Outside of Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, there is one name that everyone has been talking about in the lead-up to the NHL Draft. That is Jesse Puljujärvi, who it seems is the consensus number three pick behind the other two come June 24.
The Finnish winger has some of the best hands in this year's draft, and is expected by most to step straight into the NHL. Having spent the last two seasons playing pro hockey in Finland, it seems that he has a very good chance to come over and succeed in North America next year.
Birthplace: Älvkarleby, Sweden
Position: Right Wing
Weight: 201 lbs.
The Swedish-born Finnish talent mounted an early charge for the top spot, and peaked at the right time in many ways for the World Junior Championship, where he stood out as the winner of the scoring title with 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in seven games.
However he suffered from a post-WJC hangover when he got back to Liiga play. Puljujärvi got back into it during the playoffs, where he averaged 0.9 points per game over ten games, helping Kärpät to finish with a bronze medal. Puljujärvi once more stood out when he was selected to go to the Under-18 World Championships, and was a big reason why Finland left with the gold medal, as he scored a hat trick in the final game versus Sweden.
While both Matthews and Laine scored more goals, his playmaking abilities and great hands stood out as his main skills. He has excellent vision, and he uses it to find his teammates, which he can do with little to no space. If he doesn't feel that he has a shot, he'll thread the needle and gift one of his teammates an opportunity.
And when he does shoot, it is rather impressive. He has an elite shot with a deceptive release that is sure to give NHL goaltenders headaches when he makes the jump.
But his biggest asset is his hand skill. He displays amazing puck control, even at top speed, and he will make almost any defender look silly one-on-one. He is very tough to defend against because not only can he dangle, but he uses his frame to protect the puck very well.
He could definitely stand to improve his defensive game, because that aspect of his play leaves a little something to be desired. That will be a focal point for his development once he's drafted, but for now he has all the tools necessary to succeed in an offensive role.
Puljujarvi is an offensive fixture who skates like the wind and provides size. He has an explosive first step for a big body and has no noticeable flaws in his stride. There is great extension on his skating stride when he is moving flat out, allowing him to control the speed of the game. His acceleration is spectacular for someone his size, allowing him to get the quick jump once he recognizes a spot to where he needs to get. Despite being noted as a scorer, we think he is just as proficient as a set-up guy.
Puljujarvi keeps his feet moving and remains patient until he is content with the development of the play before passing the puck. His vision is near the top of this class and he is able to lay out situational passes of each unique scenario. He works well with limited space and has the puck skills to maintain possession in open ice while in motion or working under duress. Puljujarvi oozes high-end skill and awareness, showing an ability to remain elusive. He loves to drive to the net from the perimeter with or without the puck, showing readiness to make a split-second move to create an opportunity. He does a good job of drawing defenders to him and opening up opportunities for teammates.
He boasts a powerful shot and a goal-scoring instinct to find lanes that allow him to be a threat from anywhere. He is constantly moving his feet and never remains flat-footed, always looking for an open area of the ice where he can pick up the play. While he pitches in and plays on the boards, Puljujarvi has a noticeable style of circling a scrum and preparing himself to pick up a puck and carry the play to open ice. He is hard to play against and a real threat to overthrow possession on the forecheck. Defensively, Puljujarvi shows hustle and tenacity. He recognizes threats and backchecks all the way to his goal. He plays with the range of a center and reads the play to go where he can offer support. His wingspan is a huge asset as it allows him to get to the puck and limit the range of his opponents. Puljujarvi follows puck movement well and has quick reactions that enable him to steal pucks and transition the play up ice.
Played for SM-Liiga powerhouse offense in Karpat and has developed his way into a core member of their offense. Was MVP and dominant at times at U18 and finished the tournament with a hat trick, as Finland beat Sweden 6-1 to win the gold medal. Forces opposition players to respect his shot, which is elite, and can create plays because of this. Big and strong with a long reach and he just shrugs guys off. Always seems to have good body position whether protecting the puck or defending. Has a powerful skating stride and has another gear when needed - responsible in all three zones - soft quick hands and a heavy shot. Reads the play well and plays well away from the puck. Has excellent hockey sense. Character guy with all the attributes to be a top end player in the NHL - Showed superstar potential.
Puljujärvi is a big winger who combines size, skating and skill. A strong skater who can blast past the opposition in full speed. Able to use his size, reach and stickhandling skills to retain the puck in speed. A smart player at both ends of the ice, both on and off the puck. Great work ethic and positive attitude. More of a playmaker than a scorer and could improve his shooting skills. Doesn't shy away from physical play, but could use his size more to his benefit.
A truly dominant two-way force that consistently demonstrates elite hockey sense, proactive defensive awareness, and a full array of offensive tools. Comparable to Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, Puljujärvi owns a dangerously accurate shot, as well as exceptional playmaking ability that pairs up quite nicely with his superb vision and enthusiasm. Has the ability to absolutely dominate by using his size and speed to keep possession of the puck until he determines it to be the right time for the rubber to hit the back of the net. Everything that he does, he does well, to the fullest of his ability; there are no empty holes in this electrifying and hard-nosed forward's game.
Future Considerations: 3rd
Central Scouting service: 3rd
Hockey Prospect: 3rd
DraftBuzz Hockey: 3rd
Bob McKenzie: 3rd
The Draft Analyst: 3rd
If the Montreal Canadiens would like to get their hands on him, they'd probably have to give Columbus a pretty decent package in order to move up to third overall. Failing that, he will definitely be gone before the ninth overall pick, so it's basically a pipe dream.
They'd probably have to contend with Carolina for that trade, anyway; a club that would probably like to move up and get him. Puljujärvi has played with Sebastian Aho for Kärpät, and the chemistry they have developed is visible for everyone to see. Again, any trade would have to be pretty big, so it's not very likely.
Virtually any team could use his scoring and playmaking abilities, there is no doubt of that, but there is also the lingering question of whether he even wants to come right over to the NHL. He struggles with his English, and he had to use a teammate as interpreter during the WJC. He has taken classes, but his command of the language hasn't increased much. He might want to stick in Finland for one more year at least.
Puljujärvi will be a huge asset for any team, and while he is very, very good, he might need a bit more seasoning that Laine and Matthews. I leave you with what Artturi Lehkonen said to me when Pujlujärvi's name came up: "he has those silky mitts." I don't think there is anything more to say after that.