This is a series profiling the Hurricanes’ 2021 draft class. Koivunen is the second profile in this series.
Ville Koivunen was selected in the second round, 51st overall by the Hurricanes in the 2021 draft after an impressive season with Karpat U20 in Finland. He recently signed a three-year ELC and will remain in Finland this season. In this profile, we’ll take a look at what makes Koivunen a top prospect and how the Hurricanes can turn him into an NHL player.
Koivunen’s wrist shot stands out as a strength as soon as you see it. It’s quick, accurate and the release is near perfect. Koivunen is able to get shots off before the goalie can react to the play, making him a goal-scoring threat from almost anywhere in the offensive zone. His shot doesn’t lose power from a distance, either. Koivunen can find holes in the goalie’s coverage and place his shots perfectly. He has an affinity for making plays but his goal scoring gets slept on by defenders, causing them to cheat to the pass and pay for it when Koivunen unleashes his wrister. I’d consider him a dual threat because of this.
Koivunen’s ability to see the ice, anticipate the play and find open areas for his teammates to receive a pass is incredible. From watching him play, you can tell that he sees the ice more like a playmaker and he is constantly assessing his options in the offensive zone. He’ll make a deke to get around a defender and as soon as a player moves to cover him, he’ll make a perfect pass to the forward that was just left open. You can tell that Koivunen is a special player just from watching him in the offensive zone. He is constantly moving and working to either get open or open up the defenses for his teammates. You’ll rarely see Koivunen standing in one place because he wants to make something, anything happen in the offensive zone.
Koivunen has soft hands and favors a simple forehand to backhand move, which he can execute in close quarters. He isn’t limited to that one move, but his ability to switch his power to the backhand and then open up some space between himself and the defender is impressive.
Koivunen did everything but score here pic.twitter.com/u1HbjIW9o0— Canes Prospects (@CanesProspects) August 17, 2021
It’s just a simple switch to the backhand yet it completely fools the defending forward, opening up a ton of space for Koivunen to work. He elects for the pass and immediately moves to the slot, where the second pass gets broken up at the last second. You can see how good his timing is here, too. He knows exactly when to make the pass so that he can move the puck past two defenders and still set himself up for an opportunity to score. That brings me to what I believe is Koivunen’s best asset: his hockey sense.
Koivunen sees the ice better than most players at the U20 level and I’d argue that he’s the smartest player on the ice at any given moment. Koivunen’s ability to read and react to a play almost instantly gives him an advantage over defenders and allows for him to catch a lot of defenses napping. Most of the players at the U20 level aren’t able to react to the play as quickly as Koivunen does, so I noticed a lot of moments where Koivunen would sneak past the defense and catch everyone unaware of what was going on.
Ville Koivunen from outta nowhere pic.twitter.com/9ZjYmdrptC— Canes Prospects (@CanesProspects) August 12, 2021
He skates in harmlessly from the point and presses the attack at the opportune moment, receiving a great pass from a teammate. And surprise surprise, there’s the little backhand move again. Even when he isn’t scoring or making a pass, Koivunen is able to make these types of plays happen. He’ll generate scoring chances at a high rate because he’s able to see what few others can. Little gaps in defensive coverage, the slightest opening in a goalie’s stance, or any error in positioning. Koivunen’s offensive skill means that he can make teams pay for those tiny mistakes, too. His ability to use his hockey sense to read the play and then exploit a weakness makes him one of the biggest threats on the ice at any given moment.
A player’s timing goes into their hockey sense as well, and Koivunen’s timing is close to impeccable. Hurricanes fans might remember Janne Kuokkanen always being a step or two ahead of a pass in the handful of NHL games that he had when he was here. Koivunen isn’t like that. He knows exactly when to time the passes and shots to make the most effective play happen. Like we saw in the clip above, Koivunen waits until he’s right on top of the defender before making a pass to the player down low. This allows for him to cut past the defender and get into a position to receive a return feed.
