VANCOUVER – If you’re simply an optimist, you envision Petrus Palmu turning out to be the next Martin St-Louis. But if you’re a Vancouver Canucks fan with a taste for history, you might want to look back at the 1980s.
Palmu is a diminutive winger from eastern Finland who was a late pick this year (sixth round, 181st overall). That has distinct echoes of Petri Skriko. The Lappeenranta native, drafted in 1981 (eighth round, 157th overall), became the highest-scoring Finnish forward in Canucks history, potting 373 of his 405 career NHL points in a Vancouver uniform. And Palmu – according to Ryan McGill, his coach with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack – has a chance to become a Vancouver fan favourite with his skill and effort. That’s what Skriko did when the mid-to-late-1980s Canucks were struggling, similar to today’s club, which finished 29th overall in the NHL last year.
However, Palmu, who was the shortest player taken in this year’s draft, has a long way to go before he can claim an NHL roster spot, as he admitted at Vancouver’s July development camp.
“My goals were to learn something every day and work hard,” Palmu told IIHF.com after the Canucks Summer Showdown Top Prospects Game at Rogers Arena. “I think I did a good job. This time of the summer, your workouts are going hard for summer training. It was nice to have one week to be on the ice with the team. It was fun.”
Most of the attention in the 2010 Olympic host city has naturally centered on Swedish centre Elias Pettersson, the Timra-trained fifth overall pick in 2017, but Palmu has captured the imagination of Vancouver fans too.
The 19-year-old Joensuu native, who spent two years in the Jokerit organization before jumping to Owen Sound for three seasons, is coming off a career-best season of 40 goals and 98 points. At the OHL level, Palmu was a human YouTube highlight reel. He’s built like a tank, even performing 100-kg squats on one leg. Blessed with good explosiveness, he’s still looking to improve his overall speed.
“I think I had a very good summer,” Palmu said. “In the season, I didn’t get injured. I knew if I could be healthy the whole season, I could be a good player in the OHL. I improved everything. I worked on my shots and skating, being stronger. I did a very good job for that and I worked hard. When I got drafted here, I was very grateful. It’s a good opportunity for me. I’m living the dream.”
The only downside last season was taking part in Finland’s failure at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Montreal. The Finns came in as defending champions after claiming the 2016 title in Helsinki with their powerhouse top line of Jesse Puljujarvi, Sebastian Aho, and Patrik Laine. However, last year’s team finished ninth, with head coach Jukka Rautakorpi and his staff getting fired before the end of the tournament. Palmu went pointless in six games in his World Junior debut, averaging just 8:39 in ice time per game, but he has kept the debacle in perspective.
“Before the season I didn’t expect that I would get to the team,” he said. “Then I played very well in the first half and I got a message. I was very happy because I wanted to represent my country. I went there, and you know, I had some tough times before. I was a little bit sick there. It was a good experience, although it was a little tough for the team. I took the positive things from that, and kept going in the last half of the season.”
This is a new golden era for smaller players to make their mark in the NHL. Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau, and Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson are prime examples. The Edmonton Oilers also made a statement by selecting Spokane Chiefs ace Kailer Yamamoto (173 cm, 67 kg) with the 22nd overall pick this year.
Palmu, meanwhile, has seen lots of Alex DeBrincat (171 cm, 75 kg). The nifty Erie Otters forward, a Chicago prospect, scored 50 or more goals three years in a row and led his club to the 2017 OHL championship. Erie defeated Owen Sound in six games in the conference final.
“He’s a very good player,” said Palmu. “He’s kind of a similar player to me, but I think he has a better shot. He’s very skilled and fast. I like how he plays.”
While Palmu enjoyed the sunshine and mountains in both Vancouver and nearby Whistler in July, the 171-cm, 81-kg winger has made plans to return to Finland for 2017/18 to develop. He has a two-year contract with TPS Turku. The classic southern Finnish club, which has won 10 championships, will be seeking its first title since 2010. Although it’s still feasible that he’ll end up playing for Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets, Palmu is pumped up about the TPS opportunity.
“I signed with TPS because they wanted me there. They have very good coaches, like Sami Salo, and there’s Saku Koivu, who is part of the leadership group. There are good guys who can help me there. It’s my plan to go there and develop for a year or two and come back a better player. Hopefully I can play someday in the NHL.”
In the meantime, he’s looking forward to a summer of pushing himself to new heights, with occasional breaks to listen to JVG, his favourite Finnish rap group specializing in hockey-themed songs, and to enjoy 90-degrees-Celsius saunas with plenty of steam.
“Every time in summer, I like to train hard,” Palmu said. “That’s my thing. I have goals next year and in the future. I’m really excited for that.”
If he can achieve even half of what either Martin St-Louis or Petri Skriko did in their careers, Vancouver fans will be excited too.