Fear not, Everett Silvertips fans. Kasper Puutio is expected to be back for the 2020-21 season.
Everett general manager Garry Davidson said Tuesday he expects the talented Finnish defenseman to play for the Tips next season, despite Puutio having signed a contract with a Finnish professional team.
Reports surfaced in early April that Puutio, who turns 18 in June and is expected to be selected in this year’s NHL draft, had signed a contract with Karpat, which plays in Finland’s top professional league. That fueled speculation that Puutio would play professionally in Finland next season rather than return to Everett.
There’s precedent for top Finnish players returning to Finland to play pro rather than completing their junior eligibility in the WHL. Everett had this happen with forward Eetu Tuulola. Tuulola, who was a sixth-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft by the Calgary Flames, scored 18 goals with the Tips in 2016-17 as an 18-year-old rookie. However, he didn’t return the following season as he played for HPK in Finland’s top pro league instead.
The possibility of this happening with Puutio was one of the risks involved in the January trade that brought Puutio along with center Ethan Regnier to Everett from Swift Current for winger Martin Fasko-Rudas, defenseman Parker Hendren and first- and second-round bantam draft picks. The reports about Puutio’s contract with Karpat appeared to justify those concerns.
However, Davidson said he’s been in contact with Puutio and expects him back next season.
“He signed that contract last year,” Davidson said. “It was only made public a few weeks ago. As soon as we saw that we reached out to Kasper and he said he signed the contract last year and didn’t know why it wasn’t made public. All indications through texts with me and (coach Dennis Williams) is that he’s looking to return and play for us.”
Puutio, who was the first-overall selection in the 2019 CHL import draft, had four goals and eight assists in 21 games with Everett. He’s ranked No. 76 among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings for the NHL draft, which puts him in the mid-round range.
Davidson said he also expects Czech center Michal Gut, who turns 18 in August and had 13 goals and 23 assists in 51 games last season, to return next season.
Bantam draft happens Wednesday
The WHL bantam draft, which will distribute players from western Canada and the western United States who were born in 2005 among the WHL’s 22 teams, takes place Wednesday, and this year it will have a different feel. Because of physical-distancing measures instituted to slow the spread of coronavirus, the draft will take place virtually rather than in Calgary, Alberta.
Davidson, who’s spending the draft at his home in Salmon Arm, B.C., said the biggest challenge about this year’s draft isn’t its virtual nature, but rather the fact teams were unable to scout players like normal.
“We didn’t have provincial finals camps to see all the top players in the same event at the same time,” Davidson said about the events, which were cancelled because of the pandemic. “That makes it real difficult for players from smaller associations or from lower-level teams. But it is what it is, it’s the same for all 22 teams, so we’re just trying to go through all the reports on players and slot them into where they belong on our list.”
Everett, because of trades made to bolster the team for playoff runs each of the past two seasons, does not have a pick until the fourth round.
Four Tips in Central Scouting’s final rankings
Puutio was one of four Everett players to land in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings for this year’s NHL draft. Defenseman Ronan Seeley, who had three goals and 29 assists in 63 games, was listed one spot ahead of Puutio at No. 75 among North American skaters. Center Gage Goncalves, who had 33 goals and 38 assists in 60 games and went undrafted in 2019, was ranked No. 80. Gut was ranked No. 176.
The NHL draft is scheduled for June 26-27.