In the Shadow of Laine: Finn (Part Two)

JP_1

Due to the impressive play of Patrik Laine, many have begun to overlook Jesse Puljujärvi in the weeks leading up to the NHL Draft Lottery. While Laine’s Tappara was winning the SM-Liiga crown, Puljujärvi flew off to join the national team at the U-18s. And promptly scored a hat-trick. Against Sweden. In the gold medal game. 

Now that is one crazed, impassioned, talented hockey player! Having played and excelled in a full season against grown men, Puljujärvi was expected to dominate against youths his own age. And he did. He stepped up to the occasion, recognized he was much better than his peers, seized the opportunity, and delivered an exceptional performance. These things matter, folks, even if the sample size is a small one. He was under pressure to perform and delivered. Certainly not as impressive as Laine’s post-season with Tappara, but he did the best with what he had.

Jesse Puljujärvi

Height/Weight: 6’3, 201 lbs

Born: May 7, 1998

Regular Season: 50 gp, 13g – 15a – 28pts

Playoffs: 10 gp, 4g – 5a – 9pts

NHLE (source: Lowetide): 13 pts*

Scouting Report

Again, what’s with the music? I thought Scandinavians liked either electronica or heavy metal. Not… whatever that is.

Music aside, the above video is pretty sweet in that it shows how exceptionally Puljujärvi (hence JP, because that’s just a ridiculous name to keep spelling) performed in a very difficult league. He’s 17 folks! 17! Because he’s kind of being ignored/sentenced to Laine’s shadow, I feel compelled to point out his incredible production on all of the biggest stages of his draft year to date.

At the World Juniors, he went 5-12-17 in 7 games(!). In the SM-Liiga playoffs he went 4-5-9 in 10 games. Most recently, at the International U-18s, he put up 5-2-7 in 4 games, including a hat-trick in the gold medal match.

When looking at elite prospects, you hope to see that in high pressure situations they elevate their game, rather than becoming overwhelmed. Time and time and time again, JP has met the challenge. His performance at the World Juniors was stupendous, one of the best ever by a player in his draft year. To me, his play in the SM-Liiga playoffs was even more impressive because it showed he can play against grown men playing at their peak and come out ahead.

As far as his style of play is concerned, JP plays a rambunctious, smart, powerful game. His skating stride is a little clumsy, but he’s able to squeeze a fair bit of speed out of it. One is intrigued by what an NHL skating coach could get out of him after refining his stride and edge-work. As it was with Laine, it’s my opinion that this will be one of the biggest restraints on his ability to excel in the NHL. The speed and transition game of the NHL tends to overwhelm clumsy skaters; focused merely on keeping up with the play, they take a longer time to be able to slow the game down mentally. They’re struggling to be adequately reactive, let alone becoming proactive and preemptive in their decision making.

That said, there are a number of other tools at JP’s disposal that will be huge for him when he hits the next level. His vision is incredible – he’s a ‘heads up’ player who has an exceptional ability to scan the ice and ‘feel’ what’s available. When he has space to work with, watch out. Because of his size, he has the option to commit to more powerful attacks, protecting the puck well as he drives to the net. But opponents have to respect the other facets of his game as well – he can hurt you with his passing, with his shooting, and with his stick-handling too.

I would say that he is an all-around threat. Could he be a point-per-game player in the NHL within the next decade? Yes, I think so, though more of the 30-50 variety. Others have compared him to Jamie Benn, but to me Benn is much more of a scorer. JP’s potential offensive impact on the game is more in line with someone like Taylor Hall, or Anze Kopitar. Not very likely to be a 40 goal guy, but still, he’s potentially an elite point producer.

Worth the Hype?

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What hype? It’s my belief that, with Laine’s recent success and the play of other top prospects, people are forgetting just how good and how promising a young player JP is. I place him miles ahead of Tkachuk, for reasons of age, size, and potential impact at the NHL level. And that’s no disrespect to the London Knights forward – Tkachuk is a fantastic prospect! But JP is simply on a different level.

Where will he go in the draft? He’s a virtual lock for No. 3, provided he fits that team’s needs. Maybe, maybe a team needing a center looks at Dubois here (he played center late in the year), but I don’t see it and none of the defensemen available look like top 5 options.

Any team selecting in the 3rd overall slot should be ecstatic to be assured a shot at JP. Again, as an Oiler fan anticipating a Jordan Eberle trade, I’d love to have JP on the team. That said, any one of the top 5 players is going to fit well with McDavid & Co. so that’s not saying a whole lot. I give the edge to Laine for his one shot goal scoring ability, but it’s closer than you may have heard.

*(A note about NHLE: for both Laine and Puljujarvi, it is really low. I debated whether or not to include it and ultimately decided to, as it has proven to be a help in the past in the projection of rookie production in the NHL. In this instance, however, it’s pretty out of whack and, one would assume, a ways off from reality. The CHL and USHL offer a much more predictive history of results which contributes to more accurate projections; this year, we have a draft where all 3 of the consensus top 3 are playing professionally in Europe. I don’t know the last time that’s happened but suspect that that – along with TOI estimates – is what has wonkified the NHLE numbers.)

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