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2020 Canucks Top 25 Under 25: #23 Toni Utunen

Has the “reliable defensive defenceman” plateaued in his development?

Finland v United States: Gold Medal Game - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship
Toni Utunen #3 of Finland with the championship trophy after defeating the United States in the Gold Medal game of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship on January, 5, 2019 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Welcome to the Canucks Top 25 Under 25 Rankings, the series that makes you wish you were under 25 once again. The list includes all players born after January 1st, 1996. Five staff writers (Beggsy, Westy, CanucksAbbyFan2, Trevor Connors, Markus Meyer) and one former staff writer (Daniel Gee, Elite Prospects) cast votes for the project.

Toni Utunen has been defined as a prospect who is “reliable.” However, has he plateaued in his development?

That’s the question for Utunen as he enters his third season following the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The career arc for the fifth-round pick looked mighty promising following some stellar play in U-20 competition. However, Utunen has spent a good chunk of time as the seventh, (or sometimes even eighth) defenceman on Tappara’s depth chart, which has hindered his development to some extent.

Of course, fans probably remember this as one of Utunen’s biggest moments after he was selected by the Canucks.

Yep, that’s Utunen crushing the dreams of the 2019 Canadian World Junior Team, with his overtime winner against fellow Canucks prospect, Michael DiPietro. That Finnish team would go on to win the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship.

Since that goal nearly two years ago, Utunen has not been filling the net. He has two more goals in International U20 competition since his overtime winner against Canada. Those are the only two goals he has scored in competitive hockey since that game.

Utunen wasn’t drafted for his goal scoring prowess thankfully. He was drafted based on a astute defensive game that his spearheaded primarily by his skating ability.

DobberProspects writer Cam Robinson dissected Utunen’s further in a recent article for The Province.

“The role he employs now is one of the steady, stay-at-home type. He does this by effectively using his stick and gap control to thwart oncoming threats. Despite not being the largest player out there, he manoeuvres and angles well down low and can handle the front of the net as well.”

“He plays a safe and efficient style that should lend itself well to North American pro hockey. But it will also prohibit him from playing too high up any lineups.”

What’s Next for Utunen?

Unfortunately for the 20-year-old, his growth is beginning to stagnate in Finland. This is primarily because, for the second straight season, Utunen hasn’t been much more than a seventh defenceman on the depth chart for Tappara.

His season in Finland has taken another twist as well since the entire league has recently been shut down because of the coronavirus.

Based on his usage in Finland, what’s likely best for Ututen’s development is that he joins the Utica Comets following the finale of the 2021 Liiga season. With some regular playing time in the AHL, Ututen would have a better shot at showing the Canucks organization that he has the intelligence and skating ability to play on the bottom pairing.