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Photo Credit: courtesy Calgary Flames/NHL Media

FlamesNation prospect wrap-up: Eetu Tuulola

Our second favourite (although a very close race) sixth round pick from the 2016 draft, Eetu Tuulola has the face of a cherub and the demeanor of the devil.

In addition to literally hitting that guy out of the game of hockey, Tuulola also ran over (incidentally, at least according to Liiga, which had a hearing but didn’t suspend him) a ref this season. Looks can be deceiving!

On that note, Tuulola’s less than stellar year in the WHL combined with him headed back home gave the appearance of a guy who may know that he’s not destined for greater things. That was wrong. Instead of grinding away in exile (a la Pavel Karnaukhov), Tuulola finished top five in U20 scoring in a men’s league. He’s pretty good and a guy worth keeping an eye on.

Background

Before Tuulola won all of our hearts at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft (“Everything is possible in this life,” in case you’ve forgotten), he was a pretty standard fare European prospect. Played exclusively for his hometown team, dominated younger leagues, looked to be on the verge of going pro, yadda yadda. His strong results and even stronger body opened the Flames’ eyes, who scooped him up with the sixth round pick. After being selected by the Everett Silvertips in the import draft, he appeared to be on the road to North American success.

His WHL season didn’t exactly go as planned. Tuulola was mostly a third liner on a very defensive Tips team, meaning that he didn’t get many opportunities to shine. Even though he blazed through the playoffs at just under a goal per game average, Tuulola was recalled to HPK for the 2017-18 season. He didn’t seem to mind.

2017-18 story

Back with HPK, Tuulola’s season started off very slow, going pointless in his first six games, and only had two points in his next four games. However he exploded for three goals in his next four, fulfilling another one of his simple yet brilliant quotes (“I love to score goals”). After that, it was off to the races. Tuulola averaged about a half point per game for the rest of the year. Minus another five-game drought, he was one of HPK’s more consistent players down the stretch.

He also made a brief, yet confusing appearance at the World Juniors. A late selection who was reportedly cut from the roster before game day only to be re-added later after an injury, Tuulola played very sparse minutes in three games.

The numbers

GP G A P Primary Points 5v5 points 5v5 Primary Points NHLe
SM-liiga 51 16 10 26 19 10 9 17.98

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Tuulola got better as the year progressed, as made clear in the chart. Although he tapered off towards the end of the season, he seemed to have found a groove at HPK and stuck with it.

The best thing about Tuulola’s 2017-18 season is that he certainly made improvements over his season in the WHL. His NHLe jumped around seven points, and that doesn’t seem to capture the full scope of things. It’s much easier to be an 18-year-old in the Dub than it is to be a 19-year-old in an actual pro league. As already mentioned, he was fifth in U20 scoring across the entire SM-Liiga. Putting up strong numbers in a pro league as a teenager is a pretty good sign.

And he certainly does love scoring goals. Among all HPK skaters, he finished fourth in goal scoring, three goals away from leader Kristian Vesalainen. He also did this averaging 16 minutes a game, 11th among HPK regulars. Tuulola is also a strong powerplay presence, as seen in the situational chart. He scored nine of his 16 goals on the man advantage this year, and also picked up six assists. If this highlight video is any indication (forgive the music), he’s certainly a lethal net front force. It’s fun to imagine what he could do with this skillset in the NHL, though being more reliant on it than 5v5 scoring is always a red flag.

The future

Speaking of…

Tuulola’s future is a little unclear. He seems like he could slide seamlessly into Stockton for next season. The team will probably need to replace Andrew Mangiapane in the top six, and Tuulola seems like a candidate for the job. He can play both wings, has a right-handed shot, and a physical edge to his game. He’s the type of player coaches everywhere salivate for. There’s competition, absolutely (Spencer Foo, Morgan Klimchuk, Dillon Dube, and Matthew Phillips will be around. Mangiapane isn’t even a sure thing, either), but you feel Tuulola could at least be a strong contributor.

But it’s kind of rough to keep moving across the ocean every year for minor league pay. Speculating here, but his season in Everett may have left a bad taste. Why come back over now, just after a very successful year with your hometown team, to maybe get the same treatment again? It’s not as if the Flames can offer him the spotlight immediately. Might as well stick with it in Finland.

The Flames hold his rights until 2020 anyways. I feel they take the same approach as they will with Linus Lindstrom: let him develop for free in a pro league. If he can continue to be one of the better young players in the Liiga, the Flames will sign him ASAP.

Previously

Adam Fox | Linus Lindstrom | Pavel Karnaukhov & Rushan Rafikov