Photo Credit: Oulun Kärpät / Iikka Pirttikoski
Ville Koivunen is a 2021 NHL Draft eligible prospect and he hails from Oulu, Finland. Koivunen plays in the Kärpät system and was named the U20 SM-Sarja Rookie of the Year (Yrjö Hakala Award) back in late March.
Koivunen has been playing in the Kärpät system since 2018-2019. He’s played at the U16 SM-Sarja level, U18 SM-Sarja level and the U20 SM-Sarja level for the club. In his 2019-2020 season, Koivunen went on an absolute tear as he racked up 71 points (27 goals and 44 assists) in 37 games played at the U18 level.
This past season (2020-2021), Koivunen recorded 23 goals and 26 assists in 38 games played for Kärpät U20. Koivunen led Kärpät U20 in points and was third in total points in the U20 SM-Sarja.
In addition to his league play numbers, he was quite productive on the international stage as well. He appeared in seven games at the 2021 IIHF U18 World Championship in Texas and recorded 10 points (four goals and six assists). Koivunen and his Kärpät teammate Samu Tuomaala led the charge for Finland. Tuomaala had the highest point totals for Finland and Koivunen was one point shy of tying Tuomaala.
D.O.B – June 13, 2003
Nationality – Finland
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Weight –165 lbs
Position – Right Wing
Handedness – Left
Koivunen’s Style Of Play
Before we kick things off and I provide thorough analysis of Koivunen, I want to highlight some of the data tracking work that Lassi Alanen (Twitter – @LassiAlanen) has done. Lassi of EP Rinkside has been tracking 2021 NHL Draft eligible prospects playing U20 hockey in Finland. His data looks at expected points/goals, shot contributions, shooting efficiency and more (all 5v5 data). In the majority of Lassi’s tableau scatter plots, you will notice that Koivunen’s data is constantly in the top right and thus indicates that Koivunen is extremely effective in the offensive zone when playing at even strength.
Ville Koivunen has shown through his U20 league play that he can be a dominant 5v5 point producer. From a goal scoring perspective, the Finnish forward has shown throughout the season that he can generate goals off of rebounds at net-front, finding gaps in the defensive scheme that allows him to drive to the net to score goals at net-front and long range goals from the perimeter. I wouldn’t say that Koivunen has a modus operandi way of scoring goals, but when scoring goals from the perimeter, he has a certain way of going about his business. In the clip below, you will see an example of one of Koivunen’s preferred methods of creating goal scoring opportunities. He will play the puck up the boards, cut in at the perimeter, skate to the slot and take a wrist shot from just inside the slot.
While Koivunen has proven to be an effective goal scorer at the U20 level, there is work to be done on his shot. Right off the bat, he will generate good height when scoring goals, but it is far from consistent. One of the things that I noticed about his shot is that his stick blade will occasionally be closed and not open. If you are unfamiliar with stick blades being open or closed, but you have experience golfing or playing tennis, picture yourself volleying or teeing off. If your racket or club isn’t open, your shot or volley won’t have height and you will struggle to get the ball where you want it to go. It’s the same in the hockey. You need your stick blade to be more open (raised) in order to generate height. In addition to generating height, I’ve also noticed that Koivunen will struggle with shooting accuracy and shot selection in well-defended situations. There are a few instances in which he is at the point and he is facing tough pressure from his opponent, instead of throwing the puck down the boards in a last attempt effort, he will fire shots from the point and pray that the puck will end up on net or just outside of the crease.
Aside from his shot, he does struggle at times with battling around tight pressure along the half-wall. He has challenges with pivoting out from danger and stick-handling around close to the vest pressure. To avoid coughing up the puck, you will on occasion see Koivunen attempt to push the puck past the attacker and once he has managed to clear the pressure, he will jump back onto the loose puck. If you are envisioning him swinging the puck around an attacker, he tries to something like that but he isn’t able to grap possession of the puck immediately after the swing. He has to first dodge the attacker.
While there are areas of his game that need further development, one of the things that you will instantly fall head over heels for is Koivunen’s compete level. In the offensive zone, he’s shown that can be a dependable forechecker. There is a lot of aggression in his game. He will use an active stick to psychologically trap puck carriers. He will place his stick right in front of the attacker’s stick to silence the breakout attempt and steal possession of the puck. Koivunen’s usage of his active stick has led to many successful poke-checks and interceptions. While he has shown to be very aggressive with his forechecking ability, there are quite a few situations where he is late to the forecheck and most of that can be attributed to skating issues which I will cover later on.
His aggressiveness and compete level isn’t just brought out in his forechecking, it is also prevalent in his play-making ability. Koivunen is always on a mission. He illustrates excellent problem solving and a lot of that can be attributed to his vision. If he sees that one lane is closed, he is quick to adapt. He’ll drive around the zone, find the gap that he initially identified and exploit it. In the clip below, you can check out an example of Koivunen working the cycle. He sees that he is drawing one attacker consistently and the two forwards playing at the perimeter are implementing zone defense strategies. With that being said, at the point towards the right side of the ice, he manipulates the attacker by playing the puck to the left, draws the attacker in on the left and immediately cuts down low. At this point, he has an edge on the attacker and now the defenders at net-front have to contend with a third forward. He draws one defender to him which frees Aleksi Antti-Roiko and Koivunen delivers a backhand feed to him.
