TSN's Bob McKenzie reveals who he has ranked at the Maple Leafs' #23 draft spot

Dean Chaudhry
May 28, 2024  (8:30)

Aron Kiviharju posing for a picture after scoring his first goal in the Liiga
Photo credit: Helsingin IFK Twitter

Prominent draft-guru Bob McKenzie's most recent draft rankings has Finnish defenseman Aron Kiviharju ranked 23rd - where the Maple Leafs are expected to draft.

This year's draft is going to be a little different compared to previous seasons because after Macklin Celebrini gets selected first overall by the San Jose Sharks, it's almost anyone's guess as to how the rest of the draft unfolds. Usually there's a consensus top-2 or top-3, sometimes even top-4, but this year it can be anyone ranked within the top-12.
While the Maple Leafs won't be overly concerned with how the first half of the 1st round of the draft goes since they are expected to make a selection with the 23rd overall pick, if the dominos fall as they may, they could look to trade up in the off chance someone of prominence free falls. If not, a player like Kiviharju will most certainly beef up their pipeline and at a very important position.
The 18-year-old rearguard is ranked all over the map from various outlets. For instance, Consolidated Ranking and Bob McKenzie have him ranked 23rd while Craig Button has him as low as 36th. A part of that is because many are concerned with his small stature - 5'10 and 170 lbs - however the skill set is fully apparent and his hockey sense is through the roof.
For whatever reason the NHL has still yet to learn that size doesn't always matter. A prime example was when Alex DeBrincat fell all the way into the 2nd round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft primarily because many believed he was too small - after back to back 50-goal and 100-point seasons in the OHL.
Scott Wheeler of The Athletic said this about Kiviharju:
"He manages play in front of him with impressive poise and comfort, directing and influencing play all the way down the ice. He effortlessly advances play under pressure inside his own zone, side-stepping forecheckers to headman pucks."
Rachel Doerrie of ESPN had this to say:
"For a small defenseman, he manages the play very well through excellent skating in a high-end hockey sense. His footwork is particularly noticeable on the puck where he escapes sticky situations, walks the line and creates space for himself."
Steven Ellis of Daily Faceoff:
"Kiviharju had some bumps in the road a year ago against men, but he's a dynamic passer who can skate like the wind. Kiviharju will need to show a lot when he returns if he is to go high in the draft. I still think there's top-pairing potential here."
It seems like a lot of people are on opposite sides of the spectrum with Kiviharju. He has great sense, his IQ is through the roof, and he's a great playmaker. However, there are concerns about his skating, physicality as a defenseman, and whether or not the transition from Liiga to NHL will be seamless or not.
He was injured most of this season as he only produced 1 goal and 2 points in 7 games for HIFK of Liiga. He added 3 assists in 5 games at the U18 WJC for Finland and 2 assists in 6 games for Finland U20. The previous season he recorded 20 points in 22 games in the U20 SM-sarja - junior league in Finland - before tallying 3 assists in 21 games for TPS in the Liiga.
Playing in the Liiga at the age of 16-17 is a big step and Kiviharju has enough experience under his belt to make a statement in 2024-25. He most definitely represents a wild card selection in the later parts of the first round but if he can round his game out in short order, the Maple Leafs could have found themselves another late-round gem.
Source:Aron Kiviharju Profile
MAY 28   |   275 ANSWERS
TSN's Bob McKenzie reveals who he has ranked at the Maple Leafs' #23 draft spot

Should the Maple Leafs take a swing at Kiviharju if he's still available when they are due to make their selection?

Yes, high-risk, high-reward10939.6 %
No, there are much better and safer options10337.5 %
Try to trade up if someone prominent free falls6322.9 %
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