With the Tampa Bay Lightning’s season over, it’s time to start looking ahead to the draft. Looking over recent drafts, as well as how the Lightning’s prospects on the farm have developed, there is still a clear need for defensemen that can develop into top-four roles.
The Lightning have done exceptionally well identifying and developing forward talent. They also hit the lottery on Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. On defense, their evaluation both of prospects and established NHLers seems to have been a little off the mark. This would be a great time for the scouting department to hit the bullseye on a defenseman.
Miro Heiskanen could be that prospect. With a July 18 birthdate, the Finnish defenseman won’t turn 18 until after the draft this season. That makes him one of the younger players available in the draft. He is under contract with his Liiga team, HIFK, for two more seasons. There are some options for him coming to North America though. He can buy out his contract or convince HIFK to loan him. If he were to do so, he could either report directly to the AHL or play in the CHL. If he does not get out of his contract, he could also remain in Finland over the next two seasons and come to the AHL when he turns 20 years old.
Heiskanen is listed at 6’0” and 174 pounds. As a 17 year old, there’s not as much concern about his lighter weight. He has the height and the time to fill out his frame with more muscle, and probably play closer to the 190-195 pound range in his early 20s. There’s also the potential he could still grow a couple inches as well and add to his height and wingspan.
For HIFK this season, Heiskanen contributed five goals and five assists in 37 games, and added another three assists in eight playoff games. Some might look at those numbers and think it means that he doesn’t have any offense in his game. However, we have to keep in mind that he is a 17 year old playing in a men’s league. The only U19 defenseman that put up more points than him was Robin Salo, who put up one goal and 15 assists for 16 points, but did so in 17 more games than Heiskanen. That’s 0.27 points per game for Heiskanen and 0.30 points per game for Salo.
As a younger prospect in this draft, Heiskanen is young enough to participate in the World U18 Championship tournament. In his first game with Team Finland, he had two assists against the host Team Slovakia in a 5-4 win. Both assists were primary, with the first coming on the power play. The second assist came with less than either minutes to go in the third period on the go-ahead goal. In last year’s tournament, he only had one assist in seven games on the way to winning a gold medal.
Another stat that sticks out for Heiskanen is his lack of penalty minutes. While his lower ice time contributes some to that, the fact is he’s never been one to take many penalties in his junior career. In 37 games for HIFK, he only picked up four penalty minutes. He had zero in eight playoff games as well.
In 30 games last season for HIFK U20, Heiskanen only had 6 penalty minutes. The year before for HIFK U18, he had eight penalty minutes in 35 games. To add even more perspective to his lack of penalties, in 51 games of international play with Team Finland, he has exactly two penalty minutes.
In recent years, general manager Steve Yzerman and head coach Jon Cooper have leaned more towards defensemen that play smart in their defensive zone first and contribute in the offensive zone second, or even third. Defensemen that can make the break out pass, win the pucks on the boards, and stick with their assignments are favorable. As well as a lack of penalties which in defensemen are more often caused by getting caught out of position. Heiskanen fits into that mold fairly well.
Here’s what Dobber Prospects’ Peter Harling had to say in scouting Heiskanen.
March 2017 – Heiskanen is elite skating defenceman with plenty of speed and mobility. Already playing against men in Liiga he is an excellent puck mover and transition defenceman. His offensive ceiling is not too high and he may never quarterback the powerplay but he has good hockey sense, is ahead of his years in his defensive play. Heiskanen needs to add some bulk to his slight frame to be effective in North America but he is already proven at the pro level and may have a shorter path to the NHL than some other draft eligible defencemen. Peter Harling
Heiskanen was listed as the 4th overall European skater in Central Scouting’s final rankings. On other prospect lists, he has generally been ranked anywhere from 10th to 20th overall.
There’s a distinct possibility that he won’t make it to the Lightning at (most likely) 14th overall. That doesn’t mean that Steve Yzerman couldn’t sacrifice one of the team’s extra second round picks to move up. It would cost the higher of the Lightning’s two second round picks plus the 14th-overall pick to move up to the 10th-overall spot currently owned by the Los Angeles Kings. Adding a third round pick could get the Lightning to the 9th overall pick.
In summary, Heiskanen has a lot of things in his game that the Lightning are looking for in defensemen. The one drawback is that he is a left-hander and there is a definite preference for a right-hander at this point. Heiskanen could be too good to pass up though if he falls to the Lightning in the middle of the first round.