English remains a challenge for Valtteri Puustinen.
And the Finnish-born wing is not hiding from that.
“I’m trying my English,” Puustinen said after the first day of Penguins’ junior camp at Cranberry on Thursday. “It’s not very good. But I understand very well.”
He seems to have a very solid understanding of at least one term that is as American as apple pie and baseball.
When asked to remember the day the penguins were recruited in 2019, he turned to a colorful phrase that has roots in theology and agriculture.
“Holy (expletive)!” Puustinen said. “I’m going to Pittsburgh?!?”
As a seventh-round pick (#203 overall), Puustinen wasn’t quite high on many of the draft boards. At the time, he was 20 years old and too old for an operation usually limited to 18-year-olds. It has been overtaken in previous draft years.
Regardless, the penguins chose to invest in a low-risk, late pick in the scoring wing bug.
“(My agent) called me (and said), ‘Pittsburgh picked you,'” Postinen said. “Really!?! I’m really happy.”
At the dawn of his second season in North America, the penguins seem satisfied with Puustinen, who is now 23.
After signing a two-year entry contract in May of 2021, Puustinen spent the vast majority of the 2021-22 campaign with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. After some early adjustments, he emerged as the team’s top scorer last season with 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 73 matches.
In addition to his success at this level, Puustinen also made his NHL debut, appearing in one game. During their 5-2 home win against the Vegas Golden Knights, he scored a secondary pass on goal for veteran forward Jeff Carter.
“Last season, one match,” Puustinen said. “This season, I’m working, maybe two, three, four games.”
Puustinen may be a bit modest in his predictions for the 2022-23 campaign. With a handful of veteran strikers leaving the NHL roster, it looks like there is one or two chance in the Penguins squad for a youngster like him to open the season at this level.
“After he figured out exactly what we wanted to see and how much it was to work and ski and be active and kind of wait for things to be set up, it got better and better,” he said. “He’s really devoted himself off the ice for strength and conditioning. He’s improved tremendously from what he was last year in this camp. We’re really proud of him for that. It helped his playing, his stamina and his low power. He’s obviously dangerous offensively, He believes that the game is at a high level.”
“Here, it’s being played very (quickly),” Postinin said. “Don’t stop. (Defenders) always come. In Finland, maybe (you) wait, back up the ice. Here, hockey is very fast. Finland, it’s not the same.”
His transition to North America was fairly smooth on the ice. Off the ice, things are still in progress, especially with the English language.
“Come here, you don’t really know any English,” Forrest said. “Fortunately we had quite a few Finnish players last year who really helped him. We have some this year too. We are forcing him to speak English. He has done a great job adapting off the ice. He just wants to keep improving. He knows That’s an important part of it.”
One such Finnish fellow on whom Puustinen relied was former penguin defender Juuso Riikola.
“Last season, my roommate (Ricula), we were watching movies, but we weren’t Finnish (movies),” Postinen said. I watch (and ask), ‘Hey Juuso, how do you say that again?’ “
Hockey seems to be a universal language.
“Here, it’s very easy because we watch videos and I understand,” Postinin said. “I don’t always understand what (is being said) but (when) I watch the video, I understand very well.”
No matter how he mentions it, Puustinen’s goal is easy to understand.
“I (as a boy) watch games here (in the NHL),” Puustinen said. “I think, maybe (I can) play here.”
Notes: According to Forrest, defenders Owen Pickering (first round, #21 overall) and Nolan Collins (sixth round, #167 overall) – both selected during the July draft – are dealing with undisclosed injuries. Pickering did not train for precautionary reasons while Collins participated in the non-contact method.
Seth Rorabo is a Tribune Review writer. You can contact Seth via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .