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Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to the season: Question 6 on Puljujarvi

Jesse Puljujarvi turned 19 in May, after a challenging rookie season in North America. He had to adjust to a smaller ice surface, different style of play and culture shock, and had to do it against the best players in the world.

That is asking a lot of any player, and while Puljujarvi didn’t have the personal success he would have liked, he learned a lot. Unlike many top draft picks, Puljujarvi will come to his second training camp without lofty expectations of needing to be an immediate impact player. It would be fantastic for the Edmonton Oilers if he produces a lot this season, but they don’t need him to be a dominant player right away. They have the reigning scoring leader and league MVP in Connor McDavid. His presence makes everyone’s job a bit easier.

What type of player Puljujarvi will be at the NHL level is a wonderful conversation, because of the vast difference of opinions.

How good can Puljujarvi be in the NHL?

I wish I knew. I don’t have the answer. I have an opinion, which I will get to later, but the big, young Finn is a unique case study.

Very few players enter the NHL at 18. Many recent top picks who play four months after being drafted had a late birthday and were in their 19-year-old season, and even fewer players enter at 18 with no experience playing in the CHL, or on the smaller ice surface.

Patrik Laine did that last season and he tore up the league, scoring 36-28-64 in 73 games.

David Pastrnak was drafted 25th overall in 2014 and played in the AHL/NHL at 18. He started the season in the AHL, playing 17 games, was recalled for five NHL games between November 24th to December 4th, returned to the AHL for another eight games, and then played another 41 in the NHL.

Pastrnak produced 11-17-28 in 25 AHL games and 10-17-27 in 46 NHL games. The Bruins let him gain his offensive confidence in the AHL, then recalled him to the NHL and he produced some solid numbers for a rookie.

Over the last decade, those are the only other Europeans to play in the NHL in their 18-year-old season.

It would be unfair to say Puljujarvi is a disappointment because of his rookie season, and with very few comparable players it is extremely difficult to make any sort of accurate projection on what type of NHL player he’ll become.

I think Laine is a very special player, a legitimate goal scorer, who could very likely score 50 goals in the near future.

Pastrnak produced 15-11-26 in 51 games in his second season before exploding for 34-36-70 last season with the Bruins. None of us would have expected Pastrnak to go from 26 points in 51 games to 70 points in 75 the following season.

Puljujarvi is also unique. He is huge, standing 6’4″ and already weighing 210 pounds. He skates very well for a big man, is responsible defensively for a young player and has a good shot.

I didn’t think he was NHL ready last year. I would have started him in the AHL, however, playing 28 NHL games won’t ruin his long-term development. I just felt it didn’t put him in the best position to succeed early on. The NHL is freaking hard, and I’d rather have seen him start in the AHL, gain some confidence and then get recalled. The Oilers wanted him to get more comfortable off the ice. I understand that, but I still would have started him in Bakersfield.

When he finally was sent down he’d lost his confidence. He wasn’t playing very much, and for any player, especially a young player, if they don’t have confidence their chance of success is very low.

He played decent in the AHL, and received mixed reviews from head coach Gerry Fleming. Fleming discussed Puljujarvi’s need to get his shot off quicker. The smaller ice surface means defenders are on you quicker, so being in the right position to shoot quickly is important. Fleming liked the youngster’s on-ice awareness, and said it would just take some time for him to adapt to the quicker, more aggressive style in North America. Teams attack more here than in Finland, and it takes some players more time to adjust.

Last season was a learning experience for Puljujarvi and I’m curious to see how much he has improved.

THIS YEAR

Dec 8, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds (17) stands in between Edmonton Oilers right wing Jesse Puljujarvi (98) and goalie Jonas Gustavsson (50) during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers defeated the Oilers, 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Which leads us to this season.

I’m sure Puljujarvi will have high expectations for himself. The Oilers will undoubtedly want him to play in Edmonton this year, but they don’t need to gift wrap him minutes. He will compete with the likes of Ryan Strome, Anton Slepyshev, Drake Caggiula and Jussi Jokinen for potential icetime on the wing. Competition is great, and the Oilers finally have enough legitimate NHL players where head coach Todd McLellan doesn’t need to play a young player just because of where he was drafted.

