Cliff Pu is a riser. At the halfway point of the season, NHL Central Scouting had him ranked 83rd out of all North American skaters. Their final rankings have him at 75, but his stock seems to continue to grow, as being part of a stacked Memorial Cup-winning London Knights team has done nothing but benefit him.
Here’s the thing with Pu: he only had 31 points through 63 games. But here’s the other thing: he was on a team that featured a line consisting of Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner, and Christian Dvorak – pretty much the best line in all of junior hockey this season. Points were a bit harder to come by.
But he only just turned 18, he’s 6’1 and 188 lbs. now, and in addition to his bullish playing style, a lot of scouts see underlying skill. With most, if not all, of that Knights top line graduated, he may get the chance to shine in 2016-17 – after a team has taken him, likely in either the second or third rounds.
The Flames have multiple second round picks and an early third rounder – so Calgary could be his landing spot.
Pu entered his second OHL season with some uncertainty. The Knights had once again loaded up on talent, with Tkachuk, Max Jones, Kole Sherwood and J.J. Piccinich all new arrivals to the forward corps. Where did he fit in to coach Dale Hunter’s plans?
“I honestly couldn’t tell you,” Pu said. “My agent told me to trust Dale, he’ll play you if you play well and Dale has rewarded me. I’ve played on the second line almost all year, so it’s been real fun.”
A fast player with nice vision and good size, Pu looks to Jeff Carter as an NHL role model and the youngster has been a high-rising prospect thanks to his second half, which saw him tally eight points in his final eight regular season games.
“I like to use my speed and find my teammates,” he said. “But it’s all about the team and whatever I need to do, I’m down for it.”
Pu already has a decent defensive game. He uses his quickness to create pressure on the back check and take away the time and space of his opponents. He also uses his stick to cut down passing lanes. Willing to do anything to get ice time, Pu was effective at blocking shots and taking away passing lanes for the Knights. He also showed his willingness to get involved in battles in the defensive zone. One area he can stand to improve is his face-off skills if he wants to play centre at the next level.
Pu is at his best off the rush where he’s a deceptively quick skater. He does a great job with puck control and possession in close to defenders, and uses quick turns and pivots to create space. He demonstrates a really good head for the game, and plays in all situations for the Knights, especially excelling as a penalty killer. As a center, he could definitely develop into an excellent two-way player who could anchor your 2nd/3rd line.
Pu didn’t have particularly impressive totals for the Knights this season, but a very strong second half – not to mention playoff performance – is giving some the feeling that he could break out next season. (And regarding his playoffs: it’s worth noting that his 13 points through 18 games was fifth in Knights scoring, behind their top line and Olli Juolevi.)
We may as well mention that 23 of Pu’s 31 points either came on goals or primary assists, so he wasn’t a passenger. Twenty-one of them came at even strength – which, considering who his teammates were, makes sense; Pu wouldn’t have seen a ton of powerplay time with that firepower ahead of him in the lineup.
In the playoffs, 10 of Pu’s 13 points were primary; seven of them came at even strength. He was tied for the post-season lead in shorthanded points with three: two goals and one primary assist.
Via Prospect-Stats, we can see that Pu clearly has no reservations about getting in the slot and going to the net. Here are his shot and goal heat maps for the past season:
Fit with the Flames
Who doesn’t love a hard-nosed player who will do whatever it takes to win, including sacrificing his body and following his coach’s direction on all fronts? Hockey lives for players like Pu, regardless of scoring talent – which still might manifest itself in him just yet.
However, he currently projects more as a solid middle six kind of guy. That still fills a need, though: every team needs reliable depth, and Pu might just be one of those players who could provide it at the NHL level.
There are some mocks out there that have Pu going early in the second round. Depending on who’s still available, that might be a little high for him – though there’s always the chance he’ll prove everyone wrong, I suppose.
But it might be more prudent to wait and see if Pu falls to the late second round. And if he’s still there come the 66th pick, he’s absolutely worth a shot. It sounds like he has the character needed to succeed – and due to just how dominant the Knights’ top players were in his draft year, he might have even more to show as he progresses in his development.
Previous draft targets: Alexander Nylander | Pierre-Luc Dubois | Matthew Tkachuk | Jakob Chychrun | Olli Juolevi | Clayton Keller | Alex DeBrincat | Sam Steel | Vitalii Abramov | Jake Bean | Tyson Jost | Mikhail Sergachev | Tyler Benson | Griffin Luce | Logan Brown | Samuel Girard | Will Bitten