The 2018-19 campaign was a difficult one for the Swift Current Broncos. One benefit of their poor record, though, was getting the first overall pick in the 2019 CHL Import Draft.
There was little doubt which country they would go to in order to find their next import player — Finland.
With their top pick, the Broncos chose 2002-born blueliner Kasper Puutio from Vaasa, Finland.
Finland has been a fruitful ground for the Broncos as of late.
In 2018, they drafted Roope Pynnonen and Joona Kivivniemi from the Scandinavian country. Kivineimi led them in goal scoring at year’s end.
In 2016, they selected Aleksi Heponiemi from Finland as well. He went on to post 86 points and take home WHL Rookie of the Year honors. The next season, he had 118 points and helped the Broncos win the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champions.
If you go further back, Dallas Stars d-man Julius Honka and goalie Eetu Laurikainen came from the Land of the Thousand Lakes to ply their trade in Swift Current.
“There’s kind of a Finnish pipeline to Swift Current, and this just continues that. The biggest thing for us is that A) He’s going to be a real good player, and B) He wanted to come to Swift Current and signed with us,” Broncos head coach and director of player personnel Dean Brockman said of Puutio.
Knowing Finnish players who went through the Broncos program was key in Puutio’s decision to come over.
“I knew a couple guys who play(ed) here before like Aleksi Heponiemi. I was talking to him before I came here. And then, of course, Joona Kiviniemi who was here last year. He knew what it is like. I played with Joona before so we talked about this and so about the league,” Kasper recalled.
Just a handful of games into his WHL career, Puutio is impressing his coaches.
“He brings a professional approach to the rink all the time. We just like his skill set. He checked off a lot of boxes. We are not the biggest market here, but when you get a good player and quality person who wants to come to Swift Current, it’s a no-brainer,” Brockman said.
“He’s been great. He’s got the quality of a professional, in our opinion, already. He’s always asking questions when he’s on the ice. He is always one of the last guys off the ice and one of the first guys on the ice,” said Broncos assistant coach Brandin Cote.
That professionalism is something Puutio works at and is proud of.
“I think that one of my strengths are the mental side. You have to be ready to improve your game every day. It’s not all just what happens on ice. We have games, but we also have a lot of practice, and you have to be a pro 24-7 if you want to make make your dreams come true.”
Improvement is the operative word as Puutio adjusts to playing in North Americans rinks — something he had only done a few times before arriving in Swift Current.
“In Europe, we play a lot of puck control and stuff. So here it’s like more up North-South and a faster game. So that’s probably the biggest difference.”
Puutio recognizes the difference in play, though, and his coaches and he are hard at work at improving the areas needed for him to be a high NHL draft pick come next June.
“There’s some things in his game, obviously, just even skating wise and things like that he has identified himself and we’ve helped him identify as areas in his game where he needs to continue to improve in order to to take that next step in our league and be a draftable guy and be a professional prospect,” Cote noted.
“The thing we like about Kasper is he’s willing to learn and put in extra time, and whether it’s with video or on the ice, you know, I think it’s going to take a little bit more time. It’s always going to take time when you transition. Good thing for us is he speaks very fluent English and he’s making strides already. When you get a player like that, that’s willing to learn and wants to work at it, he’s going to get better and better all the time,” Brockman stated.
Puutio also is already a very good player, projected by NHL Central Scouting as a second- or third-round NHL Draft pick in 2020.
“My strengths are my offensive play, making a good first pass, and making plays. I also take really good shots, so I can help the team’s offensive game,” Puutio said.
All the signs are there that the more Puutio gets used to the league, the higher that ranking will be.
Cote appreciates how hard the blueliner works.
“He’s got all the qualities — his work ethic, his attitude is second to none. And he’s fitting in with our team very well so we’re really happy with them. We know it’s going to take some time for him just to get caught up to the pace of the game and really learn the ins and outs of the North American game, but overall, we felt he’s adapted really well.”
Puutio, who has two assists through five games so far, has the potential to be another impact player to wear the Broncos sweater.
Rodeo Round Up…
-Let’s get caught up with the Broncos’ last four games.
9/27 Medicine Hat 2 @Swift Current 0
-Isaac Poulter turned away 45-of-47 shots and kept his team close, but Tigers netminder Mads Sogaard stood tall in net, turning away 25 shots to shut out the Broncos.
