FanPost

How Mad Would You Be if the Leafs Took A Tiny, Unranked Winger at #17 Overall?

Ahhh, draft season. That most fanciful of seasons where we get to poke holes and laugh at professional scouts who do this for a living and wonder aloud "How cud they b so dum? Skill is better than size, lolz" while wiping the latest residue left by our Dorito covered fingers off the keyboard.

But how small is too small? And where is the trade-off between size and scoring? Where does the sliding scale reach diminishing returns on either side? Every once in awhile, a prospect comes along whose scoring is so good it seems as though size should barely be a talking point, yet size bias remains. And boy, is there a tiny doozy of a scorer flying under the radar in the 2017 draft!

While it’s easy to poke holes on the sidelines, there does seem to be some actual legitimacy to the "past offensive performance is the best indicator of future offensive performance" argument. In the past 5 years we have seen the following very good-to-superstar players slide in the draft seemingly due primarily to their size: Johnny Gaudreau, Sebastian Aho, Jake Guentzel, Travis Konecny, Brayden Point, Alex Debrincat, Sam Girard, and Vitali Abramov among others. Any reasonably dedicated armchair GM could have told you most of those picks were steals at the time and they continue to fit that description in increasingly emphatic fashion.

With that trend well established, it’s easy to understand why fans can work themselves up into a frenzy when they see a highly skilled, smaller player who is projected to be available with a later pick. Much digital ink has already been enthusiastically spilled extolling the virtues of potentially-underrated-due-to-size prospects such as Nick Suzuki, Kailer Yamamoto, Erik Brannstrom, and Mason Shaw as well as overager Petrus Palmu. This is in addition to high-potential-but-undersized prospects even further under the radar such as Zach Solow, Aleksi Heponiemi, and another promising overager in Tyler Steenbergen.

Of these, it seems that Nick Suzuki and Kailer Yamamoto have generated the most fervour given that they are both nipping at the heels of a universal consensus top 2 lock in Nico Hischier for the CHL lead in primary points per game with Hischier at 1.21 primary points per game and Suzuki and Yamamoto at 1.17 a piece.

And fantastic prospects, they certainly are. But our story does not end with them, dear reader, nay! For to find the smallest, most scoringest, most possibly undervaluedest prospect of them all we must travel to land of Finland and ask for one by the name of…

Jerry Turkulainen.

Who?

I’m glad you asked.

Jerry Turkulainen is small. Very small. Like 5’7", 146 lbs small. Jerry Turkulainen is also unranked by literally every publically available draft list except for NHL Central Scouting, who currently have our boy Jerry ranked #117 amongst European skaters. Are you salivating yet? No? Hmm.

Well, what if I told you that he was ranked 3rd in scoring among 61 U20 players in Liiga (making the league alone is already pretty elite company for a player that young) this year behind two already drafted prospects, one of whom is nearly two years older? Little better?

How about a crudely made chart of Liiga player comparables in their draft year showing lil Jerry as a more offensively productive player than Finnish mainstays such as Mikko Rantanen, Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho (yes, that one), Kasperi Kapanen, Leo Komarov and nearly identical production to star-in-the-making Jesse Puljujaarvi?

Name

Points per Game in Draft Year

Mikael Granlund

0.93

Aleksander Barkov

0.9

Olli Jokinen

0.82

Jori Lehtera

0.78

Patrik Laine

0.71

Jesse Puljujaarvi

0.56

Jerry Turkulainen

0.54

Mikko Rantanen

0.5

Teuvo Teravainen

0.45

Sebastian Aho

0.41

Kasperi Kapanen

0.3

Komarov

0.14

Wait, what??? How is it possible in a world of Johnny Gaudreau’s, Tyler Johnson’s and Martin St. Louis’s (may his hockey career rest in peace), to not even rank a player with this kind of offensive comparables?

A google search for ‘Jerry Turkulainen’ reveals next to nothing except this really cool video (on the 2nd page, mind you) that shows that, holy crap, rewind and play that again, this kid is RIDICULOUSLY skilled:

You’re never going to be able to fully assess a player from a 3 minute video, but...sweet Flying Spaghetti Monster this kid has some obvious talent. In terms of raw offensive tools, I’m almost left wondering what this kid DOESN’T possess in relation to the top players available in this draft other than size. He appears to have absolutely devastating top speed and acceleration combined with above average agility, excellent vision and passing (that beautiful little saucer pass at the 35 second mark is a play worthy of evoking thoughts of our own undersized terror in Mitch Marner), a #actuallygood shot that looks like it has about the power and accuracy of your standard 1st round prospect with a good but not elite shot (see his goal at 56 seconds in the video for the best example of the juice he can get behind a shot), a pair of greasy little hands and, perhaps most encouragingly for a prospect of his size, a willingness to drive the net, pick up rebounds and score from the dirty areas.

In several of the clips, he can be seen burning defenders to the outside in what I can only think to call McDavid-esque fashion, albeit he’s doing it in a league not nearly as fast as the NHL.

Oh yeah. And a few more comparables?

-Valtteri Filppula didn’t match Turkulainen’s .54 PPG in Liiga until he scored at a .55 PPG pace as a 21 year old.

-Sami Vatanen matched that rate in his draft +1 year with .55 PPG as well.

-A 22-year-old Leo Komarov came well short of 18-year-old Turkulainen’s pace with .42 PPG.

-Sebastian Aho scored .41 PPG as a draft eligible, followed by 1 PPG as a draft +1, followed by a 49 point rookie season in the NHL as a draft +2

-In his draft +1 year, Kasperi Kapanen fell below Turkulainen’s draft year with .51 PPG (albeit, they were a similar age for these results since Turkulainen was born very early in his draft year, 7 days after the cutoff, while Kapanen is a late birthday in his draft year).

-If you project (former 3rd overall pick) Olli Jokinen’s draft year production of .82 PPG vs. the .54 of Turkulainen, the result is that Lil Turkey (can we call him Lil Turkey?) produced at a pace 65.85% that of Jokinen. If you were to take Jokinen’s career high of 91 points and take 65.85% of that, the result would be 60 points. While far from a scientifically sound conclusion due to there being only one data point, a 60 point season would indicate a career that by far surpasses even your average 1st round prospect.

Given the fact that there are 1st rounders almost every year who barely (if ever) make the NHL, I’d sign off on a potential 60 point player with our #17 pick all day let alone the fact that by all public accounts this player is set to go undrafted altogether. Especially when you consider that a player like Nazem Kadri just hit his current career high in points this year with 61 and he’s in the prime of his career.

Johnny Gaudreau was essentially identical in size during his draft year. I’m not suggesting that Turkulainen should be our pick at #17. I don’t think he should be and I’m sure he won’t be. But given what we’ve seen from Hunter and co. in terms of willingness to go with "off the board" picks like Korshkov and Dzierkals as well as not being put off by the size of players like Marner, Bracco, Timashov and Brooks, I wouldn’t be surprised (and would be pretty ecstatic, actually) to see him snatched up even as high as our 2nd round pick, although if they are confident in both the player and the chance of getting him lower, that could be worth exploring as well.

So, what do you think? Is this the sleeper pick of all sleeper picks? Or is this a player that has no hope of cutting his teeth in the NHL due to his size? I can’t figure out why Turkulainen has been left off every board completely, but the common refrain of "let’s see him prove it against men" doesn’t apply here. He already is.

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