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Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next generation of professional hockey players. Every day our LWOS Prospects Writers bring you a new player profile or a timely article leading up to the 2024 NHL Entry Draft. Don't forget to bookmark the site, follow Ben KerrAnd Frederik Frandsen on Twitter and spread the word about the site that brings you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Hockey Prospects is your new headquarters for all things NHL Draft! Today we bring you our Aron Kiviharju Scouting Report.

One of the unluckiest players in the upcoming NHL Draft is undoubtedly Aron Kiviharju. A player who was considered a potential first-round pick for a while. Initially, his performance dropped a bit, but he was still considered a top-3 candidate. However, after just seven games for HIFK in the Finnish top league, a serious knee injury put a stop to his plans. He scored two points in those two games, but returned just in time for the U18 Championship, where he had three assists in five games as captain for Finland. A decent performance, but not enough to put him back in the top 20 on any of the major draft lists.

Scouting report for the 2024 NHL Draft by Aron Kiviharju

Defender – shoots to the left
Born on 25 January 2006 — Esbjerg, DEN
Height: 178 cm – Weight: 84 kg [177 cm / 84 kg]

Skating

Injuries aside, it's his skating that keeps Aron Kiviharju from being a top-five pick. At best, it's nothing special and at worst, it's lackluster. His stride is choppy and stiff, which means he can't move fluidly. His power is decent and his edges are great, giving him decent top speed and agility, but he can get beat in races where he realistically should be first to the puck. The acceleration lacks explosiveness and as an undersized player, you expect a more modern puck-moving defenseman. Kiviharju just isn't that.

However, when it comes to his movement on the ice and transitions, he can make up for his poor skating with a high hockey IQ. He won't be the player flying up and down the ice, but he doesn't have to be. His vision, decision making, passing and smooth hands allow him to completely control the breakout. He often wins the puck in his own zone and finds a pass in a flash.

Offensive play

Given his weaker skating, small size, and injuries, it might surprise some to see him mentioned in the first round. However, almost everything about his game is excellent. His movement and edge allow him to command the offensive line with a maturity and composure well beyond his years. His awareness and IQ are higher than most NHL players, and he sees the game at an extremely high level. His passing is fantastic, allowing him to break down defenses with a single smart pass.

His shot is decent but is sometimes overused. For a player as smart as Kiviharju, it would be nice to have fewer blocked shots. Offensively, however, that is the only real downside. He is excellent on almost every other level, as he always seems to be one step ahead of everyone. One thing to watch in the coming years is whether he can translate his strong offensive game into the Finnish Liiga.

Defensive play

Kiviharju is primarily an offensive defender, so one might mistakenly assume that his defensive game is a major problem. Although he has physical weaknesses due to his size, his game is very strong overall. His stick is very active and his awareness and ability to read the game is once again a step ahead of everyone else. He reads the game to intercept passes or get into shooting lanes.

Although he is not big enough, he is quite strong and can take on older and bigger players. However, that is not his game and he will play more conservatively on defense, relying on gap control and his active stick to make a play.

Projection and comparison

Aron Kiviharju is a player to keep an eye on in the NHL Draft. In many ways, he could be the biggest prospect in the draft who can move either up or down. If all goes well, his upside and potential could make him a top defenseman on a Cup-winning team. On the other hand, injuries and lack of development in his skating could mean he ends up not playing in the NHL. It's a huge, high-risk, high-reward pick. But for teams late in the first round or second round looking to capitalize on their opportunity, Kiviharju could be the perfect player with a chance to get the bargain of the draft.

When comparing Kiviharju stylistically, many of his skills are similar to those of Jared Spurgeon. Both are below-average players with great hands, vision and fantastic IQ. They move the puck adeptly without having superior skating skills. If Kiviharju can emulate the Minnesota Wild captain while staying healthy, he would be a fantastic pick. However, that pick comes with a lot of “ifs.”

Photo credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

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