Detroit Red Wings prospects & the story of the Mean Finn

The Detroit Red Wings' 35th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Antti Tuomisto, has earned himself quite the nickname.
Grand Rapids Griffins v Toronto Marlies
Grand Rapids Griffins v Toronto Marlies / Graig Abel/GettyImages
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My sister and I lived in Colorado. Picturesque doesn’t quite do the landscape justice. Though some Detroit Red Wings fans may have scoffed after reading "Colorado."

We joke that the mountains look fake. It's kind of like a set of a movie or play with a painted background. If it’s poked, it might fall over. It’s surreal and looks fake.

On the way to Gunnison, Colorado, there's a spot where the mountains surround the road. It seemed like a 360-degree view of mountains. This experience was the first time in my life I understood the term breathtaking. I couldn’t feel myself breathing (if someone told me I stopped breathing for a minute, I'd believe them); it was indescribably stunning.

Mountains are not only majestic to view, but somehow they heal. Maybe it’s nature, fresh air, a break from reality, or something that I can’t quite put my finger on. Whatever the case, the mountains in Colorado are amazing.

While living in Colorado, I had the privilege of taking my best friend to her first ice hockey game. For reference, she was in her late 20s and grew up in Northern California. Since she loves football, I thought she would love hockey too. Of course, my sister tagged along.

My genius self thought it would be a great game. It was the last game of the season between the University of Denver (DU) and Colorado College. I had hoped the Detroit Red Wings' once budding star of a goalie, Filip Larsson, would be between the pipes.

Boy, was I wrong on all accounts. No Larsson in net. It was quite literally the most boring game I have ever seen. Midway through the second period, we left for the Buffalo Wild Wings down the street. It, too, wasn’t great, so we were "winning" that night.

Of course, my sister never wanted to watch another hockey game with either team involved. After pleading my case, I convinced her to join me for a game at DU the following season, the 2019-20 campaign. (If there were one or two prospects on the team, maybe I could have passed, but three? I had to go.)

Cue introduction to Detroit Red Wings prospect Antti Tuomisto.

One of the first shifts, someone clobbered Antti Tuomisto

My sister was appalled. I let her know, "you don't need to worry about Tuomisto, he'll get 'em back."

Tuomisto paid them back with interest, dishing a nasty hit. Changing her tune, my sister declared, “He’s so mean!”

Thus, the nickname of the "Mean Finn" was born. 

Curiosity peaked with Tuomisto, but I was also jaded with prospects then. I learned the hard way that most NHL prospects won’t make it to the NHL. Even fewer make a positive, consistent impact for more than a few seasons.

To me, Tuomisto had a hard, inaccurate shot. His skating wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be, but it was an area of concern. Decision-making was okay, not a strength or detractor. His physical play was excellent, always competitive.

After he left DU, I suspected he might not come back to North America to join the Detroit Red Wings. In the past, few players returned to North America after they left, and I suspected Tuomisto wouldn't be any different.

He did come back to North America, and he did it with a vengeance. Similar to his first few shifts we watched at DU, Tuomisto has positively and consistently impacted games in the American Hockey League (AHL) and East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), within the Detroit Red Wings organization.

If an injury (or possibly injuries) weren't in play, Tuomisto likely wouldn't have spent time in the ECHL. Evidently, Tumoisto is destined to spend the rest of the season in the top four of the Grand Rapids Griffins.

He's outgrown the ECHL level with four goals and two assists for six points in five games. For reference, in 12 games with the Griffins, he's scored three goals and one assist for four points.

Everything about Tuomisto’s game has improved. His shot is accurate (relatively speaking, but Griffins better get out of the way so we don’t have a repeat of Mitch Callahan), and his skating is not noticeable, which is huge for him. Decision-making is more consistent, which may help with skating as he positions himself well, and his physicality and competitiveness remain. In some ways, Tuomisto looks like a different player.

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Antti Tuomisto is the Griffins' best defenseman after the "big two".

Not to take anything away from Tuomisto’s efforts, as he's earned every bit of praise I've elaborated on, but possibly a factor in his improvement may relate to coaching and systems. His confidence seems high, which didn’t seem to be the case at DU. Minutes and place in the lineup seemed to vary. The Griffins coach, Dan Watson, seems to be invested in Tuomisto, as he is with all his players. It's not that DU wasn't, but it seemed like Tuomisto fell out of favor. Watson's trust in Tuomisto is paying off in spades.

To my dismay, Watson ripped the do not separate labels off of Simon Edvinsson and Albert Johansson’s jerseys. For more than a handful of games, Edvinsson has played with Tuomisto on the top pair. Meanwhile, Johansson dropped to the second pair with Brogan Rafferty.

The duo of Edvinsson and Tuomisto works, not as well as the dynamic duo, but given the roster construction, it’s good. Begrudgingly, I agree with it.

On a side note, I’m intrigued to see Johansson and Tuomisto together. Dreams have danced across my mind since 2019 when the Red Wings selected Johansson at 60th overall. Johansson and Filip Hronek playing on a defensive pairing for the Red Wings. After Detroit traded Hronek, Tuomisto is the closest player to Hronek that we have. 

Johansson is an excellent skater with high-end playmaking abilities and sees the ice well. Tuomisto, much like Hronek, has a hard shot and would love nothing more than to have someone feed him the puck to hammer home. Tuomisto’s skating might not be as effective as Hronek's, but he’s more outright physical and bigger.

While Edvinsson can fill a similar role, Johansson shines the most in these aspects, and I would argue that he is a smidge ahead of Edvinsson. He is a better puck handler and protector, great at dancing in the offensive zone to drive deep in the offensive zone to make plays, which is part of the reason the Red Wings selected him in the first round in his draft year. Both are great players, just that the it's; slight differences pique my interest in a Tuomisto and Johansson pairing.

I’m unsure who Edvinsson might pair best with outside of Johansson and Tuomisto. For that reason alone, I would rather see Johansson and Tuomisto paired on a power play unit (possibly the second unit). Give them a little more time and space to have some fun. Leave Edvinsson on the other (likely top) power play unit. Edvinsson can carry it and have his own fun with Jonatan Berggren (who needs to be put in his office on the power play, but that's an argument for another day).

Getting back to Tuomisto, based on his dedication, the growth over the last three seasons, and his current play, he might see time with the Red Wings by the middle of next season. It’s a wild thought. I couldn't be happier to be wrong!

Bonus Note for Detroit Red Wings fans:

For anyone wondering, I dragged two of my best friends to DU games. One was in Denver (who experienced the most boring game of hockey that was ever played at Colorado College), and the other was in Loveland, Colorado. Both times were a blast. (After the Loveland game, we took a detour to the famed Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.)

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