Welcome to our annual summer countdown of the top 25 players in the Penguins’ organization under the age of 25. Whether they are recent draft picks, NHL-caliber players or anywhere in between, this listing takes the temperature of the amount and placement of young talent that Pittsburgh has within their ranks.
#25: Nolan Collins
#24: Colin Swoyer
#23: Jonathan Gruden
#22: Ty Glover
#21: Kirill Tankov
#20: Judd Caulfield
#19 Corey Andonovski
#18: Jordan Frasca
#17: Isaac Belliveau
#16: Taylor Gauthier
#15: Alex Nylander
#14: Nathan Legare
#13: Tristan Broz
#12: Raivis Ansons
#11 - Lukas Svejkovsky
#10 - Filip Lindberg
#9 - Filip Hallander
#8: Valtteri Puustinen, RW
2021 Ranking: 5
Age: 23 (June 4, 1999)
Height/Weight: 5’9”, 193 pounds
Acquired Via: Seventh round draft pick (2019)
Valtteri Puustinen had a successful rookie season in North American pro hockey in 2021-22, leading Wilkes-Barre in goals (20) and points (42). After showing his stuff the prior two years as one of the most productive players in Finland, Puustinen was able to make the transition to smaller rinks and more physical players with seeming ease, starting off right from the beginning as one of the better players in the AHL.
Despite being a smaller player, Puustinen (who wore No. 48 in the minors) played much the same style as clips we’ve seen from him in Europe. He’s no stranger to the high traffic areas, and possesses a quick and hard shot that can beat goalies from some distance as well.
Puustinen’s skill and energy were noticed by his NHL teammates too, recording one appearance at the NHL level last season.
Rust on Puustinen: "Awesome kid. Works hard. Super skilled. You see him out there in warmups doing some cool things with the puck, and in practice too. Just really excited to see what he can bring here." pic.twitter.com/VOOcsdKACh— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 12, 2022
Puustinen’s vision and creativity were on display in his lone NHL game, his lead pass put Brock McGinn into open space for a breakaway chance that Jeff Carter would follow up and poke into the net for a goal.
Puustinen picks up his first NHL point on Carter's goal and it was a great pass to spring McGinn for a chance that led to the tally. He's been impressive so far. pic.twitter.com/hU0zdRVPCz— Danny Shirey (@DannyShireyPGH) March 12, 2022
Puustinen’s main issues moving forward in the Pens’ organization could be factors somewhat out of his control. As an offensive minded winger, he’s not likely to earn call-ups to play on the fourth line in the NHL. As seen above, he was playing with Carter and McGinn on a third line in the NHL. His opportunity to play in 2022-23 in the NHL likely requires an injury to a top-nine winger and the Penguins seeking a player for limited minutes on a third line (he recorded just 10:14 in his single NHL game).
Having turned 23 this summer, Puustinen is not exactly young for an NHL prospect. Due to his age his entry level contract was only two years, making 202-23 the last season he is currently under contract to Pittsburgh. That should serve to amp the importance of this season even beyond the typical “second season” step that is often mentioned in these writeups, since next summer both the player and the team will have to be interested in continuing the path forward in the organization.
Just what that path is, remains to be seen. The Pens like Puustinen, but they still gave potential right wingers of his position in Bryan Rust, Rickard Rakell and Kasperi Kapanen all multi-year and multi-millions of dollars to stick around for the future. Can Puustinen carve a path in Pittsburgh with the players in front of him? Injuries and unforeseen circumstances could always intercede.
If nothing else, Puustinen is an encouraging depth player for the organization this year. His one game in the NHL is not enough to draw conclusions from, but he acquitted himself well enough to the point where it looks like he can at least hang in the big time. Now the only question that remains is just how much of an opportunity he will get in the coming season to show his stuff in Pittsburgh versus back down in Wilkes-Barre.