Keep in mind, Leon Draisaitl started the 2015/2016 season in the AHL, after playing 37 games in Edmonton in 2014/2015, before being sent back to the WHL. Draisaitl played six AHL games, was recalled and produced 51 points in 72 games. A brief stint in the AHL did not destroy him. He didn’t pout or have animosity towards the organization. And Draisaitl was a year older than Puljujarvi is now when he began his second preseason with the Oilers.

I’m not suggesting Puljujarvi will become as productive as Draisaitl right away. I’d be a bit surprised if he is an elite offensive player. I think he could become a consistent 50-65 point player, but scoring in the 70s is elite in today’s NHL.

Puljujarvi has the luxury of not being looked at to save the franchise. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl and McDavid faced that unrealistic pressure and none of them were able to improve the Oilers during their rookie season. You need numerous good players to have a winning team, and the Oilers finally have a solid roster. Puljujarvi can skate into camp and focus on being better than last season. He will be stronger.

Last year, it was obvious at times he wasn’t strong enough to carry his body into battles against proven NHLers. He has a massive frame, and in certain instances it was apparent he didn’t have the balance and strength necessary to compete against NHL men. This isn’t a knock, just a product of how difficult it is for an 18-year-old to compete in the NHL, especially at his size where balance and coordination can become an issue. We will see an improvement in that area, because he’ll be stronger.

I wouldn’t start him with McDavid, because then Puljujarvi has to face the toughest competition every night. I’d ease him in and play him on a third line with Nugent-Hopkins could be a great starting spot.

Or, he might not be better than the other right wingers and will start in the AHL. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that either, just ask Draisaitl.

I’ve read many comments about how the Oilers made a mistake selecting Puljujarvi and should have taken Matthew Tkachuk. I’d say it is way too early to make that assessment. For starters, Tkachuk is a year older, and results from the draft aren’t a sprint. Tkachuk had a very good rookie campaign, but that doesn’t mean Puljujarvi is a bust because he wasn’t a regular in the NHL at 18 years of age. A lot can change over the next five years.

If Puljujarvi is ready to play and contribute in the NHL, then he should stay, but if he isn’t, then the Oilers should gladly send him to the AHL and let him continue to develop.

LONG-TERM PROJECTIONS…

Oct 12, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi (98) celebrates his third period goal against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Projections are a great talking point, but they are still just a projection. As stated earlier, it is difficult to compare Puljujarvi to other players in the past decade, because very few entered the NHL with no CHL experience at 18 years young.

If we look at the history of the fourth overall selection, there is a wide array of talent among forwards taken in the #4 slot over the past 20 seasons.

2015: Mitch Marner. He had an outstanding rookie season with the Leafs last year.
2014: Sam Bennett. Had a solid rookie campaign in 2016 scoring 18 goals and 36 points, but dipped to 13-13-26 last season.
2010: Ryan Johansen. He had 21 points his rookie season at 19 years old. Only 12 points in 40 games during lockout shortened season after 33 points in 40 AHL games. Then he exploded with 63 points in his third season.
2009: Evander Kane. Debuted at 18 with 26 points. Had 30 goals in his third season. Has been inconsistent, but when he is focused he is a solid second line player.
2006: Nicklas Backstrom. Outstanding player. He has the sixth most points in the NHL over the past ten seasons with 728, trailing only Joe Thornton (731), Malkin (747), Patrick Kane (752), Crosby (805) and Alex Ovechkin (837).
2005: Benoit Pouliot. Didn’t become a regular NHLer until 2009/2010. Solid NHL player, but always teased you with his talents and left you wanting more.
2004: Andrew Ladd: Has had one 60-point season and three 50-point campaigns. Has scored 23+ goals six times. Solid, consistent player.
2003: Nikolai Zherdev. Couldn’t find consistency. In one of the best first-round drafts in NHL history, Zherdev became one of the biggest disappointments.
2001: Stephen Weiss. Took him until 2006/2007 to establish himself as a regular NHLer. Had a solid six-year run from 2007-2013 with Florida, including consecutive 60-point seasons. Injuries derailed his career and Detroit bought him out of the final three years of his $4.9mill/year contract.
1999: Pavel Brendl. Was unable to translate his junior success, 172-148-320 in only 178 games, to the NHL. He only dressed for 78 NHL games.

