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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

FINN DESTINY

It has been a trying season for Jesse Puljujarvi, who did not explode on the NHL scene like his brother Finn Patrik Laine. What happened? What’s next? Perhaps there are some clues from this season that will help us out.

THE BEGINNING

I always like to go back to the draft, in order to re-set the verbal and guide us through the season that followed. Red Line Report are notorious hard markers and don’t hesitate to use negative action words, while also being fair:

  • Red Line Report: Big horse looks and plays like a Mats Sundin clone. Has the four S’s: size, skills, skating, shot. Has all the tools to be a dominant power forward who combines top-notch skills with brute force. Terrific size/strength and is impossible to move off the puck — uses wide stance and is hard on his stick. Comes alive whenever the puck is nearby. Wants to make plays. Dynamic skater accelerates in a few strides and has excellent speed. Uses long reach and soft hands to beat “D” off the rush. Dangerous every shift. Excellent puck control, often impossible to contain. Receives tough passes without slowing down. Drives the net and protects the puck well. Has good hands in close with vision and playmaking skills. Responsible two-way player has good defensive awareness. Played the playoffs and U-18 Championships with a knee injury that required surgery after the season. Source

The scouting report is brilliant, I’m going to miss these. JP looks like a substantial offensive player with size, speed and the ability to play a two-way game. That’s a stunning array of skills. The final paragraph is concerning and it continued to be an irritant during summer when Puljujarvi was unable in take part in much of orientation camp. No worries, we’ll see him in training camp! That’s what we told ourselves throughout the summer.

Puljujarvi played a game called Bandy as a child, probably one of the reasons he can skate for miles. He signed on July 13 and we quickly began discussing his possible role on the 2016-17 Oilers plus the years beyond. Would he be ready? Would he play in Bakersfield? In September, the Young Stars tournament gave us a chance to look at JP the player, and here is what I wrote about his game against Vancouver:

  • R Jesse Puljujarvi2-1-3, +3 and five shots. Jesus, Mary and Joseph that second goal was thrilling. He seemed sleepy early, but there was a play in the first period where JP got a pass with some open road and showed off his skating ability—it was fantastic. First goal was kind of a whiff, but goal-scorers tend to find a way. An electric debut. Source

Just 10 days later, the sledding got tougher (as it always does).

  • Todd McLellan, September 27: “He has some work to do. Let’s cut to the chase and be honest, we’d like to think he can pull through and play on our team, but he has some work to do based on tonight’s game. He has a lot of talent, he has to learn timing and space at the NHL level, how to use his body and how to stay in plays. There were a couple times he had the puck and looked dangerous, but he needs to have it a lot more and the people around him have to help him.” Source

Puljujarvi made the team, and scored on opening night. At that point, things looked promising and he was getting good reviews from the coach as the early season games rolled along.

  • Todd McLellan, October 27: “I think he took a step forward on consecutive nights (the Heritage Classic game and against the Capitals). Watching two games was a good thing for him because he had to work on his body a bit. He trained and looks stronger, and he’s rested. Source

Even into November, Jesse Puljujarvi was doing enough to be considered a part of the big team, a contributor.

  • Todd McLellan, November 3: He’s getting better every night, he’s fitting in more and more, feeling comfortable about playing in any situation. I think there’s been real growth in his game, and we’re happy for him. Source

On Saturday, November 5, Puljujarvi played just 3:07 before suffering a charley horse that kept him out for a game. His playing time seemed to be eroding each game, and he was a healthy scratch as November ended and the club began marching to the Christmas break. He record an assist against Philadelphia on December 8, and that was his last NHL point of the season. JP would play six more games before being sent to Bakersfield on January 9.

Around Christmastime, we heard a bizarre story out of Russia, involving Edmonton’s high draft pick:

  • It’s hard to believe, but one of the most promising players in the world Jesse Pulyuyarvi, for our edition, this winter could be in the “Ak Bars”. Kazan look for options to strengthen the North American market, and the young Finn is not always found himself in the “Edmonton”. For both sides, this option would be beneficial: Pulyuyarvi would get match practice in the second-best league in the world, and “Ak Bars” would get excellent gain before the playoffs. The stumbling block was the fact that the right to belong to the KHL Pulyuyarvi “Torpedo”, drafted by Jesse last year. Kazan citizens would have to pay a substantial compensation of Nizhny Novgorod. Source

Although it did not come to fruition, this bit of rumour does give us pause when looking back on the season. If the Oilers decide Puljujarvi isn’t a lock for the 2017-18 roster—and that is possible—then we might see a similar arrangement emerge as an option over the summer. Not something we can assume will happen, but we should keep it in mind.

CONDORS NUMBERS, BY MONTH

  • January: 9gp, 2-4-6 (.667)
  • February: 11gp, 5-4-9 (.818)
  • March: 12gp, 3-5-8 (.667)
  • April: 7gp, 2-3-5 (.714)
  • Total: 39gp, 12-15-27 (.692)

Puljujarvi was fairly consistent during his time with Bakersfield, and his offense (for an 18-year old) was solid if unspectacular. There aren’t a lot of players his age in the league, the numbers suggest he is somewhere between William Nylander and Kevin Fiala as an offensive prospect. (Note: A lot of this has to do with usage—we don’t know time-on-ice—but it gives us a starting point for his offense.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Jesse Puljujarvi is headed to the World Hockey Championships tonight, playing for Finland. I think that’s a great idea, let him play a lot and have some success. Come the fall, I wonder if player and organization consider other options (aside from Bakersfield) if the young prospect isn’t ready for full time NHL action. His substantial bonus number (as we saw this year) can be a roster restraint, and the Oilers will be completely focused on a successful season and building a strong Stanley Cup contender. Something to think about as we discuss the Oilers offseason.

