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What’s Going on With Patrik Puistola?

The Hurricanes’ 2019 third round pick has struggled to find his footing in Finland’s highest league.

2020 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship, bronze medal match: Sweden vs Finland Photo by Peter Kovalev\TASS via Getty Images

Patrik Puistola entered the 2019 draft with considerable hype in the online scouting community. He was a talented offensive forward that had dominated both the U20 and Mestis leagues in Finland as a first time draft eligible forward. Puistola was considered by some scouts to be a borderline first round talent and I, admittedly, had the Hurricanes taking him in the first round in a mock draft. Flash forward to the following year and Puistola is scoring eight points in seven World Junior games while struggling to find ice time with his Liiga team, Tappara. Puistola was loaned to a handful of teams and performed well, giving us some optimism that things would be different in the next season.

The 2019-20 season came and went, and for Puistola, it was more of the same. He struggled at the Liiga level with JYP and was limited to third-line minutes on one of the league’s lowest scoring teams. A meager 14 points in 50 games was all Puistola had to show for himself. On top of that, Puistola wasn’t invited to Finland’s camp for the World Juniors and was left off of the roster entirely. This season, Puistola terminated his contract with JYP and moved to Jukurit, where he experienced some success on loan back in the 2019-20 season. Time is running out for Puistola to figure it all out, so I’ve taken the liberty of watching a handful of his games to figure out what exactly is going on.

Right off the bat, I was able to tell that Puistola struggles with the puck on his stick. It’s not something that has been an issue with his game prior to his struggles, so this seems like a confidence issue to me. It’s a tougher league than what he was used to and he wasn’t given any tools to succeed after his draft year. That being said, Puistola has had two years to improve and has shown marginal progress in his development. Some of that is on the player to take the next step. Eventually, you can’t keep blaming the system or the coaches.

Puistola requires a very specific system to succeed and not many teams are willing to do that. He’s not very strong in his own end and can flounder when pressured while carrying the puck. Puistola needs to be set up in order to be effective and isn’t going to wow you with his playmaking, meaning that he’s a very one-dimensional player that can only succeed in certain scenarios. Now, don’t get me wrong. You can mold a player like that into an NHL player but it’s going to take you a lot longer than a lot of teams will be willing to wait. JYP wasn’t a good fit for Puistola because it felt that as soon as the puck got into the offensive zone, the offense died and the team dumped the puck in. You’d swear that Paul Maurice was their head coach. Puistola is most effective when executing on the rush or getting a pass in front of the net, and it seems that he was unable to do either thing with JYP. Again, some of that is undoubtedly the player’s fault. Puistola is playing against stronger competition that don’t make the same mistakes that junior players make. He looks uncomfortable at times because he simply doesn’t know what to do.

I’ve been negative for all of this piece, and there’s good reason for it. Puistola was a promising prospect and it seems as if he’s getting lost in the shuffle over in Finland. I’ll give Puistola credit for improving his skating, however. His stride has smoothed out and his top speed is above average. His current top speed would allow for him to keep up at the NHL level, so that’s a positive. He sees the ice well in the offensive zone and can make plays happen with as little as one touch of the puck, so clearly there’s some skill and high end hockey IQ there.

It’s not all doom and gloom and there’s still hope that Puistola can turn his game around. He had five points in seven games on loan with Jukurit back in the 2019-20 season and who knows what he’ll be able to do in a full season. Jukurit seems content with giving Puistola top line minutes, so perhaps in that role, he’ll be able to rediscover his game. Currently, I’m struggling to see how Puistola fits in the depth chart. Over the course of this season I’ll be keeping a close eye on him to look for any signs of growth. I want to believe in Puistola because I’ve seen what he can do when he’s on his game. He can be flat out dominant if he puts his mind to it. We saw it at the World Juniors back in 2020 when he was one of the top scorers in the tournament. We’ve seen it when Puistola plays in Mestis, the Finnish second-tier league. We have yet to see it in the top league in Finland, however, which is a concern.

If Puistola can turn it around, there’s still hope that he can become an NHL player in the future. He’ll need to develop on the defensive side of the puck and continue to get better without the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. Puistola has top six upside and will need a lot of nurturing in order to reach that potential. Jukurit gives him the opportunity to achieve that potential. I was able to notice a little more confidence in his first game with Jukurit, and that might be due to him having the confidence of his coaches. Perhaps all it’s going to take is Puistola having the confidence of his coaches moving forward, which will then give him the confidence he needs. Maybe all Puistola needs is more ice time. The ice time can only help Puistola grow, but I think the player the Hurricanes drafted is a lot further along than we initially thought.