The 2017 NHL Entry Draft may turn out to be the best one in Jim Benning’s tenure so far as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. In fact, a re-grading by The Athletic pegged Vancouver’s haul as the best of the draft.
In the first round he nabbed superstar center Elias Pettersson. He followed that pick up in the second round by choosing Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich. He then added goalie Michael DiPietro in the third round and stud college defenceman Jack Rathbone in the fourth round.
Pettersson is already in his second NHL season. DiPietro has made one NHL start (albeit a forgettable one) and has gotten off to a terrific beginning to his pro career at Utica. At 20 years old, he has already established himself as the organization’s third-string goalie. Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich are starting to exhibit their skills on the AHL stage and Lind in particular is getting closer to being considered as potential call-up. Rathbone, in his second year at Harvard University, is a point-per-game defenceman this season and now has recorded 32 points in the first 43 games of his NCAA career. He could turn pro as early as the spring of 2020.
Not all the picks in the 2017 Draft turned out well though. Benning and his draft crew decided to walk away from and not sign fifth round pick Swedish defenceman Kristoffer Gunnarsson and seventh round choice OHL rear-guard Matt Brassard. But one pick still remains and he is under contract to the Canucks. He is diminutive left-wing offensive dynamo, 6th round pick Petrus Palmu.
The Curious Case of Petrus Palmu
Passed over in his draft year and beyond the Canucks decided to take a chance on the older 5’6” Finnish forward picking him just a few weeks short of his 20th birthday. They were intrigued by his explosive final year in the OHL during which he scored forty goals and put up ninety-eight points in sixty-two games. He then followed it up with 13 goals and 21 points in the playoffs including this one.
Petrus Palmu scored a gorgeous lacrosse goal vs Kitchener Rangers in the OHL Playffs last night... pic.twitter.com/TsaunbeFI5— Robert Söderlind (@HockeyWebCast) March 30, 2017
With his junior career over, Palmu decided to return to his native Finland to begin his professional career. He signed with TPS Turku of the Finnish Liiga and had a stellar season accumulating 17 goals and 36 points in 59 games. He was chosen as the Liiga’s Rookie of the Year. Based upon his play general manager Jim Benning decided he was worthy of an NHL entry-level contract.
#Canucks have signed Petrus Palmu to a three-year, entry-level deal— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) May 28, 2018
36 points in 59 games for Turku, and named Rookie of the Year pic.twitter.com/s1qVrC8HIB
He began his North American pro career in the AHL but once Utica Comets head coach considered Palmu’s game to be subpar, the Finnish fire hydrant had trouble getting into the line-up. Cull believes in a merit-based system for granting ice time and the system has been applied to all hopeful Utica rookies.
There has been much discussion about what occurred in Utica last season. Many point blame at Trent Cull and his coaching staff for not handling young players properly. Others say coaches don’t determine ice time, players do.
I think the latter is more accurate. For every Dahlen and Palmu who packed their bags and wanted out there are many more players like Zack MacEwen, Lukas Jasek, Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, Jalen Chatfield, Guillaume Brisebois, Ashton Sautner, Brogan Rafferty and Michael DiPietro who have worked hard to earn their ice time. Many of them are now much closer to their NHL dream.
After playing twelve games and accruing one measly assist, Palmu packed his bags and went home.
Petrus Palmu on SN 650 and leaving Utica to go back to Finland : "I didn't get a reason as to why I didn't get ice time in Utica. no one really talked to me. I tried to do my job when I played, I didn't get very big minutes which was tough for me." #Canucks— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) January 8, 2019
Petrus Palmu has elevated his game
Sometimes you need to go home and retreat before you move forward with your life. That might be what Palmu has done. He is back in his comfort zone playing in a lesser league he’d already mastered as a rookie. He is putting up just over a point per game (21 points in 20 games). He started off hot but has cooled recently. There is no denying his offensive skill with the puck, and he’s a slick passer in particular.
#Canucks FIN— CanucksAbbyFan2 (@Fan2Abby) December 3, 2019
#52 Palmu's perfect pass for the primary pic.twitter.com/izXQMUfcXx
He doesn’t just excel with passing the puck. Palmu can finish too.
Petrus Palmu is 3rd in the Liiga with 1.12 PPG. He scored his 8th goal of the season yesterday to go along with 11 assists in 17 games.— Brett (@MirokiOnDefence) December 1, 2019
The 22 year-old is averaging 17:16 minutes a game on JYP's second line. pic.twitter.com/heuJZZDtjs
For his part, Palmu continues to garner accolades in his home country. He was recently selected as one of four players from his JYP team to play on Finland’s A-team in the Euro Hockey Tour Russia from December 12th to 15th, 2019. He and his teammates will be playing for the Channel One Cup.
Julius Nättinen, Petrus Palmu, Miska Siikonen ja Eetu Laurikainen vahvistavat Suomen A-maajoukkuetta Euro Hockey Tourin Venäjän-turnauksessa.— JYP Jyväskylä (@JYPJyvaskyla) December 2, 2019
Channel One Cup pelataan 12.-15.12.#JYPliiga #Leijonat #maajoukkue #Suomi #Jyväskylä pic.twitter.com/LNYsSTruEv
It sounds like both Canucks’ management and Palmu’s agent expect him to rejoin Utica early in 2020 once his Liiga season ends. If that happens it will be interesting to see if Palmu has managed to improve his overall game enough to quickly earn the trust of coach Trent Cull to play him. Utica will likely be in the middle of a playoff race then and on the verge of a possible long playoff run in pursuit of a Calder Cup.
"Petrus is training in Finland currently. We have agreed with the Canucks he will play in Europe and will possibly report to Utica after his season."— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) September 10, 2019
Todd Diamond gives us insight into Petrus Palmu.
Palmu’s entry level contract with the Canucks has one more season to run. If things don’t work out in Utica, expect him to not be qualified as an RFA during the summer of 2021 or even perhaps expect a mutual agreement between the parties to terminate the contract during this coming summer.
It is too soon to write off the little fire-plug forward and his immense offensive talent. We will have a much better idea of what his Canucks’ future will look like in the new year.