  • TruthHurts98

    He doesn’t look quite NHL ready to me, not ahead of Slepyshev and Kassian. Another year to develop won’t hurt, if anything it will set him up to have a better career. Rantenen on the Avs was developed properly but put up far better numbers in the AHL. I hope JP lives up to his billing some day, but it doesn’t have to be next year IMO.

  • justDOit

    Not only did he miss the orientation camp while rehabbing that knee, but he missed pretty much the entire summer of training. That’s YUGE for a young, gangly player.

    I think he’ll look much better next fall, if he can avoid injury at the worlds.

  • Tombstone

    It’s going to be interesting the direction this team will take in regards to the salary cap.
    Will Drai be the 2nd line C with Eberle and Puljujarvi on the RW
    Or keep Nuge and have Jesse and Drai on the RW.

  • ConnorJG

    I don’t know…

    If the Oilers didn’t think it was best for JP’s development and the team to have him around… could he be trade bait? I hope not but I have a feeling he might be.

    • PandaBearJelly

      Why? I think a lot of fans have become far too used to our first rounders playing on the nhl year 1 and having success. That’s not a realistic expectation with anything other than a 1st overall. It hasn’t been even close to long enough to jump ship with JP. It shouldn’t even be in your head st this point.

      • ConnorJG

        I agree with your thoughts on the expectation of 1st round picks.

        I would think having JP around the team during a playoff run and MAYBE slipping in a game would be huge for his development but it seems that they’re giving him a bit of distance from the team.

    • rivid

      He may be a star one day, but that day is not today or the near distant future. A lot of hard work and training is needed before he is even considered a star in the AHL. The good news is the team does not need he right away and he has time to develop properly.

  • ScottV

    I think the kid will be just fine for next year. 18 – very limited english, coming off injury, the Pak injury, the McL blender approach and one can perhaps understand that he had some difficulty settling in. I see Lucic, Drai, Puljujarvi in the future.

  • TKB2677

    I find the whole JP thing a bit ridiculous. For years fans and media guys like Lowetide went on and on about the “Detroit” model. Bringing the kids on slowly, letting them develop and be “over ripe” when they hit the NHL. They crushed the Oilers for years about not having enough vet depth and being forced to rush these 18 yr old kids.

    The Oilers now are starting to have actual vet NHL depth. They actually have enough decent guys where a young player like JP can’t just show up the first day of camp and have his name written in pen on the opening night roster. Young players have to actually EARN a spot and even if they might be slightly better than a vet, they still might no make the team because the team wants them to develop.
    So the Oilers are now slow playing a really, really young player and we get to read articles about what do they do with him, will he be the player we thought, should we be concerned. He’s an 18 yr old kid, barely old enough for the NHL, never played NA hockey, barely speaks the language. Let him play the World Champs. Let him train, get bigger, stronger, better with the language. Start him in Bakersfield where he will be the man. They can do all that and he will only be 19!!!

  • Shredder

    I’m guessing the surgery threw him off his game. A full summer to build strength and feel comfortable in his body again will have him primed for the next season. IF the Oilers can go deep we may have to recall him to get him that bit of experience, but only if there are a number of injuries and we need him.

  • Bagged Almond Milk

    A surgery has a crazy effect on someone. He likely missed months of training, which as an 18 year old is a huge part of his career. He was money at the World Juniors. He’s big, he’s good, he’s 18-19. Let him develop as long as it takes brother. He could still play Junior for two more years. He’s gonna be good.

  • Moneyball

    Why not trade him now while he still has some mystique surrounding him? Try to get a Duchene out of Colorado or another top 6 forward. Too much risk on puljujarvi, no evident upside. Looks like he needs another year in Bakersfield at least.

  • toprightcorner

    I believe JP will be a lot better next year. It is very difficult for an 18 year old to move to a different country, try to learn the language, have no friends, live on your own, adjust to a smaller ice, get used to the physicality and also have success. He was also recovering from a knee injury.

    Laines 1st year success is very rare for a European.

    JP will be bigger, stronger, and more prepared for next year. That doesn’t mean he will excell in the NHL next year. I would be fine with him spending more time in the AHL, but Chia needs to add more skill there for him to play with. He needs to play with skill to succeed.

    I could see JP start the season as a 3C with the Oilers next year and doing well. Not sure if I would bump him up with McDavid next year, that is a lot pf pressure playing against the other teams best players.

    I am not concerned with JP’s progress and feel he is still a 25 goal 60 pt player that will help the Oilers a lot.

  • toprightcorner

    I don’t think you can compare JP to other 1st year AHL players in regards to production. You have to consider the skill that player is surrounded with. JP was mostly playing with 3rd line quality players. He did play with Lander after a while, but that was after Lander was super hot and even though Lander put up points, the players around him, for some reason, did not get that much better.

    JP’s skillset is conducive to a productive NHL career.