With the absolute disaster that the 2021-22 New Jersey Devils goalie has been, one would imagine that Tom Fitzgerald is inclined to pick more goaltenders in this draft. Currently, the only prospects the Devils have the rights to — but haven’t signed yet — are Cole Brady and Jakub Malek. Brady had a decent save percentage for Arizona State against ridiculous shot numbers (he had a 3.89 GAA in 2021-22), while Malek was one of the best goaltenders in the second-highest tier Czech men’s hockey. As his team lost in the final round, they weren’t promoted to the top league – so Malek will move to Ilves in Liiga. With Nico Daws and Akira Schmid already having chances with the big club, it would be wise for Tom Fitzgerald to keep his goalkeeping pipeline strong by picking someone in the mid-late rounds. For reference, Nico Daws was picked the highest of all Devils goalie prospects at 84th overall in 2020, while Malek went 100th overall in 2021, Brady went 127th in 2019 and Schmid went 136th in total in 2018. This is the sweet spot to gather your darts for the goalie board.
The thing is, Jonathan Bernier will be gone after 2023, and we don’t even know how long he’ll be playing. Nico Daws looks like the third option right now, and the Devils’ competitiveness now largely hinges on whether he transforms into a good starting goaltender or Mackenzie Blackwood returns to form. But even if either of those things happen, the Devils need long-term insurance through the draft just as much as short-term through free agency and trades.
Who is Topias Leinonen?
Topias Leinonen was born on January 25, 2004 in Jyväskylä, Finland. He is 6’5″ and already weighs 234 lbs.
Where is Leinonen ranked?
What others have to say about Leinonen
Very few have written about Topias Leinonen recently. One person who has done this is Arlen Dancziger, who works for The Hockey Writers. In their profile Leinonen, Dancziger views this year as a weak goalie draft – saying no elite goalie should be drafted. Although it may seem so, you never really know with goalkeepers until a few years after the fact. Anyway, he wrote about Leinonen:
His second biggest asset is his athleticism and speed. He may not move as easily as some scouts would like, but his feet and hands are quick for his size. He has strong edge work, which goes hand in hand with his cross explosiveness. It’s easy to see a potential comparison to the long-running Nashville Predator Pekka Rinné, who was also 6-foot-5 and a pound taller at 217 pounds. Rinne wasn’t the sleekest keeper in the league, regularly spreading out and swimming into the net. But like Rinne, Leinonen finds a way to make the save, is surprisingly explosive for his size and will stop at nothing to hinder rebounds as well.
While that looks good, a potential side effect of this style of play is that Leinonen has some technical issues that he needs to address. Dancizger said he had “busy feet” and poor rebound control. Those busy feet, he writes, help keepers make some saves, but often put goaltenders at a disadvantage on dangerous shots.
In Corey Pronman’s The Athletic article in which he asks scouts for their opinion on draft hopefuls, they include the goaltending debate. Pronman noted the weakness in class and asked which goalkeeper is better – Tyler Brennan or Topias Leinonen? Two replied Leinonen, two said Brennan, one asked if he could replace the goalies this year and one said Hugo Havelid. Just looking at the stats, I don’t know if it’s anything other than Canadian junior bias that makes anyone choose Brennan over Leinonen. Brennan had .899 in the WHL to .916 for Leinonen in the Finnish U20. One thing I noticed reading their comments is that one of the scouts who picked Brennan did so because he doesn’t like watching Leinonen play in net:
Guardian Scout 1: “I would take Tyler Brennan. He’s a boring goalkeeper, but I think he’s playing and he could replace you. Leinonen is more talented but he drives me crazy watching him.
Although I don’t have a long-range mind reader, I have to imagine that Leinonen is driving this scout crazy because of some of those technical issues that Dancizger wrote about. We’ll have to take a look at that in our next section, where we’ll look at Leinonen’s game.
Video of Leinonen
The first video we’re going to watch is from 2019, when Leinonen was just 15 years old. While it might seem like a bad idea to rate him based on old tapes, we can at least see what improvements he’s made in his technique since then.
The first thing I notice is how far from the net Leinonen is willing to go. I like it when he challenges single shooters, but it’s a little worrying to see him sprawl out of the crease every now and then. He gives up a few rushing goals, getting beat on some low angles he took from the shooters. He was beaten in the third on a shot that touched his glove. In the next video, I’m looking to see if he has better foot control and what angle he takes with shooters. This one is from February 2021, just after Leinonen turned 17. This is purely a shootout video.
The first man drifts to the center and chooses the spot under the glove. The second shooter came in quickly, slowed down, and was 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 pad outstretched. The fourth was a straight shot between the face-off spots, and Leinonen kept it in front.
The third video dates back to the 2019-20 season, when Leinonen was 15. Unfortunately, this seems to be the year of most of his video available on YouTube. However, I liked this release much more than the first one.
Here I can see more of the talent I expected from Leinonen. He was very quick on his skates, moving easily into the crease to take the net. Leinonen was able to reset nicely after going behind the net to play the puck to make a save, and he made a great move at 2:26 to deny a potential breakaway by throwing himself out of the crease to hit a loose puck. He showed a certain maturity by trying to fight for a visual on pointers through screens. This type of game is what you want to see from a prospect – I just wish it was newer.
Unfortunately, there are no featured videos for Leinonen on YouTube, and the only video of him on Twitter is of him giving up the winning goal to Sweden in the U18 semi-final (they went on to claim bronze) . I’m a little surprised it’s so hard to find a video for Europe’s highest ranked goalkeeper, but sometimes hockey is like that.
My thoughts on Leinonen
Even though scouts say this is a weak goalie draft, I think the Devils better keep taking a goalie when he falls in their lap. The Devils have Three fourth-round pick this season – and if Leinonen falls to their first pick this round, they have to take it. Byron Bader HockeyProspecting is a Leinonen fan, giving him a 53% chance of being a full-time NHL player in his career – the highest goalie rating in the draft. By comparison, Nico Daws had a 41% chance from HockeyProspecting when he was picked late in the third round by the Devils in 2020.
The video on Leinonen was mixed, but that’s what it is – an old tape that can only give a glimpse of his natural abilities, but not his current polish and technique. That said, a common theme among a few scouts was that Leinonen needed to improve his footwork so he could be more stable in the crease. But what makes Leinonen get away with it in the repechage, apart from his strong Finnish U20 performances? He is huge.
The top goalie prospect of 2022, Topias Leinonen, weighed in at 233 pounds here at Buffalo. That’s really huge for a teenager, even a goalkeeper. Only 3 of 119 NHL goaltenders have played harder this year (Lehner, Stolarz and Andersen).
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) June 4, 2022
If there’s one thing the Devils seem to avoid, it’s small goalies. While Hugo Havelid had good numbers himself, he sits at a much smaller 5’10” – and the Devils have only picked big goalies in recent 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 doesn’t not go out of his way to select Brennan, whose stat sheet is extremely disappointing for a top North American goaltender. Results matter most, and Leinonen has gotten them more often. That doesn’t mean I think that the Devils should use a second-round pick on Leinonen, though – and you might see him mocked there over the next two weeks due to the lack of goaltenders this draft But I would consider him in the third round and move up immediately on the podium he fell to their fourth-round pick. The idea here should be to build up the Guardian group with another solid prospect, but don’t get to them until round three.
What do you think of Topias Leinonen? Do you think he will go to the second, third or fourth round? What did you think of the little tape we have on him? What about his statline compared to Brennan? Are you a fan of these huge goalkeepers? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.