Topias Leinonen: 2022 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: A Huge Goalie Who Covers the Net Well, and a Possible Target for the New Jersey Devils

With the absolute disaster that was the 2021-22 New Jersey Devils’ goaltending, one would imagine Tom Fitzgerald is inclined to pick more goaltenders during this Draft. Currently, the only prospects the Devils have the rights to – but have not signed yet – are Cole Brady and Jakub Malek. Brady has put up a decent save percentage for Arizona State against ridiculous shot numbers (he had a GAA of 3.89 in 2021-22), while Malek was one of the best goalies in the second-highest level of Czech men’s hockey. As his team lost in the final round, they were not promoted to the top league – and Malek will thus be moving to Ilves in Liiga. With Nico Daws and Akira Schmid already getting chances with the big club, it would be wise for Tom Fitzgerald to keep his goalie pipeline robust by picking someone in the mid-late rounds. For reference, Nico Daws was picked the highest of any Devils goalie prospect at 84th overall in 2020, while Malek went 100th overall in 2021, Brady went 127th in 2019, and Schmid went 136th overall in 2018. This is the sweet spot to gather your darts for the goalie board.

The fact of the matter for the Devils is: Jonathan Bernier will be gone after 2023, and we don’t know how much he’ll even play. Nico Daws is looking like the third option right now, and Devils’ competitiveness now largely hinges on either him developing into a good starting goalie or Mackenzie Blackwood returning to form. But even if one or both of those things happen, the Devils need long-term insurance through the Draft just as much as in the short-term through free agency and trades.

Who is Topias Leinonen?

Topias Leinonen was born on January 25, 2004 in Jyväskylä, Finland. He stands at 6’5” and already weighs 234 pounds.

Elite Prospects

Where is Leinonen Ranked?

What Others Have to Say About Leinonen

Very few have written about Topias Leinonen recently. One person who has is Arlen Dancziger, working for The Hockey Writers. In their profile of Leinonen, Dancziger regards this year as a weak goalie draft – saying there are no elite goalies expected to be drafted. While it may appear that way, you never really know with goalies until a few years after the fact. Regardless, he wrote about Leinonen:

His next biggest asset is his athleticism and quickness. He might not move as smoothly as some scouts would like, but his feet and hands are quick for his size. He has strong edgework, which goes hand-in-hand with his cross-crease explosiveness. It’s easy to see a potential comparison to longtime Nashville Predator Pekka Rinne, who was also 6-foot-5 and one pound heavier at 217 pounds. Rinne was not the most elegant goalie in the league, regularly sprawling and swimming in the net. But like Rinne, Leinonen finds a way to make the save, is surprisingly explosive for his size, and stops at nothing to get in the way of rebounds, too.

While this looks nice, a potential side effect to this style of play is that Leinonen has some technical issues he needs to work out. Dancizger said he has “busy feet” and mediocre rebound control. Those busy feet, he writes, helps goalies make certain saves but often puts goalies at a disadvantage for dangerous shots.

In The Athletic’s piece from Corey Pronman in which he asks scouts their opinions of draft prospects, they include the goalie debate. Pronman noted the weakness of the class and asked which is the better goalie – Tyler Brennan or Topias Leinonen? Two answered Leinonen, two said Brennan, one asked if he could pass on goalies this year, and one said Hugo Havelid. Just looking at the statistics, I’m not sure if it’s anything more than Canadian Juniors bias getting anyone to pick Brennan over Leinonen. Brennan had an .899 in the WHL to Leinonen’s .916 in Finnish U20. One thing I noticed reading their comments is that one of the scouts who did pick Brennan did so because he does not like watching Leinonen play in net:

Goalie scout 1: “I would take Tyler Brennan. He’s a boring top goalie but I think he plays and could back up for you. Leinonen is more talented but he drives me crazy watching him.”

While I don’t have a long-distance mind reader, I have to imagine that Leinonen drives this scout crazy because of some of those technical issues that Dancizger wrote about. We will have to take a look at that in our next section, where we look at Leinonen play.

