When you tune into the Buffalo Sabres game against the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight, you will see a lot of big names donning the black and gold and some guy wearing number 48 named Valtteri Puustinen. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Erik Karlsson, Kris Letang, and Jake Guentzel are no doubt the centerpieces of an aging Penguins team. There’s even recognizeable secondary players such as Bryan Rust and Reilly Smith.
So who is this Puustinen fella? Let’s take a deeper look.
Drafted back in the last round of 2019, Valtteri Puustinen made his NHL debut in the 2021-2022 season at 22 years old. The Finnish forward appeared only in one game that season, recording an assist, before being sent back to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL for the better part of two seasons.
On December 8th, Puustinen earned a recall to the big club in part thanks to a slew of injuries among the Penguins forwards. He had 10 points in 18 AHL games before the recall.
The Fin is not very big, standing at only about 5’9″ and 179 pounds, but his offensive ability is the focus of his game.
Thanks to the data accumulated via PuckLuck.com, we’re able to formulate these cool radar charts to get an idea of what style of player Valtteri Puustinen is. So far this season, he’s been an elite playmaker (98th percentile), play-driver (96th percentile), and willing shot blocker (95th percentile).
He’s also shown a willingness to shoot and has been solid in the defensive zone and on the powerplay. So much so that he earned a top powerplay spot alongside Crosby, Malkin, Karlsson, and Guentzel in Rust’s absence.
These attributes should be enough to get you to notice him throughout Saturday’s game, despite being projected to play bottom-six minutes.
Similar NHL players
The list of comparable players across the league is an interesting one, including some quality top-six NHL centers and special teams specialists. Here’s the top 10 comps to Puustinen’s playing style, according to PuckLuck:
- Sam Gagner, EDM
- Phillip Danault, LAK
- Matt Duchene, DAL
- Sean Couturier, PHI
- Pavel Dorofeyev, VGK
- Auston Matthews, TOR
- Emil Bemstrom, CBJ
- Devin Shore, SEA
- John Tavares, TOR
- James van Riemsdyk, BOS
It’s important to clarify that he’s not necessarily producing like all of these players, but his rate stats across the board are most similar to these 10. Let’s visualize the top five here:
Edmonton Oilers forward Sam Gagner may be aging, but his playmaking and powerplay rates are still elite. This is where Puustinen most similarly contributes to the Penguins – just at a much younger age.
Phillip Danault has really picked up his powerplay effectiveness this season. Puustinen fits a similar profile in the shot rates and faceoff percentage as well.
Puustinen is not the quality shooter that Matt Duchene is, but similar stylistic qualities include specializing on the powerplay and playmaking skill.
There’s a much more casual two-way element to Sean Couturier’s game, but Puustinen drives play and shoots with similar frequency.
Like Puustinen, Pavel Dorofeyev is a name you may not have heard of. He’s similar in the fact that he’s created quality offense in the limited time Vegas has needed him. Dorofeyev is a much more effective shooter, but Puustinen brings a better work rate to the table in the defensive zone.
We’ll do one bonus chart, since I’m sure you’re curious to view Auston Matthews’ profile:
Puustinen simply cannot match the elite shooting prowess of Matthews, nor will draw penalties with the puck on his stick like Matthews does. It is noticeable that the play-driving, defending, and shot blocking rates are nearly identical. This suggests than while Puustinen will likely not be a top-line player, he has the appropriate attributes to carve out a full-time middle-six role in the NHL.