Heiskanen, Virtanen shine for scout Beichler

Special To FC2017 Draft Center, Europe

Photo courtesy Finnish Ice Hockey Federation

Future Considerations’ European-based scout Janik Beichler gives his thoughts on who from the 2017 NHL Draft class left him impressed, who disappointed and who his sleeper is on draft day.

Who impressed?

It wasn’t until the fall that two-way defenseman Miro Heiskanen cracked Future Considerations’ first-round ranking. But once he did, he consistently moved up — and rightfully so.

Heiskanen spent his draft season playing with HIFK of the Finnish Liiga, and managed to make an impact against seasoned professionals right from the start. Thanks to flawless skating technique and elite hockey IQ, he didn’t need much time to adjust. The 6-foot, 174-pound defenseman never looked out of place, but rather improved with every day in the league.

What stands out the most about Heiskanen is his ability to make the right decisions consistently. He rarely makes a mistake, whether he is deep in his own zone or on the rush in the offensive zone. That’s exactly what you want from a defenseman.

If scouts had any doubts about Heiskanen’s game, he erased them at the 2017 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. There, Heiskanen led all defensemen with 12 points and was named best defenseman of the tournament.

Heiskanen finished the year as the top defenseman and third overall in Future Considerations’ Final ranking for the 2017 NHL Draft. If he falls past that spot, consider me shocked.

Who disappointed?

After outscoring Germany’s top 2016-eligible draft prospect Tobias Eder as an underager at the Under-18’s last season, I had high hopes for center Thomas Reichel. Unfortunately, he disappointed throughout the year.

Reichel is an excellent playmaker with strong vision, soft hands and great passing ability. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, he also has the frame of a prototypical NHLer. So, in my first few viewings, I still had high hopes for him as he displayed those exact skills. Unfortunately, Reichel struggled mightily with his skating — even compared to his peers in German junior hockey. In my viewings, Reichel often looked extremely slow, which is obviously a killer in today’s NHL. He wasn’t able to make plays off the rush, and mostly looked like a power-play specialist.

Midway through the season, Reichel made his professional debut with the Starbulls Rosenheim in the second-tier DEL2. Through 17 games with the club, he had a limited role on a weak team, yet displayed promise for a successful career in Germany. It just won’t be enough for the NHL, though.

Who surprised?

A player who came in at No. 135 in Future Considerations’ Final ranking may not fit your standard definition of the word ‘surprise.’ Yet, this is where I would like to mention Finnish forward Santeri Virtanen of TPS in the Jr. A SM-liiga.

Virtanen was injured for most of the season and missed all but five regular-season games. But, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound forward managed to come back in impressive fashion, bursting onto the scene with two goals and six points in those five games, and had two goals in three playoff contests. More importantly, however, Virtanen finished his draft season with an impressive showing with Team Finland at the Under-18’s.

Virtanen is a speedy skater who can play a power-forward game. He likes to use his size and speed to beat defenders on the outside before driving hard to the net and finishing the play with a dangerous shot. Despite his size, Virtanen is a strong skater with excellent work ethic, solid defensive play and a scoring drive, which allows coaches to utilise him in all situations.

Scouts only got a tiny sample size of Virtanen this year, resulting in a relatively low ranking. But, there is enough to like about him, so don’t be surprised if his name gets called much earlier in 2017.

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