Name: Joni Jurmo
Team: Jokerit (U20 SM-sarja)
Stats: 43 games played, 5 goals, 23 assists, 28 points, 28 PIMs, +13 plus/minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 20th (European skaters)
Comparable NHL player: None
I’m not afraid to go out of my way to identify prospects who I like more than most others do. If I think a guy is worth drafting in the 1st round even though other independent scouts don’t, I’m going to go on the record and say it, because you never know how NHL teams feel about certain players, nor does anyone ever fully know how any given prospect is going to develop. “Shoot your shot,” as the saying goes.
So like I did with winger Dylan Peterson, I’m going to write a draft profile on another prospect who I think should be a 1st-rounder in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, even if I’m in the minority opinion on this topic. And that prospect is Finnish defenseman Joni Jurmo.
One of the cardinal rules of scouting is that you draft prospects based on what kind of players you think they will be in the future, not just what kind of players they are right now. And with Jurmo specifically, the possibilities about what he could be in the future after a few years of hands-on development from an NHL organization are incredibly tantalizing.
Let’s get straight to the point about what makes Jurmo so interesting: his combination of size and mobility. Measuring in at roughly 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds and blessed with incredible speed, the Jokerit blueliner is built like an NFL tight end. When he gets up to speed he has the momentum of a freight train, and good luck to those who try to defend him. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of all the ways that a player like this can be valuable.
LHD Joni Jurmo (2020) also scored in his first #Liiga preseason game. Joins the rush, drives to the net and redirects an excellent pass from W Patrik Puistola (CAR). #2020NHLDraft #Canes pic.twitter.com/2601NUmzez— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) August 19, 2020
The strengths of his skating aren’t just limited to his transition play. He’s agile and elusive on his edges as well, able to spin his body or take a couple of lateral side steps to evade pressure at the blueline and maintain zone possession.
Making things even more enticing, Jurmo is also quite adept at carrying and handling the puck. While he’s not Cale Makar or Quinn Hughes, he is capable of starting puck rushes in his own zone and then progressing them all the way to the opposing net, making a few nifty moves with his hands to avoid pressure. Whereas a lot of big, fast players are limited to single-lane, north-south rushes, Jurmo is surprisingly good at moving laterally while in flight, which further helps his ability to move through traffic. He’s the type of defender who can pull off those highlight-reel, end-to-end goals.
Watching these kinds of moments during a game can be truly jaw-dropping:
The only other thing really worth mentioning about Jurmo’s transition game is that he’s also able to set up plays off the rush. He’s not exactly a high-end playmaker or anything, but he can move the puck around in odd-man-rush situations to keep the goalie guessing. Outside of those situations, his passing and playmaking aren’t overly great. His outlet passes are simple and not on the tape quite as much as you’d like to see, and there isn’t a lot of creativity or shrewdness to his decisions, which hurts his upside as a powerplay option.
Beyond the areas where he is already strong, Jurmo is pretty unpolished, which adds a fair bit of risk to him as a prospect. For such a big defender he’s quite a gentle giant. He’s more of a stick-on-puck defender than someone who uses his body, whether that means laying hits, pinning opponents against the boards or clearing the crease. His defensive game overall is quite a work in progress, as he can also be quite passive defending against the rush and frequently gets caught out of position and puck-watching in his own zone. And while he can score goals by getting himself near the enemy net, his shot from the point isn’t much of a threat at this point in time. For a lack of a better word, there’s a certain immaturity to how he handles himself out of the ice — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it does suggest potential for improvement as he gains experience.
With Jurmo, what it really comes down to is how much you’re willing to gamble on him both maximizing his tools and minimizing his weaknesses. His physical tools are so, so rare, and if he turns out to be a good learner and his development ends up going according to plan then you’ll have a three-zone blueliner who can be lethal on the rush while also using his size and mobility to defend. Whichever team drafts him could end up with a truly special, game-changing defenseman on their hands one day.
At his best, Jurmo can be a dominant player who takes over games all by himself. Playing for Finland at a U19 tournament in early 2020, he was the single best player in the entire event, despite being a year younger than almost everyone else there, including some prospects who have already been drafted by NHL clubs. Can he supply those kinds of performances in the NHL as well? For me, personally, I’m willing to gamble big on that potential.