The number three ranked prospect of the Nation Network rankings is Finnish forward Jesse Puljujarvi.
Puljujarvi stormed onto the international scene at the World Juniors, where he scored 23 points in 15 games, including a hat trick in the gold medal game. He also put up one of the best 17-year-old seasons ever in the top Finnish league, scoring 28 points in 50 games and leading Karpat in possession, controlling 57.5% of shot attempts.
Puljujarvi is a great skater, with a quick, accurate shot and great playmaking vision. His defensive game is developed well beyond his years, and he uses his 6’4 frame to good effect in positioning and battling for pucks. He will likely step straight onto an NHL roster next season, and could be a difference-maker even as a rookie.
Birthplace: Alvkarleby, Sweden
Frame: 6’4, 203 lbs
Draft Year Team: Karpat (Liiga)
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Puljujarvi is one of the most exciting prospects Finland has produced. He’s a big, explosive winger, who was the second-highest scoring 17-year-old ever at the WJC, tied with Eric Lindros and a point behind Jaromir Jagr. He’s an unbelievable skater for a 6-foot-4 player, having a great top gear and a really fluid stride. He’s not that physically aggressive, but he closes on guys so well that he pressures and wins battles effectively. Puljujarvi shows a high-skill level, a plus shot and high-end hockey IQ. He is constantly around the puck and setting up his teammates.
Puljujarvi is a big winger who combines size, skating and skill. A strong skater who can blast past the opposition in full speed. Able to use his size, reach and stickhandling skills to retain the puck in speed. A smart player at both ends of the ice, both on and off the puck. Great work ethic and positive attitude. More of a playmaker than a scorer and could improve his shooting skills, although already equipped with an accurate release. Doesn’t shy away from physical play, but could use his size more to his benefit.
Jesse Puljujarvi is almost undeniably deserving of the third overall ranking for this year’s draft. He’s an incredibly dynamic prospect: big and fast, with great hockey sense and a knack for big-moment performances. He put on a show at the World Juniors this winter, and was terrific in the playoffs for Karpat, putting up 4 goals and 5 assists in ten games.
In another year there might be more hype for Puljujarvi, but his countrymate Patrik Laine’s unreal conclusion to the season has relegated him (relatively) to the background.
There is no question that Laine has had a terrific year. His performance in the Liiga through the regular season already established a slight edge over Puljujarvi — nicely broken down by Jeremy Davis in April — but his in-fucking-credible performance in the playoffs and at the World Championships has made the first overall selection a more difficult decision than the second.
But Laine’s scorching finish to the season doesn’t make Puljujarvi any less an A+ prospect. His game really doesn’t have any obvious holes: he has high-end skill, a big frame, and above-average defensive awareness. His underwhelming 33% pGPS percentage is largely thanks to a lack of comparables. Two of his three comparables were in their draft+1 season when they scored at a similar rate, and his one true close comparable, Olli Jokinen, went on to a long and productive NHL career — if not an overly successful stop as a Jet.
The Finnish Liiga is one of the few European leagues that tracks time on ice and shot attempts. For what it’s worth, Puljujarvi was a dominant possession player in Finland’s top pro league, leading Karpat with a 57.5% shot attempts (corsi) percentage.
That Puljujarvi was driving play so effectively at just 17 years old speaks to the completeness of his game. He has size, offensive upside, and two-way acumen. He has the ability to be a big-bodied, two-way, offense-generating first-line winger at the NHL level: a Blake Wheeler-type player (lofty comparisons to be taken with a generous pinch of salt).
Jesse Puljujarvi has established himself as the clearcut number three prospect in this draft, and, barring a trade, should be a lock to be drafted by the Blue Jackets. The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy asked Puljujarvi if he was ready for the NHL in early June:
“Yeah, of course,” Puljujarvi said. “I’m ready. I’m a good skater and I’m ready.”
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