Mestis, the second-tier hockey league of Finland, hasn’t turned many of its draft-eligible players into NHLers over the years. Recent top draft picks like Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujärvi played in the league before being selected by their respective organizations, but it was a year prior to their draft year (which they spent dominating in Liiga). Jesse Ylönen, who was picked out of Mestis at the beginning of the second round in 2018, could turn into the exception as he develops in the next couple of years.
But there could be another one as well: Patrik Puistola.
Birthplace: Tampere, Finland
Weight: 174 lbs.
Team: LeKi (Mestis)
Puistola was used in a depth role for Tappara in Liiga this season, but was sent down to play some real minutes with LeKi. After producing just one point in 16 games in the top Finnish league, Puistola started commanding the play when finally given top-six minutes and power-play time in Mestis. He was still playing against men, but the opportunity led him to record 26 points in 22 games; a very high production in that league for such a young player, and one that smashes Ylönen’s 0.5-points-per-game pace at the same age.
What drives Puistola’s offence is his puck-handling capability. The winger can repeatedly make defenders miss, shifting the puck around opposing skates and sticks in close quarters. He can just as well play keep away with the puck at max range and very close to his body.
The first sequence above is Puistola chaining move after move together while evading the defence going up the boards. He actively challenges defenders, baiting pokechecks and taking the puck away from their reach at the last second. There is no easy opportunity for him to slip in the slot with opponents closing on him, but he creates it. A timely backhand drive gets him inside.
What adds to the whole sequence is that, while Puistola is spinning on himself dangling to protect the puck, he still takes a peek in between moves to find the stick of a supporting pointman and connects with him with a precise pass.
In the second sequence that follows, the feed doesn’t land as well as in the first one, but it still shows Puistola’s ability to play the puck in his feet and slip it through defenders this way. He executes a toe-drag to get around a pokecheck, bounces the puck on his skate blade, and comes out with only the goalie to beat.
The displays of skill are quite frequent when watching Puistola, but what prevents him from dominating every shift, and will continue to do so against tougher competition, has to do with his feet. He doesn’t have the benefit of combining his elusive hands with a high-tempo game that would make his talent shine even more. He lacks the speed necessary to open lanes for himself off the rush by consistently pressuring the defence and catching them off-guard.
His most impressive work this season was in tight spaces, once again due to his handling abilities and also to some good protection mechanics. He works to get to the puck first and keep it under pressure. But even along the boards, Puistola has to improve certain elements, like his strength and even his quickness to come out of the scrums with possession against the strong defenders he faces.
Drafting Puistola is a bet on skill. The Finnish winger can act as a setup man, but it is probably his qualities as a finisher that attract the most attention. His goal-scoring was on full display in international tournaments, even on a U18 Team Finland that wasn’t the strongest it has been in recent years. He has a good shot and can pick his spot when he comes down the wing. His hands allow him to tip point-shots and catch rebounding pucks around the net and send them past an out-of-position goaltender.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Dobber Prospects: #42
Elite Prospects: #41
Future Considerations: #42
Hockey Prospect: #57
NHL Central Scouting: #28 (EU skaters)
The flaws in his game will probably have Puistola fall to the second round, but those could easily improve with a player’s natural growth, especially with the benefit of good, specific coaching. A good development plan could turn the Finnish winger into a top-six forward for an NHL organization.