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The Edmonton Oilers Prospect Report: Say goodbye to one Finn, say hello to another in Patrick Puistola

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Bruce Curlock
6 months ago
The end of the Jesse Puljujarvi journey with the Edmonton Oilers had a lot of elements to it that have been much discussed. One that wasn’t discussed a great deal was that the Oilers actually added a player in trading out Jesse Puljujarvi. In a small matter of irony, the player the Oilers added is a dynamic scoring Finn whose having great success in his home country. While many were sad to see Puljujarvi go including myself, my attention swivelled pretty quickly to learning about Mr. Patrik Puistola of Tampere, Finland.  While Ken Holland made it sound like the player was an afterthought compared to the salary cap savings, I still dug into this offensive dynamo below to see what the Oilers acquired. More on Puistola and two right-wingers who might have noticed what happened in the Alberta capital (insert bad politics joke here) this week all in this week’s Edmonton Oilers Prospect Report.

Who Caught My Eye?

Patrik Puistola

To be honest, Puistola didn’t catch my eye this week. He was, however, the return in a trade for Jesse Puljujarvi. I have seen Puistola play a dozen times this year mostly in Champions League Hockey, but have also see a couple of SM Liiga games as well. Puistola was a third-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019. He’s a fairly slight left winger at 6’0″ and 174 pounds. Puistola has played his whole professional career in Finland. Since being drafted in 2019, he has totalled 41 goals and 48 assists for 89 points in 224 games. However, Puistola is currently having a breakout year. In 58 games, Puistola has 16 goals and 24 assists for .69 points per game. He has also fired 152 shots on net averaging 2.6 shots per game. In his best year, which was the 2021/22 season, he had 16 goals and 8 assists in 54 games for .44 points per game. He also averaged 2.8 shots per game in that season.
This season, Puistola leads his team in scoring by seven points and ranks 16th in league scoring. Most impressively, he’s tied for being the youngest player in the top twenty in scoring in the SM Liiga. Now, I have to throw some cold water on this series of statistics. To give you a comparison, when Jesse Puljujarvi returned to Finland, it was his 21-year-old season as well. Puljujarvi had 24 goals and 29 assists in 56 games averaging .95 points per game. These are superior numbers to Puistola’s and we know that Puljujarvi did struggle with scoring in the NHL. So there needs to be some caution with the numbers that Puistola is generating.
Nonetheless, the Oilers have another Finnish prospect so let’s dig in shall we? First thing, we will note is that inside the offensive zone, Puistola is a very dangerous player. It starts with his shot. The release and accuracy Puistola has is very impressive.

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These goals shows you how much whip Puistola can generate from his frame and how accurate that shot can be.
Puistola is a very creative playmaker inside the offensive zone. He’s probably a better shooter than a passer, but his passing skills are quite intriguing. He definitely uses patience and deception to create lanes for his teammates to receive passes.

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In terms of where Puistola has some challenges, the primary one is that he may be a “tweener”. He’s a left winger for certain, but he lacks the size you would prefer for winger. So he often loses wall battles like the clip below illustrates.

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When I watch Puistola, I think a little about Linus Omark. Someone who was caught in the middle in terms of what he was as an NHL prospect. Not enough size to potentially be an effective winger given the skating package. Yes, I said skating. This was another early knock on Puistola. Unfortunately, his skating has not changed a bunch in the almost 4 years since his draft. Here is a clip of a breakaway goal that I want to use to illustrate his skating stride.

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Puistola scores a great goal here, but let’s break down the stride. The first thing of note is how loose the top half of his body is as he moves. The arms are swinging at his sides which impedes his ability to create a powerful, balanced stride. The skates are positioned too wide for his body which causes some body sway that also certainly impacts his power. The skates do return quickly to center mass which is good and the heel kick is ok. Overall, Puistola’s form makes him work very hard to get to top speed and generate maximum power.
Now all is not lost because there has been some nice improvement in his lateral mobility. Here in this clip, you see some quick transition steps including the use of a shuffle step to cut off a lane. This was not part of his game even at the 2020 World Junior tournament. So there are some encouraging signs at least with his four-direction skating techniques.

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So what do the Oilers have in Puistola? No question, the Oilers have an above-average prospect in terms of offensive skills. I say only above average because we need to remember that his scoring rates as a 21-year-old in the SM Liga, while good for this year, do not match totals put up by Jesse Puljujarvi when he returned home. Also, we have potentially a “tweener” who isn’t big enough and lacks some of the required skating ability at this time to compete with larger players on the North American ice surface.
Finally, there is the question of whether Puistola is even a prospect after June 1, 2023. Due to his draft year, Puistola needs to be signed by June 1 or he becomes an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team.

Xavier Bourgault

There were some tough days and weeks in the middle of the season for the 2021 first-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers. I have speculated that there was an injury involved just by watching his skating, but there has never been a mention of it publicly. So perhaps it was as simple as a smaller player getting worn down in a very physical league in his first pro season. Whatever the cause for the swoon, it does appear to be over. Bourgault entered the week with five points in his last four games. In the two games this week, he had a goal and an assist while firing six shots on net. The goal was not a virtuoso, but they all count.

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More importantly, Bougault looks to have his confidence and speed back carrying the puck and making plays. Look at this two-hundred-foot effort that convinced me that Bourgault’s speed was back.

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Bourgault could have had plenty more apples this week, but for some near misses by linemates.

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Now one of the questions I get asked is whether Bourgault is ready for the NHL at the start of the next season. To be honest, I don’t think so. There was too much indifferent play during the middle part of the schedule to warrant it. However, the other element that remains an issue is his strength. He needs to get bigger and stronger to play the pro game as he found here against Coachella Valley.

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Raphael Lavoie

I am not certain Lavoie can see NHL games this season without an injury that allows a call-up. The salary cap for the Oilers is so tight that I don’t believe he can make it. Perhaps it would be unfair to even ask him to play in the heat of a playoff race. However, Raphael Lavoie continues to make his case. This week, another goal and an assist in two games. Lavoie now has 25 points in his last 25 games and has pushed his points per game average to 0.75. This week he and Xavier Bourgault connected a couple of times.  Here is the Lavoie goal, which was noted above as well.

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Lavoie also returned the favour to Bourgault as we have seen with a great pass on a two-on-one play.

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More importantly, the critiques of Lavoie’s game have continued to improve. I’ve highlighted his improved consistent effort on a number of occasions. The other critique was his defensive play. That has also improved. Here is a very simple clip that illustrates some of Lavoie’s improved awareness. Watch him slide down into the slot, which he should do as the weakside winger, especially when he sees his defenceman down in trouble. Then he slides over to protect the wall lane eventually retrieving the puck and leading a breakout that results in him drawing a penalty. Not a fancy, high-impact play, but one that will get noticed by coaches all the time.

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That is all for this week folks. As always, send any feedback to @bcurlock or comment on the post. See ya next week.

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