There were only a few minutes left, the Detroit Red Wings had a comfortable lead, and the outcome of the game carried little weight. Still, the puck was headed towards his net, so Eemil Viro dropped to a knee and came through with the block.
“I’m never going to complain about that,” goaltender Sebastian Cossa said after Monday’s 4-1 victory over Toronto Maple Leafs prospects in Traverse City.
Neither are the Wings. Viro, 20, is among the promising young defense prospects coming over from Nordic countries in hopes of stoking the rebuild. He, Simon Edvinsson, 19, and Albert Johansson, 21, were part of a three-game prospects tournament in Traverse City that serves as a warmup for Thursday’s start of training camp.
Expectations are high that Edvinsson, selected No. 6 in last year’s draft, will make the jump from the Swedish Hockey League to the NHL this fall; he’s that good, that skilled. Johansson, drafted No. 60 in 2019, and Viro, No. 70 in 2020, are earmarked to debut with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Edvinsson and Johansson both played last season in the SHL; Viro was in the top men’s league in his native Finland.
“You can tell those guys have played at a high level,” Griffins coach Ben Simon said. “It’s fun to see those guys because of how they apply what we’re trying to teach them and learn and get better. They were very receptive to that and were able to apply that. For me as a coach that’s very important, that they were very receptive.
“It can be chaotic at times because you don’t have a lot of preparation and play three games in four days. You’re looking for guys that are consistent. Coaches love guys that are consistent, dependable, accountable and do learn from their mistakes. You are inevitably going to make mistakes, but when you see the growth and learning and not repetitive mistakes, that’s what you like to see.”
What stands out about Viro is his skating and his competitiveness.
“He’s got a high battle level,” Simon said. “He’s not afraid to get his nose dirty in the corner, so that’s a pretty good set of attributes to have and to work with and see how he’s going to continue to develop.”
Viro scored in the first period and stopped a shot in the third. Cossa played the second half of the game, watching Viro and Edvinsson (Johansson didn’t play Monday; he had a pair of assists in the first two games) from the bench in the first half.
“Both of them skate really well, both of them are really calm with the puck,” Cossa said. “Viro had a really big block — it was a pretty good shot angle, too, it was almost in the slot. I love to see that. The way Simon skates, he’s able to keep up with anybody, and the length of his stick, he’s so good with that. Just the calmness of their game is a big aspect.
“Both of them are extremely good hockey players. Talking to them personally, something that they’re focusing on is going from international ice to here, and I thought they did a really good job transitioning into it.”
Viro (6 feet, 165 pounds) sounded upbeat after helping the Wings to a 2-1 record in the tournament (there was no championship game because there were only five teams this year).
“I think it’s been a really important week learning new stuff,” he said. “The pace of the game – sometimes you just have to chip it out. In Finland we are used to creating and keeping the puck on the team and creating slowly, so it’s pretty different here. Sometimes If you don’t have a play, you just have to respect the game.”
Viro, Edvinsson and Johansson should be fun to watch when they mix with NHLers later this week; and more so when exhibition season begins Sept. 27. They are poised to start their North American careers, and show where they fit in Steve Yzerman’s rebuild.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Her latest book, On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.