Video of Leinonen

The first video we will be looking at is from 2019, when Leinonen was just 15 years old. While it may seem like a bad idea to evaluate him based off old tape, we can at least look to see what improvements he’s made to his technique since that time.

The first thing I notice is how far out of the net Leinonen is willing to go. I like this when he’s challenging single shooters, but it is a bit concerning seeing him sprawl out of the crease from time-to-time. He gives up a couple rush goals, getting beat on some subpar angles that he took to the shooters. He gets beat on a third on a shot that hits his glove. In the next video, I’m looking to see whether he’s gotten better at controlling his feet and what angle he takes to shooters. This one is from February 2021, just after Leinonen turned 17. It is purely a shootout video.

The first man up drifts across the center and picks the spot under the glove. The second shooter came in quick, slowed up, and got denied by the blocker on another low shot. The third attempt was a very unspectacular attempt, and Leinonen stayed with the move and denied the forehand with his outstretched pad. The fourth was a straight shot from between the faceoff dots, and Leinonen kept it in front.

The third video goes back to the 2019-20 season, when Leinonen was 15 years old. Unfortunately, this seems to be the year most of his YouTube-available video is from. However, I liked this outing much more than the first.

Here, I can see more of the talent I was expecting from Leinonen. He was very crisp on his skates, moving across the crease with ease to take the net away. Leinonen was able to reset nicely after going behind the net to play the puck to make a save, and he made an excellent move at 2:26 to deny a potential breakaway by springing himself out of the crease to swipe at a loose puck. He showed some maturity with trying to fight for a visual on pointmen through screens. This type of game is what you want to see from a prospect – I just wish it was more recent.

Unfortunately, there are no highlight videos for Leinonen on YouTube, and the only video of him on Twitter is him giving up the game-winning goal to Sweden in the U18 Semi-Final (they later won bronze). I am a bit surprised the top-ranked European goalie is so hard to find video for, but sometimes hockey is like that.

My Thoughts on Leinonen

Even though the scouts say this is a weak goalie draft, I think the Devils would be better off continuing to take a goalie when one falls into their lap. The Devils have three fourth round picks this season – and if Leinonen falls to their first pick of that round, they have to take him. Byron Bader’s HockeyProspecting is a fan of Leinonen, giving him a 53% chance of being a full-time NHLer during his career – the highest goalie mark in the draft. By comparison, Nico Daws had a 41% chance from HockeyProspecting when he was picked in the late third round by the Devils in 2020.

The video on Leinonen was mixed, but it is what it is – old tape that can only provide a glimpse at his natural ability but not his current polish and technique. That said, a common theme from a couple of scouts was that Leinonen needs to improve his footwork so he can be steadier in the crease. But what makes Leinonen able to maybe get away with that during the Draft, other than his solid Finnish U20 performances? He’s huge.

If there’s one thing the Devils seem to stay away from, it’s small goalies. While Hugo Havelid did have good numbers himself, he stands at a much-smaller 5’10” – and the Devils have only picked large goalies over the past few years. Malek and Daws are 6’4” while Schmid and Brady are 6’5”. Even going back to 2017, Gilles Senn is 6’5”. This trend would make it more likely that Fitzgerald would select Leinonen or Brennan this season – and I hope he does not go out of his way to select Brennan, whose stat sheet is extremely underwhelming for a top ranked North American goalie. Results matter most, and Leinonen has gotten them more often. This does not mean that I think the Devils should use a second round pick on Leinonen, though – and you may see him mocked there over the next couple weeks due to the lack of goalies this draft. But I would consider him in the third round, and jump up to the podium immediately if he falls to their fourth round pick. The idea here should be building the goalie pool with another solid prospect, but don’t reach for him before the third round.

Your Thoughts

What do you think about Topias Leinonen? Do you think he will go in the second, third, or fourth round? What did you think of what little tape we have available on him? How about his statline compared to Brennan? Are you a fan of these huge goals? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.

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