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Eemil Viro: 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: Finnish Defenseman with High-End Skating and Two-Way Skill

Eemil Viro is a fast-skating defenseman from the Liiga, and should be picked in the second or third round.

Who is Eemil Viro?: Eemil Viro is a defenceman from Finland who is under contract with HC TPS (Turun Palloseura) of the Liiga. He was born on 3 April, 2002 in Vantaa, Finland, and stands at 6’0” and weighs 168 pounds. As one of the youngest players in Liiga, he is projected to go in the early rounds of the draft. However, as one of the worst teams in the league this year, TPS had he opportunity to give Viro an extended look - perhaps a season too early. Viro’s stats are as follows.

Elite Prospects

I’m not an expert of European junior hockey, but from a glance he has been exceptional enough to be given an assistant captaincy at every step of juniors before being placed on the TPS roster during the 2019-20 season. Also, the Liiga is a significantly harder league to play in than most leagues players in the draft were last playing in. The league is not too dissimilar from the AHL historically in NHLe metrics, so I think it is pretty clear that Viro needs a couple years to develop in Europe. If he’s given enough time to work on his game though, he might have an easier transition to the AHL than other defenseman around him in the draft.

Where is he ranked?: As an overseas prospect, there is a fair amount of variance in his rankings.

What do others have to say about him?: There isn’t a lot written about Eemil Viro. Back in November, Jokke Nevalainen of Dobber Prospects had this to say about him when they ranked him 32nd amongst European skater prospects prior to his season in Liiga.

Viro and Knazko play on the same team, and it’s difficult to say with any certainty which one is going to be the better player between those two. Knazko stands out with his offensive skills more than Viro but Viro stands out with his smart and reliable all-around game. He’s a very good skater who can make an impact at both ends of the ice but lacks true standout qualities. Viro did get to make his Liiga debut lately, so the organization has him above Knazko right now but that says nothing about their long-term NHL potential.

Jokke Nevalainen also did an interview with Viro in November. This was something I took note of, when Nevalainen asked Viro what he needs to work in with his skating. This was Viro’s response:

Explosiveness is something I still need to develop, that will help me create more time and space for myself. But in general my skating ability, stride and glide are very good. Skating is my biggest strength.

Earlier this month, Marco Bombino, a scout for the Chicago Steel of the USHL had this to say about Viro on Finnish Junior Hockey:

Viro is a powerful skater with strong edge work. He uses his agility and shifty moves to escape from pressure in his own end and shake off the forecheck. He has the quickness to win foot races to pucks. He moves well with the puck, can carry up the ice and has started to pick those spots more wisely. His high-end mobility and intelligence enables him to generate a lot of offense...

...Viro recently signed a two-year contract extension with TPS in March and I think he is on the path to becoming a really good two-way defenseman. He is one of the strongest breakout candidates for the next Liiga season in my book. As for the NHL Draft, I could see him being picked in the early stages on Day 2. A second round selection does not seem far-fetched at all. I see the potential of a middle-pairing NHL defenseman who can be an asset on the power play and in offensive transitions.

Lastly, Steve Kourianos (@thedraftanalyst) had this to say about Viro after watching one of his games:

very active on pinches and always looking to step up or keep plays alive – precision timing and strong backskater to retreat with tight gap – rarely looks intimidated by onrushing speed – handles all kinds of passes cleanly even on his backhand or across his body – Viro will chip and chase to himself – controlled entries and will enter the zone looking for a shot of his own even if of the low-danger variety – not much of a playmaker and his tunnel vision with the puck leads to effective but limited decisions – very sound instincts in the offensive zone and will pounce on loose pucks and take the puck around the net or look for a give and go in the low slot – passes into traffic a lot but when he does the passes usually are hard and not a careless lob to be intercepted for a quick counterattack – wide but powerful stride – missed a good chunk of first half of 3rd period and don’t know why – used mostly for defensive-zone draws in 3rd – very quick and a pleasure to watch skating – was on the ice with Pulli when it was 6-on-5 and they were excellent in terms of slot coverage, plugging gaps, and marking threats — plays his 3-on-2’s and 2-on-1’s but staying centered and not cheating until the last second – sometimes will take a gamble and go down to get in the way of a pass or shot but normally plays it cool – zero power-play time

There is a lot to like about what Kourianos had to say above, but this is a good look at the limitations of Eemil Viro and why I think he is rightly considered a second to third rounder. Viro might have great skating, but a lack of high-end ability in the offensive zone should keep him waiting until the second round at least (unless a team reaches on him). I think it is likely that Viro ends up being a lot more useful in transition than scoring due to his skating and poised nature against forecheckers.

Sparsity of Video Highlights: As one of the lesser-talked about European prospects of the class, there is no extant highlight video on YouTube. So, we’re going to go through a select few plays I could find.

Here appears to be his lone goal of the 2019-20 season - picked up with the Junior A TPS squad. The video:

The next one isn’t a highlight of an offensive play, but a video of a full shift in which he was not the focal point of play. This is a good look at his ability to win one-on-one battles, from the game that Steve Kourianos gave his opinion on the look of Viro (which is quoted above). At the end of the video, you can see him shake off a forechecker behind his own net - he doesn’t look amazingly comfortable against the forecheck but he is playing in a league with stronger people than him.

The following is a clip that I was able to find on Finnish Junior Hockey, and it is by far the most notable highlight I was able to find of Viro. Here, you’ll see him prevent a zone entry at the blueline and turn play the other way by himself, using his skating to his advantage and then driving towards the net after dropping a backhand off - and then creating a goal off the return pass.

Should The Devils Consider Picking Him?: Eemil Viro seems like a model of a great transition player - he doesn’t always need his forwards to do zone entries for him, and is able to shake off forecheckers to start breakouts. The trouble is that he might not be a very good passer and as the quality of competition continues to get more difficult, the harder it will be for Viro to make goals just out of his speed.

If the Devils had a pick in the second or third round, I think Viro would be a guy to keep an eye on. However, it is not out of the question that the Devils make more moves that net them more picks in the draft. Viro is a solid prospect with both good instincts and good skating - but his self-identified weakness is a concern for me in his NHL projection. A lack of explosiveness in his skating could leave him vulnerable to a more aggressive forecheck in the NHL. But once he gets into space with the puck, he becomes a much more promising individual. And while I’m disappointed with the relative lack of video on Viro, I was glad that some of what I saw matched up with previously-written profiles about him.

Whoever ends up with Eemil Viro should feel good about his developmental prospects. He will likely play a full Liiga season when hockey resumes, and will probably be able to make an impact in the AHL when he is 20 years old coming from a tougher league than juniors. At 6’0” and 168 pounds, it is highly commendable he was able to hold his own in Liiga for 29 games as a defenseman. He will only become more effective as he fills out, and might be a player to watch from this draft after he’s gotten a couple more years under his belt in Finland.

Your Thoughts: What do you think about Eemil Viro? If the Devils had a second or third round pick, would you have your eye on him - or does his underwhelming production this past year keep him off your draft board? From the limited video, does he remind you of anyone? Are there any teams you hope do not draft Viro (since the Devils likely won’t even be able to think about it)? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.