With the NHL on pause until next week, hockey fans are eagerly awaiting the start of the 2022 World Junior Championship set to begin Sunday in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.
Florida Panthers prospects Kasper Puutio and Elliot Ekmark will be part of the rosters of Finland and Sweden, respectively. Finland will play out of Group A in Edmonton, while Sweden will be part of Group B in Red Deer with the United States team, featuring Ty Smilanic and Mackie Samoskevich.
The Cats drafted Puutio in the fifth round of the 2020 NHL Entry afrer the Finnish defenseman put up 28 points in 56 games in the Western Hockey League.
Puutio was selected by the Swift Current Broncos with the first pick in 2019 CHL import Draft. He played 35 games with Swift Current, where scored his first WHL goal and added 15 assists, before he was traded to the Everett Silvertips. Puutio produced four goals and eight helpers in 21 games with the SIlvertips and posted a +13 rating, a marked improvement over the -15 he posted with the lowly Broncos. He was added to the roster for the Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game as an injury replacement.
A product of the Karpat system, Puutio returned to Finland and rejoined the club after the remainder of the 2019-2020 WHL regular season and playoffs were lost to COVID-19. He scored two goals and added one assist and finished with a -6 rating in 29 Liiga games. He made one scoreless appearance for Karpat in the Liiga postseason.
This season, the 19-year-old moved over to KalPa Kuopio where he has put up six points (3G/3A) in 27 Liiga games.
Puutio will be making his second WJC appearance. He played in last year’s tournament, alongside fellow Cat prospect Anton Lundell, and collected two assists while playing in all seven of Finland’s games and won a bronze medal.
Kasper Puutio scored his first two goals of the Liiga season, including the overtime winner, as KalPa beat Pelicans 3-2 today. He was on the ice for all three goals KalPa scored and recorded five shot attempts in 16:02 TOI. #FlaPanthers pic.twitter.com/e4TqhNIpU4— Finnish Jr Hockey (@FINjrhockey) September 18, 2021
The Panthers took a flyer on the diminutive, play-making center in the seventh round (198th overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft after he put up 12 goals and 26 points in 31 games for Linkoping’s club in the J20 SuperElit league and appeared in four scoreless games in the Swedish Hockey League during his draft season.
In 2020-21, Ekmark suited up in 31 games at the top level and scored his first goal in the SHL, his only point, and also played seven games for the J20 squad, where he excelled, piling up two goals and ten points.
This season, Ekmark has scored one goal and one assist in 26 SHL games for Linkoping HC. He also scored a goal while playing three games at the J20 level.
While this will be Ekmark’s first World Junior Championship, he was part of his country’s entry in the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he scored one goal in five games, and in late July, he was on the Swedish squad that took part in the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth, MI. Ekmark’s only point at the showcase was Sweden’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to USA Blue on July 30.
While he has had trouble producing offense in the SHL, he has shown the abilty to be a much more dangerous player when playing againts his peers.