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Photo Credit: courtesy Calgary Flames/NHL Media

FlamesNation Top 20 Prospects: #17 Eetu Tuulola

It didn’t take Eetu Tuulola long to become a fan favourite among prospects. He came out of the draft guns blazing, introducing a popular new philosophy known as “Everything is possible in this life.” It was his response when asked where he would play the 2016-17 season, suggesting that North American pro would be a possibility. He didn’t get quite that far – he landed in the WHL – but an enthusiastic and downright impressive first development camp help set him as one to watch.

That was a year ago. Where are we now?

A brief history

Tuulola grew up in Finland, so naturally, that’s where he started playing hockey. Part of his hometown HPK Hameenlinna system, he grew through the U16, U17, and U18 ranks. By the time he was 16 years old he was playing primarily in the U20 system and frequently representing Finland internationally, albeit more in a complementary scoring role than as a leader.

His draft season came in 2015-16, during which he got his first taste of professional action, playing 10 games for HPK in Liiga. He only scored one assist, but would have been only 17 or 18 at the time of his call up. Otherwise, he spent most of the season on the U20 squad, scoring 14 points in 29 games (a drop from his 28 points in 33 games the season before). He was also third in Finnish scoring at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, with four points in five games.

At 6’3 and 216 lbs. Tuulola had the size, attitude, and work ethic to give him the potential to have an impact on games. The Flames took note of these attributes and selected him in the sixth round, 156th overall, of the 2016 NHL draft.

Tuulola had expressed a desire to play in North America when at the draft, and the Everett Silvertips decided to give him that chance, selecting him 40th overall in the CHL Import Draft. Taking in his first full season in North America, Tuulola amassed 18 goals and 13 assists for 31 points over 62 games, finishing eighth in team scoring as he was used in more of a secondary or tertiary role. With just six secondary assists 25 of his points were primary. Twenty-three of his 31 points came at 5v5; 19 of them were primary points.

Tuulola also had seven points over 10 games for the Tips in the WHL playoffs. He was fourth in team scoring; though his six goals firmly placed him as Everett’s goal-scoring leader.

Quotable

Andy Eide covers the Seattle Thunderbirds and the WHL for ESPN 710 Seattle. He gave us his thoughts on Tuulola’s first North American season.

The big Finn has NHL power-forward size but it seemed to take him a while to learn to use his size in the physical WHL last season. When he did start to throw his weight around he became a more effective player. He features a heavy, big-league wrist shot but is not a great skater and can’t consistently create on his own.

Kelowna Daily Courier beat writer Larry Fisher covers the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets and saw a lot of Tuulola in 2016-17. He also provided his assessment of the Finn.

He’s an intriguing talent, another Finn who happens to be cut from the same cloth as Esa Tikkanen and Jarkko Ruutu. An oversized pest per se, Tuulola is big enough to back up his beaking, though fighting isn’t really part of his repertoire (yet). He’s a power forward with a nose for the net who will likely have to make his living in the dirty areas since skating is somewhat of a concern at this stage of his development. He could still be growing into his frame and may grow out of that awkwardness — in terms of a clumsy or choppy stride — but Tuulola projects as a bottom six checker right now. However, he might have more offensive upside and we could see a breakout of sorts this coming season under a less defensive-minded coach in Finland than he had in Kevin Constantine in Everett. Still a project, but Tuulola is tracking reasonably well towards being a big-league player.

What comes next?

Tuulola won’t get the chance to prove he can be more useful to Everett with more ice time, as HPK has called him back to Finland. Now 19, Tuulola will probably play professionally, though a return to HPK’s U20 team can’t be ruled out, depending on what they decide to do with him (though considering this is a recall, playing in the Liiga seems more likely).

With Tuulola’s contract with HPK over after the 2017-18 season and the Flames retaining his NHL rights, he could be playing for the Stockton Heat in 2018-19. Considering his interest in playing in the NHL, that seems like the likely move. Whether he’ll reach that NHL dream is as of yet unseen, but his skill set and playing style does project him to be, at his best, a hell of an agitating bottom sixer who can provide secondary scoring – so everything is certainly still possible in this life.

Previously

#20 – Ryan Lomberg #19 – Adam Ollas Mattsson
#18 – Daniel Pribyl