A lot of the buzz around the 2023 World Juniors is going to be about Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and the rest of the 2023 draft class. With three of the anticipated top-four picks in attendance, in addition to a handful of other projected first-rounders, it’s understandable why there is such a focus on that draft class.
However, there is a 2024 draft-eligible player that was cut from Finland’s roster and who failed to join rare company as a 16-year-old at the U20 tournament — Aron Kiviharju.
The Finnish defenseman would’ve been the youngest player at the World Juniors and one of the few 16-year-olds to ever play in the tournament. Previous players that age that competed at the World Juniors include Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. Kiviharhu joins Aleksander Barkov, Jesse Puljujarvi, Olli Maatta, Mikael Granlund, Reijo Ruotsalainen and Janne Niinimaa as the only Finnish players to play at the IIHF U20 championship as 16-year-olds.
Finland has a fairly deep back end and we’ll have to wait till next year to see him compete at the World Juniors. However, he is a name to watch now, especially for the future.
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Here are more details on Kiviharju and his background.
Who is Aron Kiviharju?
While Kiviharju grew up in Finland, he was actually born in Esbjerg, Denmark.
Kiviharju came up through TPS’ youth system. He first joined their U16 team for the 2018-19 season as a 12-year-old. He spent two seasons at the U16 level before making the jump to the TPS U18 league in 2020.
In 2021-22, the defenseman skated in four games with the TPS U18 club before he moved up to the U20 level. This is when he really started to become known on the international scene, as he ripped up the league at just 15 years old, producing nearly a point per game.
This year, he has spent time with both TPS’ U20 team, as well as their professional club that plays in Liiga, the country’s top hockey league. It’s an incredible feat that Kiviharju, at just 16 years old, is playing against men, including former NHLers.
At the international level, Kiviharju has played for Finland since 2015. He has played in five World Selects Invitational (WSI) tournaments for Finland, three at the U12 level and one each with the U13 and U14 teams.
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For 2021-22, he was on Finland’s U16 team, where he was named captain. Kiviharju also played on the U18 team that year, including the U18 Worlds. He most recently was on the U18 Finland team at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Aron Kiviharju’s father
His father, Jani Kiviharju, played for many years in Finland’s professional league, but during the 2005-06 season, he joined EfB Ishockey, a club in Denmark’s top professional league, Metal Ligaen.
Aron Kiviharju scouting report
What stands out with Kiviharju is his hockey sense and maturity. It takes a special kind of person to be able to play and excel against older competition. You have to be able to play with poise and intelligence against players that are bigger and stronger than you.
Of course, when you have the footwork and edgework that Kiviharju does, it makes things a lot easier. He is an extremely mobile skater, which he benefits from in all three zones. He can jump up in the play and show off his playmaking ability on offense, as well as use his footwork to get himself in positions in his own zone where he can avoid attackers and find an open teammate for a breakout.
Kiviharju has shown that if he wants to, he can use his handles to get in and around defenders and create offensive opportunities himself. However, more often than not, he is looking for a teammate to give them a pass and set up a scoring chance.
The lone knock so far on Kiviharju is his size. He’s listed at 5-10, 165 lbs, which is on the smaller size for defensemen but remember, he’s only 16 years old and has plenty of time to hit a growth spurt and get stronger. In addition, the NHL is seeing an influx of smaller, mobile defensemen that can still excel in the league despite their size, someone like Cale Makar or Quinn Hughes for example.
MORE: Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli top 2023 draft prospects at World Juniors
“Physically he looks like most 15-year-olds but he plays with the maturity of a 20-year-old who has multiple years of experience in the league. He’s very creative and deceptive, the type that pulls you out of your seat,” a European-based NHL scout said to The Hockey News.
He plays on his instincts, his hockey sense is through the roof. His edgework and four-way mobility are already high-end. Just wait until his physical maturity catches up.
Aron Kiviharju stats
Kiviharju has quickly worked his way through TPS’ youth system. He’s finally getting the crack playing at the top professional level in Finland this year and while he hasn’t recorded a point yet, the fact that a 16-year-old is playing amongst men is incredible.
In terms of seasons, Kiviharju’s 2021-22 year with the TPS U20 squad stands above the rest. As mentioned above, this is when he really started to pop off and his name began to be circulated outside of Finland. At just 15 years old, the blue liner recorded 23 assists and 30 points in 35 contests at the U20 level, finishing in the top five in the league in points.
MORE: Every NHL draft pick at the 2023 World Juniors
The most notable tournament for Kiviharju was the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. With Finland’s U18 team, the defenseman led the team in assists with five and points with six in the five games at the tournament.
|2018-19||TPS U16||U16 SM-sarja||8||0||4||4|
|2019-20||TPS U16||U16 SM-sarja||30||13||28||41|
|2020-21||TPS U18||U18 SM-sarja||4||0||2||2|
|2021-22||TPS U18||U18 SM-sarja||4||2||2||4|
|TPS U20||U20 SM-sarja||35||7||23||30|
|2022-23||TPS U20||U20 SM-sarja||13||0||12||12|
|2021-22||Finland U16||Intl. Jr||5||2||6||8|
|Finland U18||Intl. Jr||8||0||7||7|
|2022-23||Finland U18||Intl. Jr||11||2||10||12|
|Finland U20||Intl. Jr||3||0||2||2|