There’s reason to believe that plans were likely changed at
the last minute for the Oilers at the 2016 Draft. They weren’t supposed to be
drafting in the top 3. In fact, the NHL’s new lottery rules made Edmonton the
first team to drop more than a single place in the draft order. They should
have been drafting 4th. Well, technically they did, except Columbus
excused themselves from using their top 3 pick to select a top 3 player. Win,
The Blue Jackets had the chance to take the player ranked 3rd
in every single scouting service. Puljujarvi was 3rd for
hockeyprospect.com, ISS Hockey, Future Considerations, McKeen’s Hockey, NHL
Central Scouting, TSN’s Craig Button, and TSN’s Bob McKenzie. There was talk of
the big three. In Edmonton we heard maybe it was a big four after Tkachuk’s
performance in the Memorial Cup, but let’s settle on the big three being the least
The Blue Jackets bypassed that completely drafting
Pierre-Luc Dubois third overall, leaving Edmonton the opportunity to draft in
the top three despite losing that very thing in the lottery process.
I can’t say for sure that I know what the Blue Jackets were
thinking except that there were rumblings that Columbus wanted a center. Now,
they still didn’t select a center. Pierre-Luc Dubois is a winger. They just
think, perhaps, that he might be able to play center better than Puljujarvi.
Outside of an organizational need for a thing that Dubois isn’t, I don’t really
have an answer to the question of why the Jackets love the Oilers so much.
Maybe just trying to keep things friendly in hopes Chiarelli opts not to offer
sheet Seth Jones? No idea.
All that matters is that the Oilers won the lottery months
after losing out in it.
As of the mid-season marker, Puljujarvi was the 2nd
highest rated player by NHL Central Scouting. He was ahead of Laine for a long
time. It wasn’t really until Laine exploded in the World Championships that he
cemented himself ahead of Puljujarvi. He’s fast, he’s big, he’s a playmaker,
and he’s a Finn so you know he doesn’t mind the rough stuff. By all accounts, this
kid is a stud.
Puljujarvi, in addition to playing the last two seasons
against grown men in the Finnish league, starred for Finland at the World under
18 Championships and the World Jr Championships this past season. At the U-18’s
he played 4 games and scored 5-2-7. At the U-20 World Junior Championships he
played 7 games and scored 5-12-17, being named the tournament MVP as its
For the Oilers, he’s also very importantly a right wing who
shoots right (unlike Yak who is a left-shooting RW). It provides different
looks, different combinations for the coaching staff. It also opens up
management to more potential deals knowing that they will still have at least
one player in a skill forward position that shoots right.
The fact that this young man is so talented is not lost on
the fans and media in Columbus either. Many were aghast to watch their team
willfully deny themselves Puljujarvi’s services. Michael Arace of the Columbus
Dispatch had this to say:
General manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he would take the best
player available, regardless of position. Then, he turned his back on the best
player available and everyone at First Niagara Center knew it. The media on the
risers raised their eyebrows and a vocal crowd keened.
What was this man doing?
Puljujarvi was, by consensus, the best player available to
the Jackets and they did not take him. They didn’t even swing a deal where they
could get some pieces — other picks, anything — by trading down to an area
where Dubois would have still been available. (New Jersey, for example, traded
down one place and picked up a third-round pick; presumably, there was a better
deal than that for Puljujarvi.)
As an Oiler fan, it was I who was conditioned to believe
Management would find a way to blow everything. Apparently this is what it
feels like when you aren’t expecting to have the rug pulled out from under you.
As the author of those quotes would say, there’s nothing I have against
Pierre-Luc Dubois, but I can’t help but think Edmonton was gifted an incredible
player, a superior player.
Did that change plans? I think it must have. I was not
expecting the Oilers to go through the Draft without making a trade at all.
They stood pat. That doesn’t mean they still won’t make a deal before Free Agency
formally opens, but they certainly weren’t going to be trading the 4th
when the pick’s value skyrocketed moments before Edmonton went on the clock.
New circumstances, new options to consider. That’s what
happened to the Oilers right before they had to make a critical choice.
Edmonton has Jesse Puljujarvi as a part of their organization today when it was
almost inconceivable 24 hours ago. That’s a huge win.