The Vancouver Canucks are preparing for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft — and so are we.
Unfortunately, the 2015-16 season was cut short for the Vancouver Canucks, which means we have a long offseason ahead of us. Canucks GM Jim Benning and his staff will use the time to prepare next season’s roster, and the 2016 NHL Entry Draft will certainly play an important part in that process.
Vancouver started off strong in the fall of 2015 but ended the season with a thud. Thanks to their abysmal 28th rank in the league standings, the Canucks own seven picks early in each round. Benning did a great job in his first two years at the job and another successful draft could certainly help boost the rebuild.
Here at The Canuck Way, we will do our best to prepare you for the upcoming event by profiling as many draft-eligible players as we possibly can. Keep in mind that we are not saying these are players the Canucks are targeting. Instead, these are players that we think the Canucks could or should have interest in.
So, off we go with the first player on our list: Finnish winger Jesse Puljujärvi.
Name: Jesse Puljujärvi
Position: Right Wing
Height, weight: 6’3”, 196 lbs
Team/League: Kärpät Oulu, Liiga
2015-16 Stats (from eliteprospects.com):
50 13 15 28 22 5
NHL CSS Ranking: 3rd (European Skaters)
Risk, Reward: 1/5, 5/5
NHL-potential: Elite First-Line Winger
Draft Range: Top 3
"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. (Elite Prospects, 2016)"
As said in the scouting report above, Puljujärvi’s biggest strengths are his size, skating and skill. The 6-foot-3, 196-pound winger uses all three of those attributes to gain puck possession and then keep it away from his opponents.
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Puljujärvi is a great skater. Not just a “good for his size” skater but a legitimately strong skater. He can power past defencemen with speed and uses tight turns and stop-and-gos to seperate himself from his opponents.
Just as important in that regard are his puck skills. Puljujärvi has the skills to keep the puck until he thinks the moment is right to make a play. His outstanding hockey sense helps him play dangerous passes in every situation.
Last but not least, the 17-year-old winger uses his size and reach as much as he can to win puck battles along the boards and keep the puck away from his opponents.
However, Puljujärvi is not all about offence either. His defensive awareness is outstanding, and other than the cage on his helmet, there is nothing in his game that would give away his age. A very mature all-around forward.
If we are talking offence only, there is not much to criticize about Puljujärvi. Scouts say he could improve his shot — and there is certainly some truth to that — but you do not score 13 goals in one of the world’s best professional hockey leagues as a 17-year-old if you don’t know how to shoot.
One thing he could certainly work on is his physicality, especially on the forecheck. At 6-foot-3 and 196 pounds, his frame is certainly not holding him back. However, you don’t see him throwing many big hits. That could, however, simply be the European style of play and change once he comes over to North America.
Jesse Puljujärvi is just what you want with a top-three draft pick. He just finished his second professional season, playing in a Liiga team’s top six and winning the World Junior Championship with Team Finland. At the tournament, Puljujärvi had five goals and 17 points in seven games and was named MVP.
As Jim Benning noted at the Vancouver Canucks’ year-end press conference, he thinks the top-three players in the draft are ready to play in the NHL next season. Rushing players into the league is usually a bad idea, but it looks almost impossible to rush Puljujärvi into anything — he simply seems ready.
Puljujärvi plays a mature two-way game that should allow a quick transition to the North American pro game, even at the NHL level.
If he ends up being drafted by the Canucks, he will definitely get a good look in training camp and at the beginning of the season. But coming from Europe, he will also be eligible to play in the American Hockey League, and if Benning and head coach Willie Desjardins decide he is not quite ready yet, there is certainly no need to rush him.
All in all, Puljujärvi looks like the kind of player you cannot go wrong with. Elite skill, outstanding hockey sense and a mature, hard-working person.