Image: Jaakko Stenroos

2019 NHL Draft Prospect Profile: Anttoni Honka

There was a time not too long ago when Anttoni Honka was in the running for the top defenseman in the 2019 draft class. He had a very impressive draft-1 season, scoring at nearly a half-point-per-game pace in Finland’s top men’s league. There were always concerns about his defensive game, but the hope was that he could iron out some of these issues and build on his impressive first season in Liiga. Only one of those things ended up happening.

To his credit, Honka has come a long way towards eliminating his often hilarious turnovers and defensive gaffes, but unfortunately, the offensive output never quite materialized and he regressed to just 8 points in 27 games.

Honka is a dynamic player with upside you can dream on, but there are plenty of red flags when it comes to his chances of putting it all together, which sets him up to be potentially one of the biggest fallers on draft day.

Bio

  • Age/Birthdate: 18 / October 5, 2000
  • Birthplace: Jyväskylä, FIN
  • Frame: 5-foot-10 / 176 lbs
  • Position: Defence
  • Handedness: Right
  • Draft Year Team: JYP (Liiga)
  • Accolades:
    • 2015-16
      • Jr. B SM-sarja Bronze Medal
    • 2017-18
      • Champions Hockey League Champion
      • Finland2 (Mestis) Champion
      • Jr. A SM-liiga Best Defenseman (Reijo Ruotsalainen Award)
      • Jr. A SM-liiga First All-Star Team
      • U18 WJC Gold Medal
    • 2018-19
      • Finland2 (Mestis) Silver Medal
      • U20 WJC Gold Medal

2018-19 Stat Rundown

LEAGUE GP G A P INV% 5v5 Pr INV% 5v5 ePr60 SEAL Sh/GP Sh% 5v5 eTOI GF% GF%rel GD60 rel XLS% Top XLS% XPR
Liiga 27 3 5 8 11% 5% 0.29 0.87 2.44 5% 15.5 30.0% -14.4% -1.24 11% 11% 42.5
Mestis 11 2 5 7

Scouting Report

Anttoni Honka is the prototypical “divisive” offensive defenceman. He’s an offensive threat from anywhere on the ice; possessing great vision, puck handling skills; and a hard, accurate shot that he can get off through traffic.

Honka is an incredibly aggressive player, especially for his size. He is quick to pressure the puck carrier in the defensive zone and has a good stick which he can use to break up plays and force turnovers.

Unfortunately, this aggressive style gets him in trouble more often than not. It’s one thing to be a puck hound, but Honka often gets caught chasing the puck and finding himself out of position.

He’s a breakout machine, utilizing his excellent skating and puck skills to exit and enter the zone in complete control of the puck. He’s a great passer but has been guilty at times of being careless with the puck, especially when he’s played at lower levels.

At times, it could be downright amusing to watch; but to his credit he greatly reduced the frequency of his bad turnovers over the course of the season and looked dedicated to improving his overall defensive game during his time playing in Liiga. Honka will undoubtedly need to mature and work on being more disciplined with and without the puck on his stick, and it will be up to scouts to determine whether or not the issues can be ironed out over the next few years.

A lot of Honka’s gaffes look like they can be mostly chalked up to youthful exuberance. Honka’s biggest crime this season was trying to hard to constantly make something happen, especially while playing at the WJC or in Mestis (Finland’s tier II league).

Analysis

As scouting has grown to increasingly rely on data and analytics, there’s a mounting pile of evidence that suggests the existence of the high-risk/high-reward prospect is mostly a myth. Honka is the rare exception. Even the data appears to back up what the eye test suggests: Honka has legitimate offensive upside, but his selection will come with significant risk.

Honka has just one successful match in his pGPS cohort: Janne Niniimaa, who had an impressive ten-year NHL career including being named a 2000-01 NHL All-Star.

The low number of players in his cohort coupled with the success of Niniimaa at the NHL level makes for a pretty funny outlook when it comes to his XLS% tiers, which suggests that he has roughly an 11% chance of being a first-pair defenseman and an 89% chance of being a draft bust. Obviously, it would be a mistake to draw any firm conclusions from such a small sample, but the numbers do paint a pretty accurate picture of how the scouting community is likely to view Honka.

Honka’s relatively high production for a draft-year defenseman in Liiga was enough to put him at #1 among first-time eligible ride-side defenders in a class that’s heavy on lefties.

Honka is an extremely raw talent who will need his bad habits coached out of him, making him arguably the biggest boom-or-bust pick of the draft. The improvements he’s made to his defensive game shouldn’t be ignored, but his poor decision making in front of his own net is a legitimate red flag, and was bad enough early in the season that I wouldn’t be surprised if he is on more than a few teams’ “do not draft” lists.

That having been said, defensemen with his skating and puck skills don’t come along very often, and eventually a team is going to look at his speed, offensive toolkit, and handedness and decide his upside is too high to pass up on. If he slips out of the first round and finds the right landing spot, somewhere that can afford the risk and take their time, then he could end up being one of the biggest draft day steals in recent memory; but a lot of things would have to go right for that to happen which has teams rightfully wary of using a high pick to select him.

Additional Charts

Rolling Season Data

Team Relative

Sources

Raw data for the charts used in this article came from eliteprospects.com and liiga.fi.

Some clips were pulled from videos from prospectshifts.com. Check out Anttoni Honka’s page here (paywall). Other clips were pulled from original broadcasts, with all rights reserved for the original broadcast companies.