In the 2018 NHL Draft, the Detroit Red Wings infamously passed on defenseman Quinn Hughes in favor of drafting forward Filip Zadina, a move history continues to judge harsher by the day. The following season, the first draft under newly-hired GM Steve Yzerman, was highlighted by Yzerman taking what was considered a big reach in drafting German defenseman Moritz Seider sixth overall in an attempt to rebuild Detroit’s beleaguered blue line.
It was less heralded, as all picks outside the first round are, but Yzerman’s second pick with the Red Wings was a similar gamble. At 35th overall, the Red Wings selected Finnish defenseman Antti Tuomisto, a big defender that most scouting services had ranked as a mid-third to early-fourth round pick.
After playing a second year of U20 hockey in Finland, Tuomisto moved over to North America, and is now a freshman playing for the University of Denver. It was a fairly unconventional move for a top European prospect, but Tuomisto’s father Petri played college hockey for Alaska-Anchorage in the early ‘90s, so there was a familiarity with the NCAA system. And for a prospect that was considered fairly raw when he was drafted, the longer development time afforded by the NCAA system could be beneficial.
Tuomisto’s freshman season has begun inside the NCHC Pod in Omaha. I took a closer look at Tuomisto in Denver’s first handful of games this season, to get a better sense of his style of play and how he is progressing as an NHL prospect.
Starting with the basics, Tuomisto is a right shot defenseman listed at 6’5” 205 lbs. by Denver. The eye test on that measurement is a little more difficult through a computer screen, but that listing certainly seems legit. Tuomisto looks like a monster. Denver dressed seven defensemen in their first game and rotated through them all for the most part, with Tuomisto playing a regular shift. Denver plays him on the penalty kill and he quarterbacks their second power play unit, playing the point position on a 1-3-1 power play set-up.
Despite being a giant, Tuomisto’s ticket to the pros is likely as more of a skill player than a punishing physical defender. Far and away his best asset is his patience and ability to move the puck. He’s a breakout machine because any time he gets the puck on his stick, he does a fantastic job of making small plays to move the puck to a teammate rather than panicking and punting the puck away. Occasionally, he will try to force passes into too tight of an area, which have led to icings, but overall, he’s trying to make plays and not making huge mistakes.
He’s not afraid to uses his hands to make a play and elude a forechecker for a clean zone exit, as you see on these two plays:
On this breakout, Tuomisto uses his size to outmuscle a smaller opponent for the puck behind the net, then shows good patience by turning away from pressure to get a clean zone exit.
This is a simple little play, but North Dakota comes with two forecheckers and Tuomisto is able to absorb the hit and make the play.
Here’s another nice puck retrieval that shows off his skill set. Tuomisto absorbs a hit, wins a puck battle by basically tossing 195 lbs. Grant Mismash, and then moving the puck to a teammate:
Tuomisto should have some offensive upside as well. He was about a point-per-game scorer at the junior level in Finland. As mentioned above, he’s currently the point man on Denver’s second power play unit, which uses a 1-3-1 set-up. He’s had a quiet start on the power play, though there is potential there.
One of the options on Denver’s power play is to try to set up Tuomisto for a one-time slap shot. As you’d expect from someone 6-5, he can shoot it pretty hard when he leans into the shot, but accuracy has been a struggle to this point. I think he’s missed the net on every shot that has gotten through, though this one worked out for his first career assist:
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McKade Webster PP
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Another issue with his shot is that with his size and lack of agility and mobility, I think he struggles to change shooting angles and get around shot blockers.
He hasn’t really shown anything remarkable with his passing ability on the power play. Right now, he is always opting for the safe play, just dumping the puck off to one of the wings and not really creating anything. He didn’t have any big minuses against him, but also didn’t really have any pluses in my notes. Some of that is probably a function of him being in his first collegiate games and not wanting to make too many chances, but eventually, you’d like to see him creating a few more scoring chances.
He might have that ability too. I love the vision shown on this rush to find a passing lane for a zone entry.
Here he is showing off his hands in the offensive zone as well, making a move around a defender and then getting the puck to a teammate to create an open shot:
The biggest issue for Tuomisto is going to be his foot speed. His feet can be a little bit heavy and he can struggle to defend against faster players.
In this clip, he gets beat wide on a rush and his partner has to come over to help.
He makes a nice play to recover here and pick up his partner’s man to break up the pass, but his skating ability is an issue.
That should improve a little bit over time, but it’s likely to be an issue for him going forward. Ultimately, he’ll probably have to learn to be smarter with his positioning so he doesn’t put himself in those type of foot races because it can be a liability for him.
There are advantages to being 6-5 though. On this play, he’s in perfect defending position, skating even with the face-off dots, and is able to just erase his man along the boards with just a quick turn without needing to take a stride.
His long reach also makes him effective getting a stick on pucks in front of the net and making zone entries more difficult for the opposition.
His defensive zone coverage seems to be fairly solid. His size and good hands make him really effective at winning puck battles along the boards, and because he breaks the puck out of the zone so well, he doesn’t have to spend a lot of time in the defensive zone. College hockey doesn’t have publicly available advanced possession metrics yet, but I’d wager Tuomisto is on the positive side of them. His +/- is even with only one even strength goal allowed, which you can see here. He allows himself to get sealed off by the net-front guy rather than being able to step out on the shot, but not an egregious mistake.
Overall, Tuomisto seems to be in a good spot playing college hockey. While he has some pro level tools, he’ll likely benefit from playing a couple years of college hockey to develop a little more assertiveness, as well as improve his skating ability and get better with his positioning. And frankly, the Detroit Red Wings are in a position where they’re likely at least a few years away from seriously contending for anything, so they can likely afford to be patient with Tuomisto’s development as well.
In terms of making a pro projection, it’s still fairly early for a player that was considered a, extremely raw boom-or-bust prospect when he was drafted. The foot speed and skating ability is enough of a concern that his floor is well below NHL level. But if he can develop that to a level that is serviceable enough to keep him on the ice, he’s got the potential to be really good as a possession driving defenseman at the NHL level that quietly does a lot of things very well, and can contribute on the power play. I’d doubt he ever becomes a top pairing type of defender, but he could be a solid player that gives a team nice depth on the back end.