Courtesy of Hertz

Drive to the Net: Puustinen’s strong start

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Valtteri Puustinen. -- Veli-Matti A. Pitkänen

Penguins 2019 seventh-round pick Valtteri Puustinen is already off to a great start this season in Liiga, the top Finnish men's league.

Five games into the season, Puustinen ranks No. 3 in league scoring and No. 1 on his team, HPK, with two goals and five assists in five games. His 26 shots on goal rank fourth in the league, and he's averaging 5.2 shots per game.

Puustinen, 5-foot-8 and 179 pounds, is already more than halfway to last season's total of 13 points (10 goals, three assists) in 47 games.

The 20-year-old has been playing right wing on HPK's third line, centered by undrafted 24-year-old Tommi Tikka, with undrafted 21-year-old Jere Innala on the left side.

Puustinen earned his first point of the season in HPK's second game, picking up a power play primary assist in a 3-2 loss to JYP. He feeds Elmeri Eronen at the point from the left circle, and Eronen scores to tie the game:

Puustinen's next two points came in HPK's third game of the season, a 3-2 win over SaiPa. Puustinen, from his position at the left circle on the power play, drops to one knee and fires a shot. Philippe Cornet picks up the rebound and scores:

Later in the game, again on the power play, Puustinen sends the puck to Eronen at the point and ends up with a secondary assist:

Puustinen's most productive night came in the following game, a 4-2 win over HIFK. He opened the scoring 2:17 into the game with a power-play tally:

Puustinen picked up his first even strength point at 13:16 of the same period with the primary assist on Innala's eventual game-winning goal:

In the second period, Puustinen lost the puck while bracing for an open-ice hit. Innala recovered the loose puck and passed it to Tikka, who scored, giving Puustinen credit for a secondary assist:

Puustinen extended his point streak to four games the following night in a rematch against HIFK, which HIFK won in overtime, 5-4. With HPK trailing 4-2 in the third period, Puustinen scored his second goal of the season (and first even-strength goal) to bring HPK within one:

On that last goal, the HPK play-by-play man referred to Puustinen as “Kuopion Phil Kessel,” Puustinen's nickname on the team. The name comes from Puustinen's hard shot, and some physical attributes.

“I’m a little similar to the player,” he said of his nickname. “I’m a little round and more. Maybe it comes from it.”

I mean, the resemblance is definitely there:

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