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.
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 Puljujarvi—2-1-3, +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.