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Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi 'have bright futures'

Devils defenseman Yohann Auvitu faced them in Finland last season, believes they can make impact in NHL in 2016-17

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi could make major contributions during their rookie seasons, according to one player who knows them well.

New Jersey Devils defenseman Yohann Auvitu, 27, was named the best defenseman in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, last season with HIFK. That meant he saw a lot of ice time against the highly talented 18-year-old forwards. Laine played for Tappara, Puljujarvi for Karpat.

Laine was selected by the Winnipeg Jets with the No. 2 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, and Puljujarvi went No. 4 to the Edmonton Oilers. They are expected to begin the regular season in the NHL.

During the Liiga playoffs, Laine had 10 goals and five assists in 18 games to help Tappara win the championship. He won the Jari Kurri Trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason.

"I played against Laine in the Liiga final," Auvitu said. "He's so talented. He can read and react really quick, and both he and Puljujarvi have bright futures ahead of them.

"I remember when I was 17 and I wasn't near where they are at this stage in their careers. So they're extremely talented."

Video: Jets draft F Patrik Laine No. 2

Laine (6-foot-5, 206 pounds) had two goals, three assists, a plus-3 rating and 34 shots on goal in Tappara's six-game series victory against HIFK in the Liiga championship series.

Puljujarvi (6-4, 203) had 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 50 games for Karpat, and played a key role for Finland in gold medal-winning performances at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship and 2016 IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

"I believe they could both play in the NHL this year because physically they are mature enough," Auvitu said. "They've been playing against men for the last couple of years. The Finnish league is tough. I think they just need to adapt their game at this level and they will. It's just going to be about them."

Auvitu (6-0, 200) also is also hoping to impress enough to stick with the Devils in his first season in North America. He signed a one-year, entry-level contract May 27.

"This is a great opportunity for me to show what I can do," Auvitu said. "The Devils have given me responsibility right away in the preseason games. I just have to show I'm ready to take it."

Auvitu, born and raised in Ivry-sur-Seine, France, made an impression on Devils general manager Ray Shero and coach John Hynes during the 2016 IIHF World Championship, when he had three assists in seven games for France.

"One of the things we noticed at the World Championship was his skating and ability to move the puck," Hynes said. "He understands the game really well. Now it's just a matter of getting him to adjust to be able to play with limited time and space, knowing how to handle aggressive forechecking situations and how hard you have to defend in this League when you don't have the puck in your end."

Video: LAK@EDM: Puljujarvi opens scoring from the circle

Hynes said he's Auvitu progress well in many areas of his game during the preseason.

"For [Auvitu] it really isn't about work ethic because his work habits are excellent," Hynes said. "It has been about technique and understanding how to use his stick, how to use his leverage, how to use angles to defend on a smaller arena and how we want to defend and end plays quick in the defensive zone."

Auvitu led Liiga defensemen in the playoffs in goals (six), points (13) and plus/minus (plus-8). He had 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 48 regular-season games for HIFK.

"I think I have offensive abilities, but my first priority at training camp is to improve my defensive game," he said. "We're working with all the coaches, with video on and off the ice, and to become more reliable because at the end of the day I'm still a defenseman, so I still have to be reliable defensively."

Auvitu has a similar style as former Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski. After four seasons at the University of Wisconsin, Rafalski spent four seasons developing his game in Europe, including two seasons with HIFK, before signing with the Devils in 1999 at age 26.

"When I left [JYP-Akatemia in Finland's junior league] I was a young kid with potential, but I had defensive problems and was not stable in the games," Auvitu said. "I'd have one good game and two bad games. I improved the past two seasons [with HIFK] and think that maturity helped a lot because I understand more of the game now. I make less mistakes than when I was younger, and that's the biggest thing."

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