For years, the Vancouver Canucks have opted to use their mid and late round picks on low upside players possessing size and intangibles. It was at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft though, where management altered its draft strategy to adapt to the league’s emphasis on speed and skill. No selection encompassed that reversal in strategy better than 6th round pick Petrus Palmu.
Palmu notched 40 goals and 98 points in 62 games last season for Owen Sound, placing him 4th highest in the OHL for points. Clouding this impressive production was Palmu’s height, which at five foot seven made him the shortest player drafted in 2017.
Fast forward nine months later and the Joensuu, Finland product has successfully made the transition to pro hockey in the SM-Liiga— the top tier Finnish league.
I had the opportunity to chat with Palmu about his transition from junior to professional hockey, the Canucks’ plans for him next season, and much more.
Impressive Transition To Professional Hockey
The transition from junior hockey to a professional men's league isn’t easy for any NHL prospect, let alone one standing at just five foot seven. Palmu has thrived on that challenge, finishing 16th and 41st in the SM-Liiga for goals(17) and points(36) in 59 games.
For reference, 2017 24th overall pick Kristian Vesalainen registered 39 points in 44 SM-Liiga contests this season. Vesalainen is two years younger than Palmu, but that credits the former’s standout talent more than it attenuates Palmu’s accomplishments.
It took Palmu a while to get accustomed to pro hockey, but he’s been able to effectively adapt his game suit the new circumstances.
“It was a big difference [coming] here because [of the] big ice and different style of game, but I think after Christmas I started to learn the game style and I started to get my abilities more in the game,” said Palmu.
Asked about the different style of game in the SM-Liiga Palmu replied, “The game is [a] little bit more slower because here teams play trap and try to control [the] puck more than play quick up. And big ice makes that what it is.”
The SM-Liiga has hybrid rinks which slot between NHL and Olympic size arenas in terms of size.
One factor that undoubtedly eased Palmu’s transition was being able to play in his home country after spending three seasons playing junior hockey in Canada.
“Of course it feels good to be home and play here. It is [a] different culture and the game is different so I’ll get good experiences and that way maybe I will [become a] better player.”
Palmu’s Play Style and Role
It should come as no surprise that Palmu models his game after future Hall-of-Famer Martin St. Louis. The 5’8 forward scored over 1000 points, claimed two scoring titles, and made five all-star game appearances.
It takes a special player to overcome diminutive size and Palmu is no exception.
“My strengths are quickness and [puck] skills. I can hold on pucks and make plays. I am good at winning puck battles and get them to [my] team and I can read the game as well.”
Speed and skill are prerequisites for small players, but what stands out with Palmu is his willingness to battle down low. Highlights show that he scores the majority of his goals from high traffic areas unlike the typical undersized forward who sticks to the perimeter.
Much of that success in tight comes as a result of Palmu’s stocky build; which at 180 pounds combines with his low centre of gravity to create a frame that’s very hard to push off the puck.
Palmu’s self-confidence shines when asked about what role he could see himself playing at the NHL level.
“Of course I wanna be [a] first two-line player. If I’ll make it there I’m a good player all around [that can] play on [the] power play and penalty kill,” said Palmu.
There’s a lot of work to be done to get there, though Palmu already has his eyes set on what he needs to improve on to succeed in the NHL.
“I have to still get faster and stronger, but I’m getting there and I think I just have to get better with everything [a] little bit. Getting faster and stronger will be the two big things [to work on] next summer.”
Plans For Next Season
Palmu’s impressive rookie season in the SM-Liiga has many wondering what the next step is for the talented Finn. The 20-year-old winger has another year left on his contract with TPS, though Ryan Biech points out that a mutual contract termination would void the final year.
TPS is in the midst of a playoff run so Palmu hasn’t had the opportunity to sit down with Canucks’ management, but he’s willing and ready to move to the AHL next season if it’s deemed best for his development.
“Right now I’m just trying to focus on [the] playoffs and this year, but I have no rush and I know we will talk about that later. My goal is to play there someday and I’m ready for it next year if it’s the plan,” stated Palmu.
Petrus remains patient, but the good things he’s heard from TPS assistant coach Sami Salo have Palmu excited about the chance of eventually being able to play as a Canuck.
“[Sami Salo] has said it is a great city and great organization [to] play in [the] NHL. It means a lot to me that I have an opportunity [to] play there someday.”