Draft position: taken 69th overall by Buffalo in 2016
Contract: 3 year ELC worth $745,000 (CapFriendly)
Cliff Pu was the main piece acquired in an August 2nd deal that sent Jeff Skinner to Buffalo. Along with Pu, the Hurricanes received a 2019 second round pick as well as third and sixth round picks in 2020. The trade was an unpopular trade for Hurricanes fans, and it left many upset that the Hurricanes only recieved “magic beans.” In this profile, we’ll look at how Pu has performed since he began his OHL career in 2014, and then how his career could shape up.
Cliff Pu started his junior career with Oshawa in 2014, but was traded to London during that season. He was in a depth role, and didn’t produce a whole lot on a pretty stacked team. During London’s memorial cup run the next season, Pu was a key factor. After putting up 31 points in 63 games in a third line role, Pu took the playoffs by storm. He had 13 points in 18 games to help London win the OHL playoffs, and then went on to score a goal and add two assists in four memorial cup games. Scouts loved Pu’s potential, and many valued him as a late second round pick. Pu ended up getting drafted by Buffalo in the early third round, and went back to London for two seasons. In the following season, Pu was given more ice time on a team that was not quite as dominant as the season before, but still quite good. Pu exploded for 86 points in 63 games, a 55 point increase. It was clear that he could handle more ice time, and he was London’s best player in the 2016-2017 season. Pu’s next season was even more impressive since he was able to put up 45 points in 36 games on one of the OHL’s worst teams. After being traded to Kingston, Pu had 39 points in 29 games, as well as 17 points in 15 playoff games. Pu was a great second line winger for Kingston, and helped them reach the conference finals. In two seasons of development, Pu showed that he could be an impact player on any team and in any role.
Pu is a speedy two way forward that can play almost any forward position. He’s versatile, has size, and can move the puck seamlessly out of the defensive zone. His shot is above average for a junior forward, but he’s definitely more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. Pu loves to shoot from near the circles, and hovers around the net or behind the goal in the offensive zone. The Checkers will need a player like that for this season, especially if players like Zykov and Wallmark are moving up to the NHL. Pu’s hands are above average as well, especially in close. He’ll quickly move the puck to fake out the goalie in close, and it typically leads to a goal. He’ll still need work on deking if he wants to succeed in the NHL, though. He’s got enough speed to force a breakaway every now and then, but he really doesn’t have a go to move other than a forehand to backhand move. That’s fine, but NHL goalies will pick up on that pretty quickly. Pu is a fantastic passer, and one of those players that you can play anywhere on the ice. He’s not going to be a star, but he’ll likely be a reliable middle six forward if he makes it to the NHL. He’s going into a great program, too. I notice a few NHL player comparables too. He reminds me a bit of Valentin Zykov when I see him hover around the net. He’s tough to knock off the puck, and great at tapping in rebounds. Pu can creep in on the rush and surprise people for goals, too. I also see a bit of Elias Lindholm in his game. Remember those three games where Lindholm played behind the goal line on the power play?
Well I remember too, and I see a lot of similarities. He moves his feet, receives the pass from a teammate, and then dishes out the puck to the eventual goal scorer with precision. He’s great along the boards, and can make passes through any defender. Lindholm was good at that as well, but then Bill Peters changed the system and…well, you know the story. Pu is also really quick. I don’t see Necas-type speed in him, but I do think he’s one of our faster prospects. I think that he’s about as fast as Teravainen. He’s got great speed as it is, and it doesn’t take him long to get up to speed too. That quick burst of speed from his first few steps are good enough to separate him from defenders, and it usually leads to odd man rushes and breakaways. It’s a great asset to have, especially heading into your first pro season.
Charlotte’s coaching staff is phenomenal, and they’ll give Pu the tools he needs to succeed at the professional level. There isn’t any room for Pu in the NHL right now, nor is he ready to take that step. Instead, he’ll go to Charlotte and likely see middle six minutes there. With Charlotte losing some key forwards to the NHL or Europe, new guys such as Pu and Geekie will play key roles on that team.
So what’s Pu’s NHL ceiling? It’s looking like he’ll peak at a second line forward. It’s more likely that he’ll be a third line guy, but there’s potential for him to be a key player someday. It’s fairly likely that he’ll turn into an NHL player, and I think that this season is critical for his development. Is a potential middle six forward and three picks a good return for Skinner? No. You’d want more from that trade, but the Canes couldn’t get more. He didn’t want to be here, so it’s better to get what you can for him and move on. The return sucked, but at least we got something.