In a draft for the Montreal Canadiens that was largely about adding prospects with raw skill, their pick of Petteri Nurmi at 194th seems to have been more of a hedge against some of the high-risk selections they made. Nurmi’s game so far has been heavily skewed to defensive play, but he has earned opportunities at various levels because of it.
He signed a three-year contract with HPK last summer after impressing in the pre-season, and made the roster at 19 years of age. He was trusted with significant minutes right away, getting 20 minutes of ice time in some of his first games with the team, and averaging 16:40 on the campaign.
Birthplace: Helsinki, Finland
Date of birth: January 12, 2002
Weight: 168 lbs.
Team: HPK (Liiga)
Nurmi had been passed over in two previous drafts, but the graduation to Finland’s top league and a place on the national team for the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championship helped shine some light on him. In the initial attempt at the tournament in Edmonton in December, he was placed on the top pairing with the dynamic Topi Niemelä, there to provide a defensive cover for the offensive excursions of his teammate. Nurmi had one assist in three games at the postponed tournament.
He had one goal in Liiga play when he jumped up into open space to score from the circle, but that’s not something he has a habit of doing. He’s more of the prototypical “good-first-pass” defenceman who takes care of his defensive duties and makes simple plays.
“He’s a very mobile defenceman that is good at getting pucks in the corners and moving it quickly in transition,” Martin Lapointe explained in the post-draft media scrum. “We’re going to leave him in Finland. He needs to continue to improve, but he already plays against men. His potential is high. He loves to start the attack quickly and sees the passing lanes very well, too, so we’re happy to draft him.”
The Habs’ scouting team is satisfied with the base Nurmi is working with, but they believe there’s more to unlock in his game. HPK may not be the most nurturing place for any offensive development, however, because the majority of their defencemen have a similar conservative profile: Of their top five defencemen, four of them had the same mark of one goal on their stat line at the end of the year.
If he is going to take a step in his play to incorporate more offence, it may be something he needs to manage himself with lessons he’ll take from Canadiens development camp. The first thing he can do is extend the quick transition passes into longer possessions, becoming a larger part of the offensive rush — if his coach will allow for such plays. Without knowing the instructions the coaches are giving the defencemen it’s impossible to know what the reponse will be, but the way Nurmi and his fellow blue-liners play now seems to be the template of choice.
There was a time very recently when this type of player was coveted in Montreal. The main aim of Marc Bergevin’s Canadiens for much of his tenure was to acquire players doing precisely what Nurmi is known for. The selection of Lane Hutson earlier in the 2022 draft, combined with the acquisition of Justin Barron by Kent Hughes at the trade deadline points to a different brand of defence, one that fits Martin St. Louis’s greater focus on skilled play. The Habs did go for the extreme version of an offensive defenceman at pick 216 with Miguël Tourigny, using their seventh-round selections on defencemen with polar opposite styles of play. Time will tell which of the players gets closest to achieving his NHL dream, but it’s going to be a long time for both as they work on adapting their play.