In a season full of disappointment and struggle for the Nashville Predators so far, Saturday’s 2-1 win against New York was a notable exception.

Mostly because the Preds snapped a two-game losing streak, earning just their 2nd win in Bridgestone Arena this year in the process, but also because of the impressive debut of 21-year-old Finnish forward Juuso Parssinen.

Parssinen, a 7th round draft pick by Nashville in 2019, led all Preds forwards in ice time (17:49) and scored his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot. He played on the Preds’ top power play unit and looked like a perfect fit down the middle all night for Nashville.

Paired with Filip Forsberg and Mikael Granlund, Parssinen was right at home in a fast paced, creative passing attack that saw him generate the 3rd most individual expected goals on the team.

But Saturday night was more than just a 17 minute performance for Parssinen. It was the culmination of a much-needed success story by the Preds’ scouting department, who seem to have found an absolute gem.

Juuso Parssinen’s progress all part of the plan

Juuso Parssinen has flown up Nashville’s prospect rankings faster than anyone I can remember.

Seventh round draft pick in 2019 to leading all Preds forwards in minutes three years later?

That’s astronomical.

And anyone who follows the Preds knows how rare that is. Top draft picks (e.g., Kevin Fiala, Eeli Tolvanen) have to grind it out for a while in the AHL, and even after that, usually don’t get top minutes.

But Parssinen, at least according to head coach John Hynes, has talent that demanded attention.

“What we saw from him in [Saturday’s] game was really what we’ve seen almost every time we’ve seen him play,” Hynes said on Monday afternoon. “You can see the skating, the size, the maturity and his overall game on both sides of the ice.

“On the puck, he’s got good offensive instincts and offensive confidence, but he’s really good without the puck, too. And he’s got the build and the physical attributes to be able to come in and play. He’s got a huge engine, you want to play him in big minutes. This year in training camp was very much the same.”

Parssinen was the worst kept secret in Nashville’s training camp a couple months ago. Unsurprisingly, he was man among boys in the development camp and prospect showcase, but then, when he fit right in with the main roster in September, there were many who thought he had a significant chance to make the season opening roster.

That didn’t happen. Parssinen was sent to Milwaukee to start the season, making room for more veteran forwards like Kiefer Sherwood and Cole Smith.

But as it turns out, according to Hynes, this was actually the second training camp where Parssinen just missed out on making the team.

“If you go back to last year in training camp,” Hynes said, “Juuso was very good. And we were pushing to try to keep him longer in camp, but for the organization, it was the best thing to send him back to Finland.”

Hynes is referring here to the Fall of 2021, when Parssinen was loaned back to TPS in Finland. He played 59 games there, putting up 44 points, including 12 points in the playoffs.

A year ago, the expectation of Parssinen making the team out of camp was almost non-existent. But Hynes indicated that it was a tough decision.

“It was long extended conversations about having him stay [last year]. But I think for us it was really his first time here. He did end up coming over to Milwaukee [last year] and play a little bit in the playoffs, but… we knew he was right there.”

The path to Parssinen’s call-up

When asked about the decision to call-up Juuso Parssinen now, Hynes indicated it was about getting Parssinen up to speed in Milwaukee first, making his transition to Nashville as seamless as possible.

“You want him to be able to go down and play and really drive drive the team and get those minutes in all those situations,” Hynes said, referring to Parssinen’s 10 games in Milwaukee to start the 2022-23 season. “Because when you recall him, he’s not trying to find his game in the NHL. He has his game. And it can translate. We play identical systems [between Milwaukee and Nashville]. So it’s only when the players come up and down. There’s no adjustment to the tactics. The tactics are the same with both teams. And he was good.”

Hynes then revealed that it was the call up of forward Mark Jankowski that seemed to fuel Parssinen’s ascent to Nashville.

“After Mark Jankowski was called up, Juuso was very good [in Milwuakee]. It took Juuso a little while to kind of adjust after he had been sent down [to start the season]. But then once Jankowski got promoted, I think that lit a fire in him a little bit. And then he was dominant. We knew when we recalled him, we were going to put him in as a top six talent.”

Jankowski was called up on November 3rd, ahead of the Preds’ game against Calgary. A couple games after that, Parssinen had a goal and an assist against Chicago, giving him nine points in ten games for the Admirals.

Apparently that was all the Predators’ coaching staff needed to see. Parssinen was called up for Saturday’s game against New York, scoring a spectacular goal on his first NHL shot.

“Physically, he can handle it. He’s as equal physically to the talent level or the physical attributes of top players in the NHL right now. How good he is with the puck and how good he is without the puck. His game is in order and he plays the game the right way. So the transition is easier for a guy like him, because he just has to play his game. There’s not a lot of thinking involved for him. Even when I met with him prior to the game, around 4:45,  just to talk with him about a couple different things… he was excited, but he was calm.”

“The difference right now is he’s got the mentality,” Hynes added. “He has the confidence to go to play up there with [Forsberg & Granlund] and play those minutes against Trochek and Zibanejad. We put him out with two minutes left and they were going to pull the goalie, we put him on the faceoff.”

John Hynes also confirmed that Parssinen will continue to have a role on the power play. He played on the first unit with Roman Josi, Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Mikael Granlund on Saturday, often times switching the flank to the net front, in whatever role the team needed.

Other Preds forwards impressed early on

One thing stood out from talking to other Preds forwards about Juuso Parssinen: they all love his combination of size, strength, and speed.

“He’s strong, he’s a big boy. He’s physically ready to play the game here,” Mikael Granlund said.

“I know he’s been playing men’s hockey for a while obviously in Finland, he was playing in a big role back there. Big guy, big minutes. So his overall game is there. He’s a good player, it was good to see him play a good game and I’m sure he’s gonna keep it up. “

Matt Duchene, who played on a different line from Parssinen, noticed his speed.

“It’s one game, but his speed is one thing that stuck out,” Duchene said. “I’ve got to see him play a little bit more to get more of a feel for him, but even on that first goal, he caught a forward on [defense] and just blew by him.”

The general consensus among the players that saw him on Saturday is that Parssinen is as physically ready to play as anyone they’ve seen debut in Nashville.

“It’s always tough to compare,” Granlund said. “There’s different types of players and all that. But today, I see him and he’s a big guy, he’s playing against those big Finnish guys. I mean, he can play in almost every situation. And he’s been doing that for a few years against the top league in Finland. It’s not an easy job there, either. So, he has all the attributes and obviously he’s gonna get even more experience here. I followed him in the Finnish League and I’ve seen him play back home. I could tell he’s like a really mature guy. And, you know, physically he’s ready to battle. So I’m happy for him, happy he’s got his chance.

Where does Parssinen go from here?

Yes, like Matt Duchene said, it’s just one game. But it’s important to stress how unprecedented this kind of debut is for the Nashville Predators.

In fact, if we are judging NHL debuts for Preds forwards, it might be that Parssinen’s wins Best In Show.

Parssinen outperformed forwards like Colin Wilson, Calle Jarnkrok, Kevin Fiala, and Eeli Tolvanen in their debuts. Filip Forsberg was an instant hit, though he didn’t score in his first game. Craig Smith scored in his first game, but didn’t get the same top minutes, and didn’t play on the power play.

I’ll say it again… it’s just one game. But the future appears very bright for Juuso Parssinen and the Nashville Predators.

— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —