Cliff Pu, the hustling Ontario Hockey League center with the firm handshake, was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the third round of the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo. The selection, the 69th overall, drew loud cheers from fans in the arena.
“It’s pretty cool,” he told the Color of Hockey after donning a hometown Sabres jersey. “I didn’t really expect it, to hear them cheer. It’s pretty cool.”
Pu, the son of a Chinese couple who moved to Canada, excelled for the London Knights on a swift-skating line with Max Jones, drafted in the first round, by the Anaheim Ducks.
The Knights, helped by Pu’s grit and speed, won the Memorial Cup as the best Canadian junior team in 2016. Pu will return for another season in London, and he hopes Jones will, too.
Asked if it was particularly special day given his heritage, he noted that there haven’t been many Asian players and he hoped to be one of the first to make a mark in the NHL.
“I like to use my speed to my advantage — forecheck, backcheck — it’s one of my best attributes,” said Pu, a rangy 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds.
ISS Hockey identified Pu as a prime sleeper pick. “Like this kid more every time we see him,” the ISS reported. “One of the most improved players in the OHL. Really like his size, speed and hockey sense. Does all the little things that win games.”
Pu notched 12 goals, 19 assists, and 24 penalty minutes in 63 regular season games for the Knights. He became a beast in the OHL playoffs, tallying 8 goals and 5 assists in 18 games. His line provided speed and relentless forechecking that took away time and space from opposing defenses.
Pu gained attention in January by celebrating a goal in an unusual fashion in today’s game – with a handshake. Killing a penalty against Flint, Pu followed Jones up ice and tucked a rebound into the net. Then he went off the map, taking off a glove and offering his linemate a shake. Just to mix things up, he said.
Another handshake this season? He grinned. “We’ll see.”
The Color of Hockey’s Lew Serviss wrote this story.