Sweden tournament, your role was pretty small and didn’t really suit you. Do you have any idea why it was like that?
A: That is something I’ve been wondering myself throughout the season. I’ve gone through it with Anssi Laine (head coach of Finland U18), and my defensive game needs to improve. But I also don’t understand why he put me playing a defensive role in the Sweden tournament. If he sees that offensive roles are already filled, then perhaps I shouldn’t be selected to play a defensive role because it’s not my strength. When I got to play my kind of a role on the under-20 team (in a tournament in Germany), got to play on the power play and play big minutes, I managed to produce points and play really well.
Q: That U20 tournament was indeed a great success for you. How did it feel to play there?
A: I felt really good. I was trusted to play a lot and got to play with some very skilled players. It felt easy to play on that team. We had a lot of skilled and quick players on our team, so I managed to get some points and have success playing with them.
Q: You’ll be moving to the JYP organization for the upcoming season. Did you make this change to be able to play Liiga games as soon as next season?
A: Yes, it’s my goal to get a spot on the Liiga team. It won’t be easy, I need to work on my physical training and defensive game over the summer. But my agent and I saw that this was the best option for me. It seems like a great organization based on what I’ve heard from other people.
Q: I’m sure there were a lot of Liiga teams that were interested in you. Why did you choose JYP over the others?
A: They’ve had a lot of young defensemen who have gone to the NHL from there. They said I’ll be able to train with the Liiga team at the start of the season and maybe even get to play on the Liiga team during preseason. After that, we’ll see if I’m able to earn a spot on the Liiga roster or not. If I can’t, I’ll probably play in Mestis or maybe go back to the junior league, we’re not really sure yet.
Q: Some young players don’t seem to want to play in Mestis at all. You don’t have any problems with playing there if you don’t get a spot on the Liiga roster yet?
A: No, not at all. Mestis is sort of the next step from the junior league. I’d be able to play against men, and that would help me develop much more. But of course if I can play on the Liiga team, then that is absolutely where I want to play. But it wouldn’t make sense to play small minutes as the seventh defenseman, it wouldn’t help me develop.
Q: Samuel Helenius (2021) is also moving from Jokerit to JYP. Did you two have an agreement to go to the same place or was it just a coincidence?
A: We talked a bit during the season. I asked him where he’s going and which teams we have in common that we’ve talked to. We both mentioned that JYP was one of the best options. Helenius made his agreement with JYP before I did, and then we decided to be roommates in Jyväskylä for the next three years.
Q: How would you describe yourself as a player to someone who has never watched you play?
A: A big, puck-moving defenseman who skates really well and can make good breakout passes and carry the puck up the ice. I may not be the craftiest player in the offensive zone but I’m pretty good there. In the defensive zone, I’m not completely terrible but pretty okay there as well. But I need to do a lot of work to improve in that area.
Q: Can you think of a current NHL player who could be used as an example of you?
A: Not really from current NHL players but I’ve been watching a lot of Philip Broberg (EDM) who is a year older than me. I see a lot of similarities between the two of us. But of course I’ve also watched a lot of these young NHL defensemen like Miro Heiskanen, Thomas Chabot and Cale Makar.
Q: Are those players you watch to learn from them?
A: Yes. For example Heiskanen, not every shift from him is going to blow your mind. He plays a simple game much of the time. But when he gets his chance, he carries the puck or does something else really amazing. I’m not the most physical player at this point, so I’ve been watching Heiskanen’s stick defense because he’s really good at that. He’s not the biggest or strongest player out there but he manages to defend against big forwards with his stick.
Q: You already mentioned Broberg but another player you’ve been compared to is William Wallinder (2020) who is also eligible for the draft like you. Are you familiar with him as a player?
A: Yes, we’ve played against each other in international events. I think he’s even more skilled than I am. A really good player, skates really well, can dangle… He can be good in all parts of the game. It’s nice to watch him play from the opposite bench.
Q: You mentioned a few players that you’re watching these days but what about when you were younger?
A: Sami Vatanen, who came from the JYP organization, was a great skater and did a lot of coast-to-coast goals. I watched him a lot, not really anyone else.
Q: You already mentioned the defensive game but are there any other clear development areas that you need to focus on before playing in the NHL?
A: Decision-making with the puck. At times I force a pass or force myself to carry the puck and enter the offensive zone. I need to be more humble and make simpler decisions in some situations, grow in that area.
Q: If we go a little deeper into your defensive game, which parts of it are the strongest and which ones are the weakest?
A: I think my stick defense is pretty good. It’s not a strength in my game but it’s the strongest part of my defensive game. Box out play, covering players who don’t have the puck, I have a lot of work to do in that area. And also stopping a player who has the puck, forcing him to the board so that my teammate can take the puck away from him.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of Leijonat.fi