Work Ethic and Motor
So you have a player with high skill and a desire to make things happen every time he steps onto the ice. That starts with Koivunen’s work ethic. He knows that he isn’t the strongest skater and yet he doesn’t want to be complacent or lag behind. He’ll keep his feet moving, constantly working to find an open area of ice in order to make something happen. He’ll hound the puck, attack you head on and wear you out. Koivunen’s skating speed might be a weakness but he sure as hell doesn’t let it affect his game. He’s the hardest worker on the ice and will do everything in his power to make up for a weaker stride. That level of work ethic will carry him to the NHL. From watching Koivunen play, you can tell that he hates being complacent and hates standing still. He won’t settle for less than 100%. That will help him with the Hurricanes, too. We all know that Rod Brind’Amour will not tolerate “taking a shift off.” Koivunen isn’t one to take a shift off.
Working on my profile on Ville Koivunen for this week. Love the hustle on the forecheck and the takeaway pic.twitter.com/XdE1im9fsS— Canes Prospects (@CanesProspects) August 17, 2021
It’s a small play that may not result in a goal but it still stands out. He doesn’t give up on the play and causes a turnover, setting up the potential for an insurance goal while disrupting the Czech team’s rhythm.
As I stated previously, Koivunen’s skating speed is average at best and his skating mechanics could use some work before he steps foot on NHL ice. Koivunen needs to get at least a step or two faster before turning pro and I believe that working with an NHL skating coach will help him tremendously. He is able to keep up against players at the U20 level both in Finland and Internationally, but the NHL is getting faster and Koivunen will need to work in order to keep up. An attainable goal would be getting a step or two faster as far as his top speed is concerned and working on maintaining that top speed. Koivunen’s acceleration is fine. It’s not great, but I wouldn’t say that he’s slow getting to his top speed. It’s just that his top speed is average and he has trouble maintaining that speed. I noticed that Koivunen tends to glide after reaching his top speed and will occasionally take his foot off the gas, slowing down and getting beat by defenders. Koivunen lacks a lot of power and balance in his stride. He kicks his legs out a little too wide when he skates, making it hard to achieve full power on his pushes. It also keeps him off balance, which means that defenders can knock him off of the puck on occasion. Koivunen is only 18 and will grow into his frame, gaining some more strength and improving on his skating speed. I believe this was the biggest reason for his fall to 51, though.
Koivunen can turn the puck over in the defensive zone on occasion, but I didn’t notice any plays that stood out as bad on the defensive side of the puck. He can get in the lanes and use his hockey sense to anticipate where the play might be heading. The turnovers can be a cause for concern but I can see Koivunen smoothing those out over time. I think some of it has to do with players being able to catch up to Koivunen and take the puck from him due to his lack of foot speed. Koivunen needs to add some muscle in order to defend better in the corners, but with that being said, he doesn’t tend to shy away from puck battles. Adding about 30 pounds in the next couple of years should help him improve on both sides of the puck.
Koivunen’s game is suited for the NHL. His hockey sense is elite, he is unrelenting in his pursuit of offense and he has a high level of skill in his game. This is a player with first line levels of hockey sense and top six levels of offensive skill. The biggest thing holding Koivunen back right now is his skating, and if he can get just a step faster this season, you’ll be seeing him do big things with Karpat’s men’s team. Koivunen has the ability to bully defenses and make them look silly, something that few players this age have the ability to do. Sure, he might not be as quick as Tuukka Tieksola, for instance, but I’d argue that he’s just as smart and skilled. You can help a player improve on his stride and get it to be average at the very least. You can’t teach a player to be smarter than his opponents and Koivunen has the innate ability to control how the game will play out when he’s on the ice. It’s fascinating to watch and it’s clear that he has some of the highest upside in the Hurricanes’ system.
If Koivunen reaches his ceiling it’s not unreasonable to expect 60+ points out of him. He’s a dual threat player that can play on your first line and first power play unit. It may take Koivunen three or four years to reach the NHL, but the Hurricanes picked a player that could take the league by storm as soon as he’s ready. Koivunen was my favorite pick of the Hurricanes’ 2021 draft class due to the amount of upside he has. The Hurricanes nabbed a player with top-10 upside at 51st overall and teams will be kicking themselves for passing on him.