“I thought actually defensively he has to look at the shots, right? But you know, we track scoring chances and whatever else, and Poults obviously made some real good saves for us and was really solid. At the same time, you know, we didn’t feel like we gave up a ton of ‘Grade A’ chances. We want to clean that up for sure. I thought the next night, regardless of the score, we were probably better in that area. So the score isn’t always indicative of the results,” Cote said.
“We didn’t generate anything really in terms of getting pucks to the net. It’s the old cliche, but we didn’t,” Cote said of the lack of pressure on Sogaard.
9/28 Medicine Hat 10 Swift Current 1
The next night in Medicine Hat, 17-year-old goalie Jordan Fairlie made his first WHL start and was under fire all night. The back stop gave up nine goals on 30 shots over 40 minutes of action.
“Our young guy had a little bit of a tough night, and we didn’t necessarily insulate him very well,” Cote said of the lopsided loss.
Tyler Smithies netted the lone marker for the Broncos.
“Again on Saturday, you look at the score, we probably had a lot more secondary opportunities against (Tigers goalie Garin) Bjorklund next night. He had to make some pretty good saves at certain times as well in the offensive zone. So again, you look at the score, and you might think otherwise, but in the areas around our net, around their net, we were actually better the second night than we were at home.”
Bjokrlund stopped 32-of-33 shots for his first career WHL win.
10/2 Swift Current 4 Edmonton 3 OT
The Broncos got back in the win column, and again it was in overtime. This time, it was defenseman Connor Horning playing the hero as he drove to the slot and wired a shot past Oil Kings goalie Todd Scott.
The top line paved the way for Swift Current as Ben King, Kiviniemi, and Ethan Regnier were effective all night. King and Kiviniemi each had a goal and an assist.
Brecon Wood netted his first marker for the Broncos since coming over during the preseason in a trade with the Seattle Thunderbirds.
10/4 Red Deer 5 @Swift Current 1
Horning scored his second in as many games, but Ethan Anders was too good for the Broncos shooters as they fell to the Rebels.
The Broncos power play went 0-for-5 and are now just 1-of-15 this season for 6.7%. It’s early, but that is last in the WHL. The lone goal was the overtime winner in their season opener.
Their penalty kill, meanwhile, has been incredible. They have given up just one goal on the 17 times they were short handed. That is 94.1% and good enough for first in the WHL. In total, there have been just two total power-play goals over five total Broncos games this season.
-This week, the Broncos stay at home to finish their four-game stand there. First, they host the Portland Winterhawks on Wednesday, and then they take on the Winnipeg ICE. All five games to start the season were within the Central Division, and now they get to play outside of their division.
-Because of the division switch this season, they are hosting the U.S. Division teams for the second straight year. Last season, they lost at home 5-3 to the Winterhawks. The season before, they won in Portland 5-3.
-Back on 9/26, the Broncos moved a fourth-round WHL Bantam Draft pick to the Oil Kings for 2002-born forward Raphael Pelletier. The Legal, Alberta, native got into six games as a 15-year-old but did not play for Edmonton last season. He played for Edmonton against Winnipeg and then against his former team after being moved to the Broncos.
-The Broncos filled their last overage spot by claiming 1999-born goalie Reece Klassen. The Cloverdale, B.C., native has played in 62 WHL games over three seasons with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and the Spokane Chiefs. Klassen backed up Bailey Brkin with Spokane during their playoff run and posted a 2.71 GAA and .905 save percentage to complement a 7-4 record with the Chiefs.
-The Broncos also reassigned Fairlie to the Cariboo Cougars of the BCMML.
-Swift Current removed 2000-born forward Owen Blocker from their active roster. He then went to the Virden Oil Capitals of the MJHL.
Prospects going to WHL Cup:
-2004-born prospects Reid Dyck, Karson King, and Sam Court were all named to the Hockey Manitoba U-16 roster for the WHL Cup. Their first game is on 10/23, and they will be in Calgary for the event from the 20th-27th. Of the three, only Dyck is signed.
Congratulations to a trio of our prospects as Reid Dyck, Karson King and Sam Court will play for Team Manitoba at the WHL Cup this year! https://t.co/fMeBg5guCu
— Swift Current Broncos (@SCBroncos) October 3, 2019
-Playing against them and representing Hockey Alberta is another signed prospect in forward Josh Davies.
— Swift Current Broncos (@SCBroncos) October 1, 2019