Finnish blueliner Aron Kiviharju could be a hidden gem in the 2024 NHL Draft’s opening round

Photo credit:Riku Laukkanen / HIFK
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
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Life is full of twists and turns, and often a young hockey player’s draft year can be full of ups and downs. When the 2023-24 season began, Finnish blueliner Aron Kiviharju was touted as one of the top players in his draft class. But while an injury that cost him much of the season may have quieted down his buzz a bit, it hasn’t dampened enthusiasm about his skills.
Kiviharju could be a hidden gem in the opening round of the 2024 NHL Draft.

Scouting report

Born in Denmark in January 2006 while his father, longtime Finnish pro Jani Kiviharju was playing for EfB Ishockey, Aron Kiviharju represents Finland internationally. He’s a left shot defenceman listed at 5’10” and 172 pounds.
Kiviharju came up through the TPS Turku system, then moved on to play with HIFK for the 2023-24 season. His season was cut short, though, after he suffered a knee ligament injury at the end of September that kept him out of club hockey for the reminder of the year. He returned in April to represent Finland at the Under-18 World Championships.
Writing in September, prior to Kiviharju’s injury, Daily Faceoff’s Steven Ellis explained why he was so highly touted to begin his draft year:
His smaller frame is a cause for concern, especially when there’s no shortage of puck-moving defensemen with size available next June. Kiviharju can be easily pushed around, and he doesn’t put much power behind his shot. But he has an innate ability to get himself out of trouble with the puck. He’s an excellent skater, especially under pressure along the blueline. He’s manipulative with the puck in the same way that makes Lane Hutson so difficult to read as an attacker.
In February, Sportsnet’s Jason Bukala had this rundown of Kiviharju as part of his breakdown of the top 40 draft prospects:
It’s hard for me to envision Kiviharju falling any further than the early-20s after missing most of his season with injury. He’s due to return to Team Finland’s lineup in time for the U18 World Championships in April.
Kiviharju is a power play quarterback who leans distributor more than shooter. He’s a stocky and strong defender who relies on small area quickness to win pucks. Kiviharju is the kind of undersized defenceman who can launch the attack and join the rush as an extra layer, or escape his zone and lead the play up ice on his own.
Writing during the pre-tournament games for the Under-18 Worlds in mid-April, Dobber Prospects’ Anni Karvinen provided their assessment of Kiviharju:
It’s been almost six months since the last time Kiviharju saw game action before today (Apr. 18th, 2024) as he played a U18 exhibition game against the Swiss. Recording 1G + 1A he was back to playing his own strengths, passing the puck extremely well while maintaining composure. The upside with Kiviharju is clear, he’s one of the best passers and smartest hockey minds in this year’s draft. The concerns we had before his injury are still present. His game lacks physicality and he doesn’t possess as offensively high-end tools as some of his puck-moving defenseman peers. Nonetheless, his upside keeps him in close proximity to our first round.
On one hand, Kiviharju has a lot of upside. He moves the puck well, moves well, and has great hockey sense. On the other hand, he’s small, he might not have high-end offensive ability, and he missed an entire year of development with a major injury… and it could be a challenge for teams to get a handle on precisely what impact that injury will have on his development.

The numbers

This season, Kiviharju had a very small sample size. He played seven games in the Liiga with HIFK, with one goal and one assist. He captained Finland at the Under-18 World Championships, posting three assists in five games. He didn’t exactly set the world on fire offensively, but missing over six months of game action obviously isn’t the best way to impress scouts.
Last season, in his Draft-1 year, Kiviharju had three assists in 21 games in Liiga and 20 points in 22 games with TPS’s junior team. He also suited up for Finland at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the Under-18 Worlds. On a per-game basis, no blueliner in his age group out-scored Kiviharju in 2022-23, and he played among the most games of any under-18 players in the Liiga that season, too.

Availability and fit

There’s some risk and reward involved with drafting Kiviharju. There’s definitely talent there. Scouts seemed to love him as an underage player in 2022-23, which is what generated the buzz heading into 2023-24. Generally, Kiviharju’s shown up in the 20s in most draft rankings – he’s been as high as 20th and as low as 45th, but he’s usually in the mid-to-late 20s. If you’re a team with a single first-rounder, though, it might be tough to roll the dice on somebody who missed as much time and doesn’t have a big sample size following his injury – it might be tough to project his progression given the circumstances, so maybe he slides a bit on draft weekend.
The Flames will have oodles of draft choices this year. They have two first and two seconds. Given their many picks, they’re a team that could afford to take a bit of a risk on a player like Kiviharju. However, the Flames have added a ton of blueliners over the past year, so perhaps they would err on the side of caution early in their retooling process and take a player who’s easier to project rather than Kiviharju. (It’s not as if Kiviharju is bad or anything, but scouts may prefer to take a player they know a bit more about based on more viewings and data points during their draft year.)
Kiviharju is a fascinating player. He could turn into a strong pro. But there are risks involved with selecting him. We’ll see if the Flames are a team comfortable with taking that risk when draft weekend arrives.

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