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Valtteri Puustinen Built to Impress This Season With Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins prospect is the most NHL-ready player in the system.

The Pittsburgh Penguins opened their rookie camp, and immediately put their top prospects in the spotlight. While the Penguins lack a true standout, can't-miss player in the system, they have several players that have all the tools to be NHL contributors. None is more prepared to take that next step than Valtteri Puustinen.  

The Road to the NHL

The Penguins have made a habit of finding overlooked players in later rounds of the NHL draft. They found players like Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Matt Murray, in the third round of the draft. They've turned sixth and seventh-rounders and undrafted players like Conor Sheary, Scott Wilson, and Tom Kuhnhackl into Stanley Cup Champions. Valtteri Puustinen is the next Penguins player to fit that mold. 

Selected in the seventh round of the 2019 draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins took a flyer on the undersized Finnish forward when they chose Valtteri Puustinen. What the rest of the league sees as a weakness, the Penguins see as untapped potential in their smaller players. 

Puustinen spent three seasons playing in the top professional league in Finland (SM-Liiga). In his draft-eligible season, he registered 10 goals playing as a 17 and 18 year-old against much older competition. After being selected in the 2019 draft, he immediately started turning heads. Puustinen raised his production in the 2019-2020 season with 17 goals and 40 points. He followed that up with a 21-goal and 41-point season in 2020-2021. 

After three years of professional experience in Europe, Puustinen made the jump to North America to play for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He immediately stood out as the top offensive player and his season statistics backed that up. He led the team in both goals scored and points, with 20 goals and 42 points in 73 games. 

An NHL-Ready Game

What stands out the most about Valtteri Puustinen's game is his vision. He sees the ice at a level most players dream of, and he is able to make some incredible passes and plays because of it. The Penguins gave Puustinen one game of NHL action this past season, and he was able to capitalize on his brief opportunity. He played on a line with Jeff Carter and Brock McGinn and registered an assist in just over 10 minutes of ice time.

Puustinen's high-level hockey sense was well displayed in the goal he assisted on. Take a look at that play here. Positioned on the right wing, Puustinen begins the play with solid positioning, opening himself up for an outlet pass from defenseman Kris Letang. After receiving the puck, he pauses for just a moment, long enough for Brock McGinn to get in stride behind the opposition defense. He then lays a perfect pass leading McGinn in on a wide-open breakaway chance. Jeff Carter follows the rebound for a tap-in goal to seal the play. None of which happens without the heads-up play and soft hands of Valtteri Puustinen.

The progress of Puustinen has been steadily improving as a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect, and he showed his progress off the bat last season. In this highlight, Puustinen shows off how smooth his hands are, combined with a deceptive shot. Samuel Poulin sauces a lofted pass to Puustinen, who effortlessly corrals the pass and buries a wrist shot over the goaltender's glove for his team-leading fourth goal of the early season. After setting the tone as the number one offensive weapon, Puustinen never looked back. 

Throughout the remainder of the season, he proved was the go-to guy as the leading scorer. Take a look at the highlights from a win against the Hershey Bears this past season. In overtime, the Baby Penguins powerplay is quarterbacked by Puustinen, evident by his confidence with the puck and directing traffic. He sets up Alex Nylander for a one-time shot that is blocked, resulting in Sam Poulin chipping the puck out to the point. Puustinen recovers the puck and after examining the zone, he steps into a rocket of a wrist shot that beats the goaltender on the glove side. 

The Next Steps

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a logjam of bottom six forward options to play besides centers Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger. Puustinen is most likely hovering around the 12th or 13th forward spot, but the competition is steep. Veterans like Josh Archibald and Drake Cagguila, as well as fellow young players like Radim Zohorna, Drew O'Connor, and Alex Nylander, are all looking to stick on a team with only one or two forward spots up for grabs. Despite this, Puustinen sticks out from this group with his offensive play. His skillset is NHL-caliber, and he needs an extended opportunity to prove that. If the Penguins want more scoring, with someone who has proven experience in Europe and North America, Valtteri Puustinen is the best option available. 

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