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Penguins sign Finnish forward Oula Palve

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Looking to make another add from the free agent pool, the Pens sign a sleeper pick

Olympics: Ice Hockey-Men Team Quarterfinal-CAN-FIN Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Signing little-known European free agents is a time-honored tradition for the Pittsburgh Penguins (where my Vladimir Vujtek stans at?). Today the club follows in the footsteps of signing such luminaries as Sergei Plotnikov and Janne Pesonen and Juuso Riikola announcing a new forward to bring over.

From the team:

The Pittsburgh Penguins have signed forward Oula Palve (pronounced OH-la Pal-VAY) to a one-year, entry-level contract, it was announced today by executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford.

His entry-level deal is for the 2019-20 campaign and it is a two-way contract.

Palve, 27, finished inside the top-10 scorers in Finland’s top professional league (Liiga) each of the past two seasons. During this past year, Palve led TPS Turku and placed tied for sixth in scoring with 51 points (16G-35A) and a plus-5 in 53 games. He tacked on four points (1G-3A) in five postseason contests. Palve played on a line with Kaapo Kakko, who is ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the highest-rated European Skater heading into the 2019 NHL Draft.

The 6-foot, 176-pound Palve split the 2017-18 campaign between HPK Hameenlinna and TPS, enjoying a breakout performance in his second full season in Liiga, the top pro league in Finland. Palve began his season with HPK before joining TPS late in the year, combining to score 50 points (14G-36A) in 55 games split between the teams, putting him seventh in Liiga in points. During the playoffs, Palve produced 12 points (4G-8A) in 11 games for TPS, the third-highest total among all league skaters.

Palve, a native of Keuruu, Finland, played the last three seasons in Liiga with TPS and HPK, scoring 123 points (35G-88A) in 165 regular-season games and 18 points (5G-13A) in 23 playoff games.

Palve graduated to Finland’s top professional league following a dominating 2015-16 season with Jukurit in Finland’s second-highest pro league. That year, Palve led the league in goals (32), assists (39), points (71) and shorthanded goals (3) in 43 games, helping his team to a championship. Palve was named the league’s Best Forward and a First All-Star.

His Hockeydb shows more of the same:

I don’t know who writes the captions on eliteprospects.com but they often seem very, very favorable and paint sunny portraits of players. Palve’s is no different:

One scouting report of an objective nature comes from The Athletic’s Corey Pronman who ranked Palve as the third best CHL, NCAA or European free agent available for signing. Pronman’s report, in part:

He’s a high-end playmaker who will be able to move pucks and make plays at the NHL level. He’s an average skater who is fine but not great off the puck, so the question for NHL teams is will Palve be a player you slot lower in your lineup. He’s 27, so I enter his NHL projection with skepticism, but I do see tools that can translate to the top level.

Steven Ellis from The Hockey News did not have Palve ranked in his list. He did get on Dobber Prospect’s midseason rankings though:

One player who is a bit behind those three wingers in points but might still draw some interest is 26-year-old center Oula Palve. He has 14 goals and 33 points in 37 games. His season hasn’t been as successful as he had probably hoped after a great season and playoff run last year. He has average size (6-0, 176) and he turns 27 in a few weeks. But he’s a talented center who plays a solid defensive game which has some value.

So, who knows how this will pan out. We’ve seen some of these free agents (like Riikola) come over and have a strong camp and make the NHL team. The Penguins figure to have a center job opening up with the presumed retirement of Matt Cullen, though Palve would have to beat Teddy Blueger for the job. But injuries and trades can happen so you never know. Right now it’s unclear if Palve has the skill to make the NHL club, but he is on a two-way contract and can just be sent to the AHL if he’s not up to snuff. The Pens may be active in flipping members of their team around, but right now it seems like a long-shot that Palve will stick just based on numbers alone since Pittsburgh already has 12 forwards either signed for next season or under team controlled restricted free agency.

It’s about a no-risk and probably very low-reward situation, for the most part. There’s a reason most of the past European FA signings (Plotnikov, Pesonen, Vujtek, etc) come and go without making much of an NHL impact. The dream of course is to find the super-rare Artemi Panarin; a player that somehow manages to avoid getting drafted and blossoms into an NHL superstar. By all indications, this is not going to be Palve.

However, you never know how the story will be written until it actually is, so if nothing else there will be a little piece of slight intrigue for the Pens in camp as they see what (if anything) they have found with Palve.