It may be the most unconventional offseason in NHL history, but it’s still the offseason, and that means it is time to update our annual CanucksArmy prospect rankings.
The Canucks’ top pick from the 2020 Entry Draft is also the highest-ranked new arrival to the prospect pool, and his name is the pleasantly alliterative Joni Jurmo.
Drafted in the third round at #82 overall, Jurmo joins the Vancouver organization after a couple of seasons in the top Finnish junior league, though he’s since moved on to the Liiga to start 2020/21.
As someone simply described as fast, mobile, and big — 6’4” and already nearly 200lbs with plenty of room to bulk up — the most pertinent question regarding Jurmo might not be if he has an NHL future, but how a player so plainly designed for success in the modern era lasted until the third round. We’ve got some answers for that, but before we get to them, let’s delve into what exactly makes Jurmo such an enticing prospect.
In 2017/18, Jurmo dominated at the Under-16 level of the SM-liiga, producing at a point-per-game rate consistently across multiple teams. The next year, he moved up to Under-18, where his scoring dipped — down to 23 points in 42 games — but still remained fairly impressive. He also got his first taste of the top “Junior A”/Under-20 SM-liiga before stepping up full-time in 2019/20.
Oddly enough, despite the increase in competition, Jurmo’s numbers actually improved in his draft season, up to five goals and 28 points in 43 games. 2019/20 also saw Jurmo spend significant time with the National Under-20 Team, where he racked up three goals and three assists in four international contests.
But Jurmo’s endeavors in the offensive end were not the primary reason he was drafted. Scouts, who consistently rated him as a likely second round pick, were far more impressed with Jurmo’s ability to skate the puck up ice and get it into the o-zone, whether that resulted in points for him or not.
NHL scout on Canucks draft pick D Joni Jurmo : Smooth skating defender. This is a big kid with great size. Very skilled and good speed with mobility. Moves the puck well and has good range.#TSN1040
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) October 7, 2020
Any scouting report one reads on Jurmo is going to center around his skating prowess, and with good reason. When someone that large moves around the ice that well, it always turns heads, and can pay dividends in all three zones. Or, as TheDraftAnalyst’s Steve Kournianos puts it, “At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, [old height/weight stats] Jurmo can be an intimidating presence as he powers through the zone at top speed…And good luck trying to dance around him in a one-on-one scenario — Jurmo closes on rushing forwards in a hurry and will neutralize an entry attempt with either a strong body check or well-timed stick-on-puck…He plays for a superpower in Jokerit, which relies on him to eat big minutes, play on special teams, and match up against opposing top lines.”
Kournianos also noted that Jurmo “apparently has played more error-free games than any draft-eligible defenseman I’ve watched this season, [and] has to be considered one of Europe’s top two-way rearguards.”
The fine folks at EliteProspects concur, writing that, “Jurmo’s projectable 6-foot-4 frame and smooth-skating lend itself to covering large swaths of ice and carrying the puck from one zone to the next sometimes effortlessly.”
Like any good modern two-way defender, Jurmo has won ample praise for his ability to transition the puck. EliteProspects says “His speed makes him one of the best puck-rushers in the Finnish U20 league. He accelerates well when he’s already in motion and is a deceptive skater in the neutral zone with crossovers and changes of pace.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Jurmo lists Miro Heiskanen, who he trains with in the offseason, as an inspiration.
#Canucks draft pick Joni Jurmo says he trains with Miro Heiskanen in his hometown in Finland
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) October 7, 2020
Kournianos notes, “When it comes to the breakout, Jurmo utilizes quick thinking and a series of deceptive moves to either peel away from a forechecker or trap him with a bank pass.”
So, why did it take 82 draft choices for Jurmo’s name to be called?
One reason could be Jurmo’s perceived lack of creativity, though Kournianos notes that it’s not really much of a weakness. “His decision making with the puck is more clean than it is creative, but he has excellent vision and will delay in the offensive zone to open up a line for either a hard shot or an on-the-tape seam pass.”
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) October 28, 2020
Another reason could be a perceived lack of competition, with LastWordOnSports’ Ben Kerr warning that, “There is some concern about the level of competition that he faced and that his numbers, while good, did not dominate against that competition. The Finnish under-20 league is good, but it is not quite at the level of the CHL. Add in some questions about his defensive play and his ceiling is probably as a second pair defender.”
Those supposed defensive woes show up sporadically in Jurmo scouting reports, and are a legitimate cause for concern — again, enough concern that 30 other teams passed on him at least twice — but they need to be put into the context of a player who has advanced a level of play every season for four seasons running. The 2020/21 season has opened with Jurmo on the roster of JYP in Finland’s professional league, albeit with limited minutes.
For those wondering, I'm told that JYP has put a restriction on Joni Jurmo moving back-and-forth between the Finnish Liiga and its U20 counterpart.
This is in consideration of COVID exposure.
Answers the question of why he was sticking with the big club despite limited minutes.
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) November 3, 2020
Though, as of this writing, he’s been held pointless in eight games, there’s no doubt that playing against adults will provide Jurmo ample tutelage in the defensive arts. And if he can succeed at that, there’s really no telling how far the rest of his prodigious skillset will carry him.