To finish our review of European prospects, we check in with 2016 sixth rounder Eetu Tuulola. Despite having never played an NHL game, there’s quite a bit of mystique to the fiery Finn. He already has a great personal motto (“everything is possible in this life”), a penchant for hilarious violence, and a goalscoring edge. Add all this up, and Tuulola is a potential fan favourite in waiting.
How’d he do this year?
When we last checked in
After a disappointing and frustrating WHL campaign, Tuulola went back to Finland to try his hand at pro hockey, returning back to his hometown team, HPK.
And it turned out to be just what he needed. Whatever didn’t click for him in Everett clicked for him in Finland, and Tuulola started emerging as the player he looked like when he was drafted. Nothing overwhelming, but he had seamlessly slid in to a professional team’s middle six, which was a great development given how disastrous his WHL stint was. He finished top five in U20 scoring as a rookie.
Tuulola also had a brief and weird World Juniors experience, where he was a late roster addition after originally being cut. He only played three games and didn’t pick up a point.
Really, it was more of the same. Tuulola played all 60 games for HPK, occupying a middle six role with the club and featuring heavily on their powerplay. He scored goals and got under opponent’s skin, but he did it a little better than he did the year before.
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) March 2, 2019
Numbers & growth
|GP||G||A||P||5v5 points||Primary points||5v5 primary points||NHLe||TOI||Shots||% of team offence|
As I said, Tuulola was a slightly improved version of himself from the year before. He scored a bit more frequently, saw a bit more ice time, and generally took a step forward. He saw small increases in his per game rates in pretty much every category, but shots on goal is where he really improved. Tuulola only played nine games more than he did last season, but managed to put the puck on net 81 more times. That’s really, really good.
Some of the same issues still persist from the year before, however. Tuulola still heavily relies on the powerplay for his points, which isn’t an issue in itself, but it’s a bit concerning as his 5v5 numbers aren’t much to look at. Another issue is that he’s not much more than a secondary part of the HPK offence, contributing on just under 22% of goals. Generally, hitting 30% of that indicates you’re one of the offences’ more important players. Tuulola was never projected to be a key offensive player, but to not become one in a lower league doesn’t fare well for his NHL future.
If you would like a bit more insight, the SM-Liiga is one of the rare leagues outside of the NHL that tracks and publishes underlying numbers. Based on their data, Tuulola is one of the underrated possession players on HPK, finishing sixth among regulars with a 56.3% 5v5 CF, although this does come with the highest offensive zone starts on the team at 57.9%. Tuulola’s results may seem a bit tame given the circumstances he found himself in, but he also had some pretty tough luck this year, sporting a rough 97.4 PDO and an extremely low personal shooting percentage of 6.2%.
That’s pretty important, as a regular shooting percentage of 10% would result in 20 goals, and if he was as efficient at shooting as he was the year before (12.3%), he would have 25 goals. Those numbers would be top 10 and top three in Liiga, respectively. He would also jump from sixth to third (average SH%) and first (2017-18 SH%) in U21 scoring. Tuulola does have his flaws, but there were times where he played extremely well and wasn’t rewarded. Perhaps there’s something hidden that his stats don’t reveal about him.
— Liiga (@smliiga) April 13, 2019
Unfortunately, players like Tuulola don’t go very far in the NHL, historically speaking.
Since 2005-06, there have only been 64 U21 players in the Liiga who have had similar production (0.6 ppg) to Tuulola. Of that group, 29 of them have found their ways overseas, and 22 have stuck in the NHL (200+ games played).
Those are pretty good chances from the onset, but age matters a lot here. Of those 22 players, most of them matched Tuulola’s production when they were teenagers, usually in their draft seasons. These successful ex-Liiga players were quite clearly destined to be NHLers. If we only look at 20-year-olds with similar production, only one of 18 have made the NHL. That one is Teemu Pulkkinen, who was a very promising AHL player who couldn’t break through to the next level, only playing 83 games spread out over four seasons.
Pulkkinen’s career is likely the most realistic trajectory for Tuulola.
There hasn’t been any speculation on what Tuulola’s going to do this summer (his playoffs aren’t over yet, so probably no word until then), but it’s probably a good guess the Flames will be giving him a call. There are a few free agents on their way out in Stockton, and with not a lot of RWs in the organization, signing one with some pro experience is a good move. Add in his size (6’2, 225 lbs.), and he’s an attractive option to bring overseas.
If he comes over, Tuulola should be an important addition to the Heat. With the potential departures of Curtis Lazar, Kerby Rychel, and Spencer Foo imminent, and with the likely graduation of Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane (if they aren’t already considered graduated), there are plenty of top six spots available, and more crucially, winger spots. He’ll get a pretty good opportunity to show if he’s worth a damn in North America. His first audition in the WHL wasn’t spectacular, so hopefully Stockton can sort him out.
If Tuulola should stay in Finland, you can probably expect another great year from him. He’s established himself as an up-and-coming youngster who can be hell on ice in the offensive zone while being responsible enough defensively. If he can really take his game to the next level and become one of Finland’s elite players, I imagine the Flames bring him over in a heartbeat, but there’s only one year left to prove himself. The Flames lose his rights after next season, so it’s essentially a contract year for him.
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) March 23, 2019
I didn’t mention it, but he has some beautiful celebrations, too.