The late part of the first round is a wacky time of the NHL Draft. The later you get into the first round, the higher the probability that a team will go “off book” and draft a player that’s not on everyone’s radar. Finnish forward Patrik Puistola is making a case for the Calgary Flames to make him an “off the board” pick at 26th overall.
Puistola is the second generation of his family to play Finnish pro hockey. His dad, Pasi, played pro hockey until 2016-17 and currently serves as Tappara’s video coach. Patrik is listed at 6’1″ and 175 pounds and he’s a left shooting winger.
He bounced around a bit in 2018-19, playing for Tappara’s junior and pro teams before a loan to LeKi in the secondary Mestis league to get a bit more playing time. He was pretty solid for Tappara’s two levels, but he seemed to find another gear when he landed with LeKi.
Dobber Prospects scout Jokke Nevalainen outlined what makes Puistola such an intriguing prospect:
Puistola started this season in the top junior league in Finland but soon it became evident he was ready for the next level. He’s played some games at the Liiga level and has scored his first point there as well but Tappara has a stacked team, so Puistola’s minutes have been very limited there. Because of that, he’s been playing mostly in the Mestis lately, and he’s been tearing it up much more than expected. His season is one of the best that league has ever seen from someone his age. Puistola has also been a top player for Finland at the U18 level in various tournaments, and he’s expected to play a major role for them at the U18 Worlds.
Lassi Alanen of Finn Prospects provided another assessment:
Puistola’s biggest weaknesses are on the defensive side of things, but his compete level is pretty good and his smarts should allow him to turn into a more complete player in the future. I’m pretty high on Puistola due to his great hands, offensive instincts and shot, and could see him getting drafted early in the second round.
Mark Scheig, a colleague of mine at The Hockey Writers, singled Puistola out as being an underrated prospect in the draft class:
Puistola is perhaps my most underrated prospect in this draft given his ranking in the final rankings. In my mind, he is a solid first rounder. Just watch him on tape when he has the puck. I haven’t seen many 17-year olds dangle older players the way Puistola can. He’s extremely creative with the puck. He can beat you one-on-one but is also an underrated passer.
Scott Wheeler of The Athletic identified Puistola as a potential boom or bust player, noting that “he won’t be a checker” and so it’s likely that he either becomes an offensive player or, well, doesn’t make it.
Puistola spent time in three different leagues this season: the junior Jr. A SM-Liiga, the top division SM-Liiga, and the second division Mestis. He had 22 points in 25 games in junior, one point in 16 SM-Liiga games, and 26 points in 22 games in Mestis. While Puistola didn’t make a lot of noise in SM-Liiga, only five under-18 players played more games than he did: Mikko Kokkonen, Kaapo Kakko, Anton Lundell, Ville Heinola and Antti Saarela.
In Mestis, Puistola made some noise. He was second among all under-18 players in games played in Mestis, but led in all offensive categories. Heck, he had more goals than next-best player had points. If you expand the comparison to under-20 players, only two players had more points (and they were both older than him) and only LeKi teammate Kristian Tanus had more points per game.
Internationally, Puistola was a goal-per-game player at both the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the Under-18 Worlds.
Availability and fit
The scouting community lacks consensus on Puistola. Some love him and see him in the first round, others see him more as a solid second rounder: ISS has him outside the first round, Dobber Prospects has him 42nd, the Draft Analyst/Sporting News has him 38th, my rankings at The Hockey Writers have him 41st, Sportsnet has him outside the first round, The Athletic has him 19th and 22nd, and The Hockey News has him outside the top 100. (CanucksArmy’s rankings have him 45th.)
Like Jakob Pelletier, Puistola represents a potential boom or bust pick. He’s playing pro hockey as a teenager, scores a lot and is lauded as a really smart, adaptive player. He still needs to round out his game and develop a bit more physically, but there’s potential there. The degree to which there’s value likely depends on the degree to which the Flames, or another team, feels they can help Puistola fill in the gaps in his skill set.
2019 first round targets
Egor Afanasyev | John Beecher | Tobias Björnfot | Bobby Brink | Simon Holmström | Pavel Dorofeyev | Anttoni Honka | Ryan Johnson | Spencer Knight | Brett Leason | Connor McMichael | Ilya Nikolayev | Jakob Pelletier | Samuel Poulin