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2017 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile: Miro Heiskanen

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The Finnish puck-mover has emerged as the top defenseman in the draft. But just how high will he go?

2016 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Name: Miro Heiskanen

2015-16 Team: HIFK (Liiga)

Stats: 37 GP, 5 goals, 5 assists, 10 points, 4 PIMs, -1 rating

NHL Central Scouting Ranking: 4th (European Skaters)

NHL Comparable Player: Duncan Keith

No other prospect has rocketed up draft rankings so quickly, or so consistently, over the past couple of months more than Miro Heiskanen has.

About halfway through this year of hockey it was easy to find differing opinions about which defenseman was the best in the draft. Was it Heiskanen? Timothy Liljegren? Cale Makar? Maybe someone like Cal Foote or Juuso Valimaki?

Nowadays, the consensus that seems to be widely forming among scouts is that Heiskanen is the top of his class at his position.

The 6’0” defender just got better and better as the season went along while plying his trade for HIFK in Finland’s top pro league, the Liiiga. He regularly skated for more than 20 minutes of ice time in games during the regular season, and finished the playoffs with an average of 20:03 per night, which was second on his entire team.

It’s pretty rare to see 17 year-old defensemen get those kinds of minute in the Liiga, but Heiskanen certainly earned them. His skating, puck control, and decision-making are all highly developed for a blueliner his age, and they allowed him to successfully control puck possession against competition much older and bigger than him.

Where Heiskanen really boosted his profile, however, was at the IIHF U18 tournament this past April. Now playing against players that were the same age as him, the mature puck-moving defender was a dominant force, clearing his own zone with efficiency and ease and creating numerous scoring chances by jumping into the offensive zone. He was especially lethal as the quarterback of Finland’s powerplay. In all, he finished with 12 points in seven tournament games, which was second among all skaters at any position and double the next-closest blueliner. He was, to no surprise at all, named Best Defenseman for the event.

His mobility is excellent, combining a quick first step, smooth lateral movements and a really nice top gear. He also displays impressive hands when moving in flight, seamlessly sliding the puck around to keep it away from the sticks of opposing players, allowing him to carry the play through the neutral zone himself and safely enter the offensive zone. His passes are crisp and on the mark, and he can quickly let loose an accurate shot when he receives a pass in dangerous shooting territory.

Defensively, he maintains a tight gap and is hard to beat wide. He understands the flow of play in the defensive zone, knowing where loose pucks are going to pop out and when to turn back and regroup when there are no clear zone exit options.

Heiskanen’s only major weakness is his size, with a smallish stature and a thin frame, but that shouldn’t be a major hindrance at the NHL level thanks to his skating, his skill with the puck, and his excellent understanding of the position. Smaller defensemen are able to succeed in the NHL when they learn how to be elusive and how to maximize their control of the puck, and Heiskanen is already demonstrating a very solid grasp of these fundamentals.

A blueliner with legitimate top pair potential, don’t be surprised if Heiskanen’s name is one of the first three called come draft day. Could going 1st overall to the New Jersey Devils be a serious possibility too?