Photo Credit: Tomi Vastamäki
Aleksi Heimosalmi is a 2021 NHL Draft eligible right handed defenseman, who plays in the Ässät farm system.
Heimosalmi hails from Pori, Finland. For those unfamiliar with Pori, it’s a coastal city and sits on the Gulf of Bothnia. The city is roughly 110 kilometers from Tampere. Pori is also home for a few NHLers including Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Montréal Canadiens), Joel Armia (Montréal Canadiens), Erik Haula (Nashville Predators) and Joonas Korpisalo (Columbus Blue Jackets).
This past season (2020-2021), Heimosalmi played at the U20 level for Ässät and lead in points when you compare his total to other 2021 NHL Draft eligibles playing in the U20 SM-sarja. Heimosalmi totaled four goals and 17 assists in 35 games.
D.O.B – May 8, 2003
Nationality – Finland
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Weight –154 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Right
Heimosalmi’s Style Of Play
At the blue-line, Heimosalmi is very strong at moving attackers that are rushing the zone towards the boards. He will trap puck carrying attackers and eliminate lanes to the net. Instead, he will push them to low danger. He will lock his arms and push. After pushing the attacker to the boards, he will follow the attacker closely and find the precise moment to deploy a back-check. But, that doesn’t mean that he won’t also utilize his stick and find a moment where he can catch the attacker off-guard and deliver a poke-check. You can also expect Heimosalmi to limit the gap in medium danger and execute poke-checks to shut down the cycle.
When mid-cycle and not defending the rush, he tends to exert more pressure starting at the perimeter. Instead of going in for a poke-check when defending mid-cycle, you will see Heimosalmi use his stick deceptively as he will swerve his stick at the puck to manipulate the attacker’s puck movement. More than often, the intention is push the attacker to low danger.
In high danger situations, Heimosalmi deploys strong defensive positioning. He will press and play man-on-man defense in tight to eliminate open targets. While Heimosalmi is far from the biggest player on the ice, his ability to push attackers away from his net is noteworthy.
Heimosalmi is quite athletic. Even though he does not possess a wide stride, if he is defending an attacker and deploying quality gap control, he will quickly adjust and chase after a loose puck to net a defensive recovery if the attacker looks to flip the puck around him. I will touch on his stride a bit later on, but it is something that needs further development. If he is facing a fast skater, I question whether or not he would be able to recover the puck.
Heimosalmi’s offensive play has its highs and lows. From a shot selection perspective, he tends to take quite a few ill-advised shots from the point. There are situations where I would prefer him to work the cycle a bit more, pinch up and try to find a teammate in medium or high danger. But, instead, he will take ill-advised shots when facing tough pressure with an attacker glued on him.
Even though his shot selection does need some maturity, you can expect Heimosalmi to play the puck along the boards in low danger and work in the trenches to find an open teammate (who is closer to the net) to pass to. So, while I said that I would like to see some growth in pinching up and playing the cycle, I didn’t mean that he has not been doing so to date.
Ässät U20 often utilizes Heimosalmi on the power play at the point as a quarterback. From the point, you can expect crisp tape-to-tape feeds to help key up goals. Even though I mentioned earlier that his shot selection needs to be rounded out, he uses his shot to generate rebound opportunities and deflection goals on the power play.
Earlier in the report, we touched upon Heimosalmi’s deceptive stick work in the defensive zone, but he can also be quite illusive in the offensive zone. For instance, Heimosalmi will hold out his stick as if he’s ready to fire a slap shot, but then on a dime, he will divert, pivot out and confuse the attacker. This allows Heimosalmi to grab open space.
Heimosalmi is an excellent puck moving defenseman. Before I dive into more details around his transitional play, I wanted to start off this section with a bang.
From his own red line, he uses his deception to fool attackers and generate open space for him to exploit before he crosses into the neutral zone. He will use his illusive stick-handling to play the puck to his left. This draws the attacker to the left, but on a dime, he will pivot out to his right, shift the puck to his right. Ultimately, it confuses the attacker and he is stunned. Below is clip of Heimosalmi doing just that, but “breaking the attacker’s ankles” at the same time.
