One of the 2019 draft’s biggest risers, Ville Heinola has emerged as a top defensive prospect for the 2019 NHL draft. Not on the radar of many to begin the season, he surprised by not just sticking in Finland’s top pro league, but by posting historic numbers for his age. An impressive performance at the World Junior Championships also cemented him as the next blue-chip defensemen to come directly out of Finland.
Heinola utilizes his intelligence to be an efficient puck mover and powerplay quarterback. However, with no game-breaking ability his ceiling is a reason to doubt how well he’ll translate to the NHL game, thus ranking towards the middle of the first round.
|Birthday||March 2, 2001|
Skating: 50 – Puck Skills: 55 – Hockey IQ/Sense: 60 – Physicality: 40
Heinola is a fascinating player to watch. He acts with great poise and steers the play subtly. In some instances it may come across as a lack of pace in his game, but I see it more as him being a controlling presence. This can be quite difficult to evaluate with him playing in a men’s league. But if you watch Heinola against his own age group/range he is much more impactful as a puck-mover. He is often the best player versus under-18 competition, which further emphasizes how mature he is. He does it with sound, calculated decisions, doing so with standout vision.
Heinola is at his best with the puck on his stick. You won’t be drafting him this high to be a passenger. He can transport the puck well because of how smart he is. Rarely will he run himself into trouble because he’s not trying to stumble into a good play. He maximizes all his traits by relying on his brain to make quick decisions. He doesn’t have the top-end speed or escape-ability to create something and he understands that. To be frank — there isn’t much bullshit in his game.
Like I said before, he can move the puck well. Heinola has an excellent first pass that can break into the second wave of a transition defense. If must comes to must — he is capable of extending plays with his ability to recognize space, not necessarily with his wheels. He has a murky stride that limits the power he gets off from his push offs. Making him quite easily to defend against one-on-one. I like his puck skills but his lack of speed is very easy to close a gap against and force to the wall. He doesn’t have the ability to break to the inside like other top defenders from this class such as Bowen Byram, Thomas Harley, and Philip Broberg. Add in the fact that he doesn’t have the size to protect the puck, and you have a player with questionable impact on transition at the next level.
But on the bright side he doesn’t put himself in these situations often. Like I said, he is very smart and understands what he is and isn’t capable of. He generally only attacks these holes if there is enough space for him to slip by.
The absence of somewhat threatening speed is disappointing, but from watching Heinola I’ve garnered great appreciation for defensemen who aren’t just running around aimlessly. And Heinola isn’t just a point-A-to-point-B kind of skater. He is able to recognize high percentage plays because of his vision and intelligence. How he sees the ice is a huge advantage when running a powerplay, which he excels at.
Speaking of his powerplay prowess….
Stats via eliteprospects.com
Heinola had one of the best under-18 seasons in Liiga history for a defensemen ever. Looking at just this century he ranks 2nd in points-per-game, scoring 14 points in 34 games. The sample size for all the prominent scoring defensemen in Finland is small, as it is generally a tough league to stick in. But in Heinola’s case, he only played 34 games due to an injury that sidelined him for six weeks. 8 of his 14 points came on the powerplay, which makes sense considering he is at his best when the game is slowed down. He has a lot of potential to run a number one powerplay unit at the NHL level.
That is essentially what Heinola brings. He won’t blow you away with flashy skill but is a smart blue-liner who can consistently play his game and make an impact. He’ll run your powerplay and can even contribute on the penalty kill. But his inability to be a major threat in transition is concerning enough to believe top-pair upside is out the window. However, I feel there is enough intelligence there for him to become a quality top-4 defensemen.
Heinola will be returning to Lukko is Liiga next season and that has me very excited. Already knowing he can handle a men’s league, it will be a great environment for him to enhance his game in. He’ll have a large role on the powerplay, and may even see a boost from the 18:54 TOI he was receiving last season.
Before coming over to North America I would hope he finds some progression in his skating. If not, his developmental path could get much trickier than it needs to be. I would have some worries if it stagnates, as that would not bode well for him long-term.