Johansen is a great example of a player needing a few years to find his stride. A few years after the draft many suggested Columbus erred taking Johansen instead of Jeff Skinner, who went seventh overall. Today, Johansen now has four 60+point seasons. Skinner has two 60-point seasons and has scored 30 goals three times to Johansen’s one. Johansen’s combination of size and skill make him very attractive moving forward.

If I had to wager, I see Puljujarvi in a similar light at Jere Lehtinen, but with more offence. A reliable winger who can produce. He has more offensive potential than Lehtinen, and if he becomes a consistent 50-65 point player the Oilers and Oilersnation should be very happy.

Today, I’m leaning towards him spending some time in the AHL to start the season, but he’ll finish the year with the Oilers and improve throughout the season.

Do you see Puljujarvi in the NHL this season? If so, what type of production do you expect?

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    I think Jesse starts the year in the AHL and will be called up later in the year. He needs more seasoning. If he does start with the big club, it will be third line minutes. Not worried about him. The Oil can afford to let him grow. He’s a very young 19. I expect he will be ready for the big league at 20.

      • KevinHR

        I’m not sure I see him playing in the NHL at all this year (unless there are injuries) and I don’t see him playing with McD. Hell I’d rather sign Iginla to play on a line with Maroon and McD than put Jesse into that spot. I wouldn’t have drafted him, but I certainly would have tried to trade him this offseason because if he busts this year his value will be a jockstrap and a roll of tape. To me he is Yak 2.0 and that is a HUGE problem.

        • Mitch92

          Srsly??? Have a little faith man! Jesse is a boy in a man’s body and he is just learning how to use it to the best of its ability. I expect Jesse will become a firm fixture in the Oilers top six sooner rather than later. I wonder what you don’t like? Did you watch the World Juniors where he won the MVP?

        • btrain

          There is no comparison to Yak in my mind. Yak was projected as an elite scorer, a one dimensional talent. When he failed to put up points, he provided little else but chaotic energy with no direction. He was likely a very hard guy for his teammates at the NHL level to play with as they didn’t know what he was going to do on the ice. A good NHL example of looking busy while really doing nothing. JP is a completely different player as you can still rely on him defensively to the point that he is not going to hurt the team by playing, even if he isn’t scoring. He has a much better frame to work with given his size and is a much more structured and therefore compatible player. Hitting the panic button on this type of player would be a huge mistake anytime soon. Even if he becomes a solid 3rd line secondary scoring type, that is all the Oilers need given the current talent on their roster, a luxury they have not had for a long time.

      • Hemmercules

        I find it hard to believe that a 19 year old guy that wasn’t NHL ready less than a year ago is going jump into the top 6 on a good NHL team and just start producing points regularly. Especially after getting mixed reviews from his AHL coach just a few months ago. I will actually be surprised to see him on the opening night roster unless he manages to really blow everyone away in camp. Zero reason to rush him, let him grow his game in the AHL one more season and see if he forces Chia to call him up at some point during the season.

  • Mitch92

    I would take Yak over that douchey ‘mercan Tkachuk! Puljujarvi should become a regular contributor this season. Hopefully he spends some time playing with CMD. Jesse seemed to be a player who understood that when he is on the ice with CMD his job is to get the puck to him. We expect most linemates to feed off of Connor but I see Puljujarvi as a guy who Connor can feed off of. I am not suggesting that Jesse is better than Connor or even near his league. I am simply suggesting that Jesse’s style of play and youthful exuberance mashes really well with Connor’s abilities.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    If JP goes to the minors this year and he scores 30-30 next season he would still be 6 years from UFA, right? He’d have no arbitration rights as well IIRC.

    If such a scenario unfolds does it not make sense cap wise to keep him in the AHL at least until an injury call-up?

  • OldOilFan

    Puljujarvi will end up playing RD on the 1st PP unit. He’s got a hard right-shot and quick release – and he’s fast enough to get back up ice if the play heads toward the Oil end.

  • OilCan2

    It’s great to see so much talent lining up at right wing. Strome could play there and we have Kassian, Slepyshev and Puljujarvi in the mix as well. This camp will be very cool to see where things shake out especially on 1RW.

