Red Wings prospect Eemil Viro ready to handle next challenge in hockey career

Detroit News

Detroit — Eemil Viro, the Red Wings’ young defensive prospect, remembers when he moved into Finland’s top division, playing against the country’s best and oldest players.

Viro was only 17 at the time, playing against mostly men in the Finnish Elite League (or Liiga), and challenged physically. Although that wasn’t new for Viro.

The 6-foot 165-pound Viro, and he was smaller then, often has been challenged physically.

“When I came into the league, I was really small,” Viro said last month during the Wings’ development camp.  “A young guy finding the way on how you can survive game to game.”

Viro survived — nicely as a matter of fact — progressed, and these days is ready to take on the next challenge in his career.

Viro, 20, is penciled to play in Grand Rapids beginning in October to start his North American career, and steadily work his way toward the NHL.

Niklas Kronwall, the Wings’ longtime defenseman, is currently a Wings’ development coach in Europe and has worked extensively with Viro. Kronwall has drilled into Viro the importance of staying within himself.

“He said, ‘Keep improving your skills,'” Viro said about what Kronwall has stressed. “‘Play with your skills, and it’s going be fine.’ I’m a good skater and I can use that.

“I’m a two-way defenseman. I can defend well. I really want to improve my offensive skill, getting the pucks to the net and creating more on the offensive.”

Viro is currently one of the leaders and more experienced players for Finland at the world junior championships in Edmonton. Viro played 19 minutes and was plus-one in Finland’s 6-1 victory Tuesday over Latvia.

General manager Steve Yzerman talked about the importance for any young player such as Viro to be able to compete in a pressure-filled tournament.

“It’s fantastic for players to go into these world junior tournaments,” Yzerman said. “They’re great experiences individually for them, but also in their development as hockey players playing in big games, do-or-die games and under the pressure is great.”

As with any European player arriving in North America, there is sure to be an adjustment period playing on the smaller — compared to Europe — rink. The play is quicker, and decisions must be made faster. The smaller rink also invites more contact and physicality.

But Viro feels he’s prepared for the difference between the North American and European styles of play.

“The game (in North America) is going be a lot faster,” Viro said. “A lot more competition. It’s gonna be harder in the battles.

“They (the Wings’ development staff) said to get ready to be in battles, coming here to play on the rink which is much smaller. There’s more competition in the corners, harder hitting in the battles.

“I’m really looking forward to that.”

Viro never has shied away from the physical aspect, despite his size. That always has been one of his strengths, in the estimation of many scouts, along with a sound defensive game.

A 2020 third-round pick of the Wings (70th overall), Viro has the potential to be a Wings’ middle-round surprise. Viro played in 52 games last season with TPS (Finland), with three goals and four assists.

The offense remans a work in progress, but Viro continued to develop well from a defensive standpoint.

“Defensively I got a lot better,” Viro said. “Our team played really well, we got better and in the end, got to the finals.”

Viro enjoyed the development camp, learning from the Wings’ development coaches and using the camp to get ready for the world junior tournament. But Viro also felt it was a good opportunity to get acclimated to new teammates in Grand Rapids in the near future.

“Everybody here is like pros,” Viro said of the camp. “All the staff, it’s a high level. I get to know the new guys and that’ll help me for next season.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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