Possibly the hidden gem of the Red Wings farm system — Otto Kivenmaki, taken in the 7th round just a year ago, has become a key name to know within the organization. The Finnish centerman is a skillful playmaker seen as a boom-or-bust type of prospect. He is quite undersized at just 5-foot-8, which means he’ll have to make a living off his skill and elusiveness. You won’t see him carve out a career in a bottom-6 checking role.
Expected to be a regular in the top Finnish pro league this upcoming season, Kivenmaki will be intriguing to follow as he continues with his development.
Over the course of his underage career, Kivenmaki came up through the Assat system. While the top pro team has struggled in recent years, there has been no shortage of potential NHL talent coming though Pori. Kivenmaki got the opportunity to play on Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s wing last season before he would make his mark on the NHL soon after. Antti Tuomisto, who the Red Wings selected 35th overall in 2019, is another Assat product. I’d imagine Tuomisto caught the eyes of Detroit scouts while scouting Kivenmaki the past two years.
After playing in the JR. A SM-Liiga his draft year, Kivenmaki was selected by the Wings 191st overall in 2018. He was the final selection for the club that draft, but has arguably become one of the better picks made that day.
Kivenmaki’s value has proven to go up because of his positive draft-plus-one season. He began the year, as previously mentioned, playing with Kotkaniemi in the top pro league. He flashed some of his skill during the preseason:
Otto Kivenmaki (number 73) finds Aleksi Rekonen to make it 1-0 pic.twitter.com/ON8bLiwQVA
— Cameron (@AthanasiouLater) August 10, 2018
Great feed by Jesperi Kotkaniemi to spring Kivenmaki on a breakaway, but he couldn’t tuck it. Kotkaniemi has looked liked the best player on the ice by far. pic.twitter.com/CzUpe7dPwt
— Cameron (@AthanasiouLater) August 10, 2018
From yesterday’s U20 game between Finland and Sweden, Otto Kivenmaki (#34) had a nice feed to set up Kotkaniemi on a prime scoring chance. Jesper Eliasson made the big save, and would go on to be named player of the game for Sweden. pic.twitter.com/lv7d5j5qnW
— Cameron (@AthanasiouLater) August 26, 2018
As you would expect with most young players, there was a learning curve. Struggling to find the back of the net, Kivenmaki returned to the junior league by midseason to find his confidence and scoring touch. All he did was register 35 points in 23 games and proved to be too good for the league.
He banged down the door and returned to the Liiga squad and had an excellent final nine game stint. He finished the season playing over 20 minutes a night — a clear sign in the confidence he earned from the coaching staff. His stat-line in Liiga as whole showed 2 goals and 16 points in 34 games, but it was down the stretch when he was finding his was onto the score sheet.
Otto Kivenmaki has his first career Liiga goal today. Also has two assists so far. pic.twitter.com/fqNzmmW4Ki
— Cameron (@AthanasiouLater) March 2, 2019
Otto Kivenmaki with an excellent goal today 👀 pic.twitter.com/IBl2L3Arkh
— Cameron (@AthanasiouLater) March 6, 2019
He continued that momentum with an impressive World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth. He was one of Finland’s better players, and I’d say there is a pretty good chance Kivenmaki will represent his home country at the real World Juniors in December. As of this writing he has played in one Assat preseason game in which he was the third line center. And he scored a goal!
— Porin Ässät (@PorinAssat) August 10, 2019
Kivenmaki is what I like to call a “home run” pick. The likelihood of him making the NHL is not as high as other high skill players, but if he does make it, he’ll look like a steal, considering the low risk of utilizing a 7th round pick on him.
While I do think his overall skill and skating get overrated by some, you can certainly see a player who can make plays from both the center and wing positions. There is a patient approach to his game which leaves question marks about how he’ll translate. Not taking on a burner-like-style despite being a mere 5-foot-8, 154 lbs can leave him subject to hits and stick checks, effectively being a liability in the neutral zone in terms of turnovers. That is just the reality of being a smaller player, and is Kivenmaki’s case, a very undersized player. He doesn’t have the ability to protect the puck from bigger, stronger players, which is why speed through the neutral zone helps develop space.
Touching on his overall skating, you’d like to see him add an extra gear. I find he doesn’t overwhelm the defensemen enough to push them back and create a little more space. Combined with his controlled pace of play and there are some real red flags in his game.
To get more of an idea about how Kivenmaki operates on the ice, take a look at the two games below. Both of which come from the World Junior Summer Showcase from just last month. Kivenmaki is #13 for Team Finland in both games.
The development of Kivenmaki is imperative for his NHL hopes — both on-ice and off-ice. From a physicality standpoint he’ll need to keep putting on weight. He reportedly jumped from 137 lbs to 154 lbs this past year, which is great to hear. But the reality is his current state is still too slight to have a realistic spot in the NHL. That will be something to watch for, especially now that he is playing against men full-time.
Development on-ice is a big deal as well, seeing as he’ll need to create as much space as possible to make plays with the puck. With experience comes a smarter mind and more awareness of how to find and create space. But to develop that into an elite level, patience will be required. If player development handles him right, we’ll see him in the NHL one day, however, that is a ways away. My early prediction sees him staying in Finland for another season after this one and then a few years in Grand Rapids.
Hopefully in the long run we can see him become a middle-6 forward who can make plays and contribute on the powerplay.