After sending away defenseman MacKenzie Weegar this offseason as part of the package for Matthew Tkachuk, the Florida Panthers now have a gaping hole on defense. While the team has some rising prospects in Matt Kiersted and signed veteran pieces like Marc Staal, it may not be enough to fix the void left by the blockbuster deal. However, one prospect could be the answer to their problems: Finnish defenseman Kasper Puutio.
Puutio is coming off a silver-medal performance at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship (WJC) for Team Finland. He had seven points (four goals, three assists) through seven games, including a game-winning goal that sent his home country to the gold-medal match against Team Canada. He was also named the best defenseman of the tournament and led all defensemen in goals.
Puutio’s Young Career Thus Far
Drafted in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Draft, he’s played in Finland’s top professional league, Liiga, for the past two seasons, tallying 13 points (seven goals, six assists) through 80 games between Karpat and KalPa. In Jan. 2020, he helped lead Team Finland to a bronze medal at the 2020 WJC.
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He is expected to play for KalPa again this season, but it would not be surprising to see him at training camp this month. Even though he is still young, a few perks could help him flourish in Sunrise.
Puutio Will Feel at Home with His Fellow Countrymen
If Puutio makes the team, his captain will be arguably one of the best Finnish players in the game today: Aleksander Barkov. He’ll also be joined by Anton Lundell, a former teammate in international tournaments and a former opponent in Liiga.
Furthermore, one of the Panthers’ assistant coaches is Tuomo Ruutu, who’s seen playoff action as both a player and a coach. Essentially, Puutio will be walking into a much warmer Finland.
Puutio’s Leadership Skills
Puutio was an alternative captain for Team Finland at the most recent WJC. Before that, he wore the “A” in the U18 version of Karpat in the Finnish U18 league Sarja.
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This offseason the Panthers lost one of their alternate captains, Jonathan Huberdeau, and they might another in Patric Hornqvist at the end of the season. Puutio’s leadership skills will definitely be needed in the future in some shape or capacity.
Puutio Under the Brightest Lights
In the U16, U18, and U20 Sarja leagues combined, Puutio has played in 20 playoff games, tallying 17 points (four goals, 13 assists). In Liiga, he only played one playoff game, registering zero points and a minus-1 rating.
Puutio continues the team’s trend of bringing in new personnel who have played in tough games or have been in high-pressure atmospheres. With him being a potential addition to the fray, he could relax the rest of the team as he has experience in playing in playoff type atmospheres. The Panthers core struggled mightily this postseason despite getting out of the first round against the Washington Capitals.
Will We See Puutio at Training Camp?
As of now, the official training camp roster has yet to be announced. However, because Puutio is in the final year of his contract with Liiga, he might not be at the start of camp. On the bright side, he will have a chance to develop his game further before making the jump to the NHL.
Ultimately, general manager Bill Zito should be excited and proud about one of his first selections as general manager as he continues to make the Panthers a tough team to compete against.
My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!