    • btrain

      I am not going to disagree with the talent part and that its exciting to see so much competition at RW. However, aside from Draisaitl’s ability to play RW, these guys are all question marks in a top 6 role. Strome, I have in my mind as a 3rd line utility guy who can play center or wing and contribute to secondary scoring (Nothing wrong with that!). If he does any more than this great, but his career gives little reason to bank on a sudden and massive jump into, for argument sake, Eberle production levels. Not like he was playing with some slouch top centerman in NY. None of Sleppy, Caggiula, JP, or Kassian are bonafide top 6 wingers. With the talent they do have, perhaps its just a matter of time but as of today, no guarantees with this group. So it is exciting for me as well but I consider RW as a current position of weakness until someone demonstrates otherwise.

  • madjam

    Bust out season for Jesse should fetch Laine type numbers or slightly higher due to a lot of time with Connor or Draisaitl . No more fiddling around with 3rd and 4 th line duties . Seeing as a lot of On feels a pilon could get 30 goals playing with Connor , I’ll extend that to even Draisaitl , and say a reasonable guess would be in the neighbourhood of 35G-38A = 73 points . If he produces this well , then Draisaitl will have more freedom to run his own line . Jesse also minces well with top talent . Jesse had the advantage over Laine because of whom his line mates might be and he looks to be better than Ehlers whom had over 60 points last year with the Jets . He should overtake Tkachuk as well this year .

    • madjam

      For see Connor taking Jesse under his wing , and doing like Gretzky did for Kurri in his first two years . Thus , the numbers I came up with reflex the points Kurri got basically first year and which was over 80 in his second year . Even I am reluctant to go as high as T.Selanne his first year in NHL – what over 130 ?

    • Spydyr

      So you have predicted Yamamoto wins the Calder this season, Bear plays most of the year in the NHL now Puljujarvi will outscore Laine . Wow just wow. Put down the kool-aid before you get diabetes.

    • Hemmercules

      Being optimistic isn’t a bad thing but you are just over the top. Setting yourself up for disappointment.

      If Jesse can go from 8 points in 28 games (1 goal) to 35 goals and 73 points in the span of a 1 year that would have to be some kind of miracle.

      Im not seeing what a lot of people here do. I don’t feel like he will ever be more than a 3rd maybe 2nd line player. He is really young and a bit raw still so we will see what happens.

    • 24% body fat

      hmmm, interesting, How is Bennett doing. Arent his numbers worse than Yakupovs.

      Also we can look at Sam Gagners numbers as a rookie and compare him to Voracek, Turris and JVR. 40 games as a 18 year old means nothing. You have fun with Johnny Smurf, Bennett and Tkachuk. I as well as all 31 GMs in the league including Treliving would rather Have Connor, Leon and Jesse.

        • singlemalt

          Poor Hockeyfan seems to have got separated from his brain, assuming he had one to start with. What the hell is welfare proud? was that some brilliant catch phrase that you came up in your mother’s basement trying so hard to be smart? Is that really the best you can do?? The Oilers did not write the rules for who drafts when, but to get that you would have to have a semblance of intelligence, right? Please do scurry back to your little hole or better still, go post your little gem analysis on FN where you belong.

        • madjam

          Just looked over last 15 years of Flames draft history in first round ,and I can see why your team is giving up it’s first round picks – you have a pathetic draft history in first round . I doubt anyone drafted in first round as pathetically/ atrociously as the Flames over that time . It is no wonder you feel others have welfare picks . Nobody should envy Flames draft history in first round , being as your bust city so often . .\ Oilers at least have done remarkedly well in first round over that period so you should be envious even in years out of top 10 .

  • Kevwan

    I’ve been to the last 2 young stars tournaments and JP has had the most impressive showing of anybody there. That list includes Connor (only 1 game though), Leon, Nurse, Caggiula , Bennett, Tkachuk, Ehlers, Virtanen, and Juolevi amongst others.
    He does have elite skill and he’s shown it in an Oilers uniform.
    Only a matter of time until it shows consistently. My guess is this fall.

    • madjam

      You have an eye for top talent/skill , and stats will/should soon reflex that , maybe even this year with any luck . My only reservation/next step is how long will it take for mental part of his game and fitting into the chemistry now on club .

