It’s clear with the team’s recent transactions that the Oilers are determined to never again gift a player NHL minutes before he earns them. No more entitled freeloaders who don’t belong. No more allowing draft position to determine roster spots…unless it’s Jesse Puljujarvi. Then that’s exactly what might happen.
This fall we got to see Jesse Puljujarvi dominate the Young Stars tournament. He was as good as any rookie I’ve seen at the tournament. He picked up eight points in three games against the various prospects of Pacific Division opponents and the University of Alberta Golden Bears. At that level of competition, his sizable talent was overpowering.
Unfortunately, since that time he has largely been invisible. The next jump in competition, came when NHL preseason started. The Oilers wasted no time placing the Finnish rookie on a line with Benoit Pouliot and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (as soon as he returned from the World Cup of Hockey). They made sure that the rookie was insulated by linemates who were both offensively talented and defensively responsible.
Jesse Puljujarvi appeared in as many games as any other Oiler during pre-season. Six games and we saw very little of the player who appeared to be unstoppable in the Young Stars tournament. Three players appeared in six preseason games for the Oil: Benoit Pouliot, Anton Slepyshev, and Jesse Puljujarvi. Pouliot had a goal and three assists. Slepyshev had a goal and two assists. Puljujarvi had just a single goal. And I don’t want to pile on the kid, but the goal was from long distance and is unlikely to occur against a real NHL goaltender.
It’s not just about points with Puljujarvi, though. The issue is that the chances were not being generated. In those six games, the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft generated just nine shots on net. Many of them from long range. Considering the opportunities he had with regards to linemates, this is concerning. Moving away from the shots, his passing has been incredibly suspect as well. This might have been highlighted in the last game where a pass to Maroon missed by roughly six feet…vertically. It hit him in the head!
The Oilers do ultimately have the ability to assign Jesse Puljujarvi to the American Hockey League. Because he was drafted out of Europe there is no agreement in place that precludes him from playing in the AHL until he is 20 years old like a CHL prospect. Based on everything we’ve seen from the young player these last couple weeks, it almost seems impossible to determine he has earned a spot on the NHL club.
Here’s the thing. Edmonton traded Nail Yakupov and opened a spot on the right wing. Should they want Draisaitl playing down the middle to give the club strength down the middle, that opens TWO spots on the right wing. The team has yet to formally sign Kris Versteeg to a contract, but even if they do it is still possible for Puljujarvi to walk right into a roster spot that was cleared for him by management.
Oilers projected 23-man roster:
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) October 9, 2016
We’ve done this before. The Oilers traded Sam Gagner for winger Teddy Purcell in order to open a spot for Leon Draisiatl when he was drafted. The Oilers put themselves in a position to hand Draisaitl a spot because there was no competition at all for the job. He easily won a job campaigning against nobody else and was exposed in the NHL. The Oilers burned a year of his contract (forcing them to protect him in the expansion draft next spring) and he had to be sent down to the CHL halfway through the year.
This is the recent past! This isn’t something that happened so long ago it’s easy to forget. All indications so far have Puljujarvi playing on the third line with Draisaitl on the 2nd line as a winger. This also necessitates having Drake Caggiula as the 3C. Now Edmonton has two rookies playing in the NHL (on the same line) instead of developing in the AHL. No matter how much things change they always seem to stay the same with this club.
I think Jesse Puljujarvi is wildly talented and the future is incredibly bright for this kid. He should be playing almost 20 minutes a night getting used to the North American game. He has not been successful against NHL or near-NHL levels of competition thus far. Considering the great value of a 4th overall pick, the Oilers should be doing everything possible to ensure the success of this teenage player. There is no shame in not being ready for NHL competition as an 18-year-old. The decision to put him at a level he can succeed in should be even easier because unlike with Draisaitl after being sent to the CHL, the Oilers can recall Puljujarvi from the AHL whenever they would like.
Today the Oilers need a RW and are in a position where if they want they could sign Versteeg and still find a home for Puljujarvi because they cleared the space for him. I hope they come to some senses here and make the right decision for the player based on what he’s accomplished thus far and not his draft position. He needs time to develop. He needs to play in the AHL.
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