A leader through and through who is going to be steadily in our top 15 rankings for the next couple of years.
At just 20 years old, Toni Utunen has played in almost 100 professional games in the top Finnish league. He has been a captain for Finland in international play and is just beginning to get regular ice time in the Liiga.
Utunen plays a quiet game, the type of game where if you don’t hear from him at all, then he has done his job. He’s not going to be quarterbacking any powerplays but he will kill penalties for you. He only has one goal and six assists in 93 Liiga games, so he’s not lighting up the scoreboard, to say the least.
The biggest moment of his career came when he buried an overtime goal on fellow Canucks prospect Mikey DiPietro at the World Junior Championships to send Finland to the semi-finals.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 3, 2019
Fast forward to today and the 20-year-old Utunen is playing 14 minutes a night in the top Finnish league and being used on a second pairing for Tappara. He still has a long way to go to become an NHL player but he is definitely taking steps toward becoming an AHL contributor with his growth into a top-four defenceman in Liiga.
He moves the puck well, is physical enough and skates well with a good looking stride. He is just under six feet tall and will need to work on a few things before becoming a real candidate to make the NHL.
His work in the defensive zone is fine for now but he will need to become a penalty killing machine because he is not going to bring much offence to the NHL.
Utunen doesn’t possess any one elite skill and projects more as an all-around defensive defenceman. Many scouts have noted the improvements in his skating in the past two seasons. The consensus among scouts I’ve spoken to is that he has reinvented his game a bit to be more of a defensive defenceman now instead of being a two-way guy.
This could be due to the fact that his offensive game just simply does not have the potential to be elite at the NHL level and thus is focusing on his defence to get him over to North America.
The Canucks could find value with their fifth-round pick in the 2018 draft but Utunen is going to have to make the move to Utica or really step up his game in the next couple of years to continue to be on our top 15 rankings.
There are more defencemen now in the pipeline and Utunen has been able to scrape by as his game has developed in the past couple of seasons. We need to see something big in the next 18 months or else he may just be a Liiga defender for his whole hockey career.