When you already have a good thing going for you, it takes a lot of guts to push for more. Especially when it involves going all the way across the world and not having a guarantee, but that’s exactly what our 20th-ranked prospect has done this summer. Miro Aaltonen is on the older side of this list and is more or less playing on a full count with this in mind, but if early showings are any indication, he might be able to make the most out of the opportunity after all.
|Age||24 (June 7, 1993)||Birthplace||Joensuu, Finland|
|Pos||Centre (LH)||Drafted||2013 (Rd 6, Pick 177)|
|Vitals||5’11, 172lbs||Acquired||Via Free Agency (2017)|
Before we started talking about drafting overagers as a “market inefficiency”, the Anaheim Ducks took a chance on a 19-year-old Aaltonen back in 2013. It was a very wise bet on their part, given that he had gone from an effective youth-call up to 6th on his SM-Liiga team in points per game at an impressively young age. Here’s how the Ducks (specifically, scouting director Martin Madden) felt about him on draft day:
“Miro is a very good playmaking centerman, though a little undersized. He was good in his under-18 year and he has gained some muscle mass. He played pro in Finland last year, but didn’t play as much, and this year the top picks for Espoo got some power play time. He played two outstanding games leading up to the world juniors and was one of the best players on the ice for those two games. He started that tournament on fire and had two goals and an assist in the first game, but towards the end of that game he ended up breaking his ankle. He didn’t play again until he came back for the finals of his junior team’s playoffs. He played well and showed he’s recovered from the injury. I spoke to the assistant GM there, and they’re really excited about the future for him. He’ll play a top six role again in Espoo and be part of the power play and penalty kill.”
Finding himself in a pretty comfortable spot with the Blues, however, meant Aaltonen never had much incentive to jump over to the other side of the ocean, especially without guarantees of an NHL job. So he strung together three more quality seasons in Finland, before making the jump to the KHL.
|15||2008-09||Jokipojat U16||Jr. C SM-sarja Q||10||12||14||26||24|
|15||Jokipojat U16||Jr. C SM-sarja||20||25||23||48||20|
|16||2009-10||Blues U18||Jr. B SM-sarja Q||1||2||1||3||0|
|16||Blues U18||Jr. B SM-sarja||7||2||11||13||8|
|16||Blues U20||Jr. A SM-liiga||40||12||15||27||14.4||18||-3|
|17||2010-11||Blues U20||Jr. A SM-liiga||12||3||5||8||14.2||6||5|
|18||2011-12||Blues U20||Jr. A SM-liiga||14||10||17||27||41.1||14||19|
There, Aaltonen finished third in scoring on Moscow-area team Vityaz Podolsk while also returning to the Finnish National Team, representing them in the European Hockey Tour and the World Championships. The former tournament went extremely well for him (7 goals in 9 games), while the latter saw him play more of a defensive role and not find close to the same success (0 points and a -8 in eight games).
While this was Aaltonen’s first year playing for Finland at the Mens level, he had an extensive history with them as a youth, playing for them at the U16, U17, U18, and U20 levels, including two world Juinor appearances.
|pGPSn||pGPSs||Exp. Success %||Exp. P/82||Exp. Value|
|55 (19/31)||0 (31/31)||0.0% (31/31)||0.0 (31/31)||0.0 (31/31)|
The above numbers are products of the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System (pGPS), created by Canucks Army to project a prospect’s odds of becoming an NHL regular. For a run-down on what each of these stats mean, head back to the introduction.
So, the projection numbers here are… not very encouraging. Not at all, really; players in Aaltonen’s shoes have never become full-time NHLers. Then again, it’s a pretty all-or-nothing scenario for most of these guys; if you’re not going to be a slam-dunk player in the NHL, you’re probably better off being a star in Europe and if you’re taking this chance in your mid-20’s, you’re likely not going to invest too much time in seeing your window of opportunity though.
Opening up the guts of pGPS gives a more encouraging thought, that he was one of the five most impactful Leafs “prospects” in terms of contributing to his team’s offence last year. That’s obviously not the role that Toronto looks to use him in this season, but it shows that the numbers are spitting out something closer to “unique situation” than they are “bad prospect”.
Whats interesting about Aaltonen’s battle for the fourth line spot is that he doesn’t fit Mike Babcock’s mould there in any way, shape, or form. He’s not big; officially listing himself as 5’11, 172 but gossiped to be an inch or two shorter. He’s not a hit machine or a face puncher, and he’s not very good on the draw, winning just 44% of faceoffs in the KHL last year.
But he’s added an element of positional awareness to his game over the years and has the mobility to not just retrieve opposing pucks, but get them back into the offensive zone and turn them into counter-opportunities. Aaltonen’s best skills; his mobility and his quick-thinking, align with the bigger-picture vision of the team to the point where it might be worth losing the specifics of one specific spot for Babcock.
The Upcoming Year
Aaltonen has a battle coming up that most didn’t initially pencil him in for. While those who saw another European forward signing were quick to assume that he’d be simple Marlies depth, the reality is that nobody walks away from Top 6 minutes in the second best league in the world with the expectation of a downgrade.
Instead, he’s fighting for the fourth centre spot with the Leafs, competing with Dominic Moore for that last ounce of ice time behind Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, and Tyler Bozak. So far, things have looked pretty good for him; Mike Babcock has praised his efforts and has given him the edge in opportunity. While I do feel that Moore would be capable of the role, I’m excited by the prospect of Aaltonen taking it instead; I’m always in favour of youth getting the edge and having him and Connor Brown on that line gives them an opportunity to be a legitimate contributing group, rather than one that just kills time.
Should he fall out of favour in the final days, it’ll be interesting to see what his next steps are. If he feels confident that he’ll be the first or second call-up, I’m sure he’ll stick it out for now. If it looks like he’s blown his shot, perhaps he pulls the parachute early and looks for a new deal across the Atlantic.
I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that, though. He seems ready, if not straight up preferable.
Given his age and his role, I’m not going to be one that wagers that Aaltonen is seen as a core piece. More realistically, he provides the Leafs with cheap depth, and should he prove himself to be a quality, play every night-type talent, they’ll probably ride him until he’s no longer cost-effective and use him as a trade chip
To see the other profiles in this year’s series, please reference the full list.
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