Once he acquires open ice, it’s a smooth ride to the neutral zone. When he gets to the neutral, he will either weave around traffic in the neutral zone or execute a tape-to-tape feed to a forward to instill a rush. When Heimosalmi carries the puck from zone to zone, he does not necessarily focus on playing the puck up the middle versus along the boards. He is versatile with his puck movement.
If Heimosalmi draws opposition and can’t avoid it, he will not force it. Instead, he will button hook and pass to his defensive partner.
From a stick-handling perspective, Heimosalmi has quality puck manipulation. He does an excellent job of drawing attackers to him, slowing down the pace, turning to the right, deploying a quick pivot and then moving to the left (and vice-versa). Heimosalmi’s puck movement is normally rather tight. He does not hold the puck too far out in front of his body. Heimosalmi will play the puck out towards attackers to entice them and lure them in close. When he does, he takes them away from where they were initially and thus open up lanes when in transition.
If and when he is facing tough pressure from his opposition on the forecheck, he will implement one-handed stick handling to control the puck while using his other arm to push off the attacker.
Heimosalmi has a plethora of passes that he can utilize to instill puck movement and scoring. Throughout my viewings of the Finnish defenseman, I’ve seen him complete backhand outlet passes, several one touch passes (including one touch backhand passes), stretch passes, diagonal saucer passes and more.
While he has quite a few assets in his passing tool-belt, he has an affinity for one touch passes. He loves to make a quick pass as soon as he gains control of the puck. Even though, he loves one touch passing, he does not overuse it or implement it in situations where it does not make sense to complete one touch passes.
Yet, there are some areas in which Heimosalmi needs some further development. When in transition, there are sequences where he has already crossed the blue-line in a controlled zone exit and instead of passing to a forward in the neutral zone who is open, he will pass behind him to a target in the defensive zone. It’s those passing attempts that remind me a little bit of Colorado Avalanche prospect Jean-Luc Foudy, who has a tendency to pass behind him or further out instead of going to battle one-on-one with the goaltender when he has acquired open ice in the offensive zone.
Additionally, there are sequences in which Heimosalmi uses a bit too much force on his passing. Sometimes his teammate can still capture possession of the puck off of the pass, but sometimes Heimosalmi will miss the mark completely. I’ve seen a few instances in which that happens on stretch passes.
Skating is the area that arguably needs the most development. Heimosalmi struggles at generating speed and a lot of that can be attributed to a lack of a power stride. When extending his skates, he does not possess a wide extension. Instead his extensions tend to be very tight. Thus, we see plenty of sequences where he is a tad slow to loose pucks, but when he uses his upper body strength to push off attackers, he can still recover the puck. However, I question whether he will be able to utilize his strength in the same manner at the NHL level. Playing U20 hockey in Finland is very different than facing elite power forwards in the NHL. With that being said, I would love to see Heimosalmi widen his extensions for his first few steps to garner speed. If he can work on his acceleration, his transitional game will only become stronger.
Aside from his stride/extensions, there are times where he struggles with his balance when deploying outside edges. He will struggle with keeping balance and fall over. But, we hardly see those issues amount when in transition. It tends to happen more so when battling in the trenches against the attack.
From a crossover perspective, he deploys tight crossovers especially when skating backwards and that only makes his defensive game stronger as he can generate solid acceleration and shift gears to the left or right depending on the attacker’s puck movement.
Henri Jokiharju, RHD, Buffalo Sabres
When it comes to a comparable, I liken his game to Sabres defenseman Henri Jokiharju. Both, defensemen are roughly the same size and possess strong puck movement. Jokiharju’s major difference is his skating in which he has adopted a strong power stride, but the mobility that Jokiharju possesses is quite similar to Heimosalmi.
Second Pairing Defenseman (NHL).
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.
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