  • cherry picker

    It is going to be tough for Jesse to compete for a spot on the bench forsure.
    But hockey is such a puck luck confidence kind of game. If he comes in strong has a good camp and gains some confidence who knows. Injuries.. who knows..
    What is the money implications, cap hit implications if he plays more than x amount of games. last year didn’t we let him play too many games
    (depending on who you ask) and what is the sweet spot in this regard ?

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Not really worried about Puljujarvi, but I’m still scratching my head at the unique opportunity the Oilers wasted with him last year. Unlike the 18-year-old draftees who played major junior the year before, Puljujarvi could be sent down to the AHL right away.

    Now, I’m sure there were some closed-door promises made that kept that from happening right off the hop, but it would have been so good to have him play a full year in Bakersfield last year and not the abbreviated season he ended up having.

    I’m sure the Oilers were hoping he’d show some early flashes like RNH, Hall and Yakupov (at the time) did coming straight out of junior, and I’m wondering if that early-season goal Puljujarvi had against the Flames in Calgary wasn’t one of those flashes. At any rate, he didn’t play enough here before he got sent down and although we can say that it won’t likely hurt him, it would have hurt him even less to have made him the last cut at training camp.

    The good news with him is he’s a year older and wiser (I assume his English has improved and he’s more acclimated to North America) and he’s still a big guy with all kinds of skill. We’re a long way from having to worry about him.

    The thing we’ll all be waiting to see is whether or not the Oilers are willing to shelter him by putting him on a third line with Nuge. In other words, are they going to be OK if he produces, like, 13 goals and 28 points in 78 games this season? If he has five goals and 12 points by Christmas, is everyone going to be OK with that or will the send him down? Those are the big questions.

    • Crakupov

      @spaceman did you see Puljujarvi’s goal? It was a total fluke, he spun around from the right hash marks fired the puck blindly and then fell down. He had a few good passing plays at the NHL but thats about it.

      • Spaceman Spiff

        Yes, I saw it and I’m pretty sure that the Oilers weren’t handing out style-points. It was early enough in the season that it likely gave the coaching staff a bit of pause. Otherwise, yeah, some solid passes and he didn’t look lost defensively. That about sums up Puljujarvi’s rookie NHL season. I think a full year in the AHL would have been better.

    • #97TRAIN

      Well Puljujarvi has a mans body already and I’m sure he can do many pull-ups. Don’t worry about Bennett. He got his new contract and I believe he makes less money now than his ELC

  • Roberto

    King Jong Lowe and the Oilers do a lot of questionable things, but the handling of PuJo hasn’t been one of them. If he’s leaving Finland, it’s not to play in the AHL…. The Oil obviously wanted him over here sooner rather than later, so they let him stick in the Show for a while, get comfortable with the City and his teammates, and make some money. Once they saw that he was not producing, they did the right thing by sending him down. It’s not a terrible way to handle a top prospect, who will likely be part of this organization for a long time….. He had an OK season, after coming off Knee surgery. He’s 19 years old and could still be playing Junior. At some point, he’s gonna be a player in the top 9…. The sky is the limit, but, even in the likely worst case scenario, a big defensively responsible RW on the 3rd or 4th line for the foreseeable future isn’t a terrible thing

  • madjam

    How to approach a new season ? I get over last seasons faults , negativity and excuses and why we did not do better after a month . Then I turn to looking at next year at how players and team could look and perform with ” cup full or over filling ” and relish in what might be . Sure beats looking at things only half filled or less , and a lot healthier for you . ON should save your half cup talk or less and negativity for your rivals , just as they continually try to do to us . So until season is under way I will remain looking a the cup filled .

  • Crakupov

    I am not bullish on Puljujarvi, I advocated for trading him on this board and was of course trashed for it. I think he has potential and should remain on the farm or traded for a known commodity like Duschene, if the avs would eat some salary. I hope he does well but if you watched any of the AHL games in Bakersfield you probably know him being ready for the NHL is a not a certainty.
    The most likely scenario is that he spends another year in Bakersfield and that would be fine with me. Net year we should know what kind of a player he is. However I would be stunned if he came in this year and was a top 6 NHler.