Koivunen is a crafty passer. As shown above, he can generate great accuracy on his backhand attempts. But, he has also proven that he can complete crisp diagonal feeds and smooth tape-to-tape feeds with a light gentle release. You can also expect Koivunen to place deceptive drop passes. He will skate with the puck in one direction, a teammate will follow, grab possession of the puck off of the drop pass and go in the opposite direction.
When it comes to stick-handling, I’ve seen Koivunen excel at puck security. Even in instances in which Koivunen’s edges or skating extensions lead to balance issues, his ability to control the puck without coughing it up is a joy to watch. In the clip below, you can check out an example of Koivunen falling to the ice, but shows excellent stick-handling ability as he places his stick-blade facing down and drags the puck to him.
As I mentioned earlier, puck manipulation is a big component on Koivunen’s stick-handling skill-set. He will deploy a wide glide stop to lure in the attacker and then will go forehand to backhand with the puck to create space for himself.
Not only does Koivunen look to use puck manipulation to dodge attackers at open ice, but he will also use it to his advantage when goes one-on-one with the opposing goaltender. He will carry the puck to one side and then quickly position the puck to the other direction. This forces the goaltender to react late and more than often it works to Koivunen’s benefit if the goaltender is not fast enough to adapt.
While Koivunen is quite strong at puck manipulation and puck security, you will see Koivunen struggle to out-work defenders if the pressure is extremely tight. He will attempt windmill through the leg stick-handling and it simply won’t phase the defender. In addition, you will see Koivunen wait too long before attempting to stick-handle around the defender. Like I mentioned in the offensive portion, he does find ways to work around his challenges with navigating the puck around extremely tight situations, but I can’t imagine that pushing the puck out and hoping to re-capture the puck once he shifts around the defender will translate in the NHL. It’s a faster level of play and I feel that his work-around will fail. Ultimately, I want to see him quicker with his stick-handling.
Koivunen will shine in the neutral zone. He always seems determined to find open ice to create lanes for zone exit passes. Once he’s established that open lane, his defensemen will look to complete breakout passes to Koivunen so they can instill the rush. Koivunen’s vision and desire to find open ice in the neutral zone has paved the way for successful rush attempts and breakaways. Not only does Koivunen find open ice for himself, but he will also identify open lanes to use for completing zone exit passes.
The only concern that I have with his offensive transitional play is when he gets stuck in a 3-on-1 jam at center ice. There are some instances where he gets stuck and instead of dumping the puck into the offensive zone to spark a dump and chase, he’ll button hook all the way back to the defensive zone. I value when players button hook to avoid difficult situations, but Koivunen needs to use his vision to understand the depth of how far back he is button hooking.
From a defensive transitional perspective, his acceleration and skating issues prevent him from facing the attack. There are situations in which he is facing the attack dead on, but that tends to happen off the draw. When he is facing the attack, you can expect him to utilize an active stick to push puck carriers in specific directions. In the scenarios where he is behind the puck, you will see him try to stick-lift and create poke-checks. Ultimately, if he can improve his acceleration, he will be electric in the neutral zone given his compete level and active stick.
When in the defensive zone, Koivunen typically plays along the boards and at the perimeter. He provides strong pressure along the blue-line and will utilize his active stick to shut down shots by placing his stick blade in front of the attacker’s stick blade. In addition, he will use his active stick when shutting down passing lanes. He will jump into the slot and wave his stick in the direction of a non puck carrying attacker when one of the attackers teammates comes into the slot with the puck. Koivunen will drop back for defensive recoveries along the red line when there is no one available in the vicinity to claim possession of the puck.
The only area that I would like see to Koviunen work on in the defensive zone is paying close attention to his positioning. There are times where he drifts too far over on the left side. But, he understands that when puck is being played on the left that he needs to take a more centered role. Ultimately, he just needs to err caution on how far he goes in.
Skating is the one area of his game that needs a vast improvement. If you asked me where I would place Koivunen in rankings, he is a high second round pick, but if his acceleration alone was stronger then I would make the argument that he’s a top 25 prospect at the draft. But, his crossovers don’t give him the acceleration that he needs to ultimately thrive in transition and stronger acceleration will only improve his forechecking.
From a skating stride perspective, he will struggle with ankle flexion. You will notice this as his knees don’t reach the toes. They are just a bit short. He needs to stretch out his knees to garner a powerful stride. His ankle flexion issues have also caused his extensions to not be uniform. His left skate extensions appear to be wider than his right skate extensions.
His edges are another area that needs to be rounded out a bit more. Koivunen seems to be stronger on his outside edges versus his inside edges. When deploying his inside edges, he has difficulty landing his inside edge and it seems to be a more apparent issue when landing his left skate versus his right skate. His issue with inside edges has proven to make pivoting a challenge and he will struggle in close to the vest pressure as we mentioned before.
Koivunen also has a tendency to use wide glide hockey stops/pizza stops. I’m not a big fan of wide glide hockey stops as it hurts a player’s mobility and slows them down. But, he does use it deceptively to lure attackers in when he is in possession of the puck.
While skating is an area that needs further development, the work ethic and compete level that Koivunen has is what I truly admire and appreciate in his game. Skating is an issue for many prospects and shouldn’t deter teams from taking Koivunen. Every prospect has a few areas of their game that need more attention than others.
Top 9 Winger/Top 6 Upside (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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