When Petrus Palmu made his way back to Finland after repeatedly being a healthy scratch with the Utica Comets, it was a bad look for the Canucks organization. Somehow, it looks even worse less than a month later.
It’s not just that Palmu immediately began producing after his return to TPS in the Finnish Liiga, though that does raise the question of why he never got any top-six opportunities in Utica. What makes it look worse now is comments made Tuesday by Palmu that suggest there were communication issues with the young Finnish prospect.
Palmu joined Perry Solkowski and Rick Dhaliwal on Sportsnet 650’s morning show, the Starting Lineup, where he discussed his departure from Utica back to Finland. When asked why he wasn’t getting ice time with the Comets, Palmu said, “I don’t know.”
“Honestly, I didn’t get the reason why I didn’t get the ice time, nobody really talked to me,” said Palmu. “I tried to do my job and help the team when I played. I think the first games when I played there, I was playing good, but then, like everybody knows, I didn’t get very big minutes, which was very tough for me.”
That first sentence is the biggest issue: an apparent lack of communication. According to Palmu, he simply didn’t know why he wasn’t playing and, when he did get in the lineup, played minuscule minutes on the fourth line. It’s no wonder, then, that he felt the need to go somewhere else to get more playing time.
Ryan Johnson had a scheduled appearance on Sportsnet 650 later in the day with Satiar Shah and Jawn Jang, who of course asked about Palmu’s comments. Johnson was evidently unaware of the comments made a few hours earlier by Palmu and declined to comment directly on Palmu’s situation, instead talking generally about how the Canucks and Comets communicate expectations to every Canucks prospect.
“It’s very clear as an organization how we expect a player to play,” said Johnson, summing up.
Whatever the communication strategy of the Canucks organization, there was clearly a disconnect on some level with Palmu, as he didn’t understand the reasons for his limited ice time. At 21, this is a crucial development year for Palmu, and he felt he couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer.
“I want to play NHL. I need the chance,” said Palmu. “I’ve got to be a little bit selfish in my hockey career like everyone else. Right now, I’m here getting better. In Utica, if I would have stayed there and sit in the stands the whole season, I wouldn’t get that good. That’s just a fact.”
That flies in the face of some of the arguments for Utica’s approach that have emphasized the coaching time the players get in practice as being essential for their development, even when they’ve been healthy scratched.
That’s the larger context here: Palmu isn’t the only Canucks prospect that was repeatedly healthy scratched. Jonah Gadjovich has been scratched for three straight games, Lukas Jasek for two straight, and Tanner MacMaster for four straight games, while Kole Lind has missed games to both injuries and scratches. At least Gadjovich is getting time on the second power play unit and Jasek has played on the first and second lines.
Palmu, on the other hand, never got those same opportunities. To understand just how limited his minutes were in Utica, just take one of his final games, when he tallied his lone AHL assist.
Against the Cleveland Monsters on November 21st, Palmu played on a line with Gadjovich and ECHL forward Vincent Arseneau. He played a total of nine shifts, for a total of 4:57 in ice time. In those minutes, Palmu got around 7 or 8 touches of the puck, with most of his time spent getting in on the forecheck to chase down dump-ins or battling along the boards.
One of those touches came early in the third period, when he neatly knocked down an aerial pass from Gadjovich, then smartly pulled up outside the blue line and fed a streaking Dylan Blujus, who finished off the play with a top shelf shot.
That play is really just a smart pass to create a zone entry with possession and it’s likely the type of possession-driving play we’d see more from Palmu if he was given a top-six opportunity.
With TPS in Finland, Palmu is getting that opportunity. After seven games, he leads TPS in corsi percentage at 55.3% and he’s playing big minutes. He’s averaging 17:59 in ice time and played nearly 22 minutes in his last game.
Palmu had five points in his first five games in Liiga and, while he was held off the scoresheet in his next two games, had a whopping nine shots on goal in each of them. He’s averaging 2:45 per game on the power play, with three of his five points coming with the man advantage.
"I have seven games under my belt now and I’m back to the game mode," said Palmu. I didn’t play a lot [in Utica], so I start feeling better, and I’ve got a couple points too. I think I will be very good. The most important thing is that I get ice time now and I get to play and start feeling better. I feel like a better player."
Palmu is a player that deeply desires to play in the NHL. There's a reason why he came over to Canada to play in the OHL for three seasons instead of staying in Finland. He's committed to one goal.
"I wanted to stay there and play the whole season there, but the thing was, I can’t sit in the stands and play small minutes," he siad.
This situation raises questions about how the Canucks are developing their prospects in Utica. Some of those questions would be quieted if the Comets could show a clear win in prospect development.
One prospect they seem optimistic about is Zack MacEwen, who is second on the Comets in goals and third in points. As an undrafted free agent signing out of the QMJHL, the 6’4” MacEwen has been paying his dues in Utica and has been praised by the organization for his commitment in all facets of his development.
If MacEwen can make it to the NHL, and/or prospects like Jonathan Dahlen, Lukas Jasek, and Kole Lind can show some real progression over the rest of the season, that will certainly help the Comets’ case that they’re making the right calls in their approach to developing the Canucks’ prospects.