It’s been duly noted that sophomore right winger Jesse Puljujarvi took some line rushes alongside Connor McDavid and Milan Lucic when the Edmonton Oilers skated at Rogers Place this morning. That, as you’d expect, has some people, me included, wondering if Puljujarvi might be in the same spot when the Toronto Maple Leafs come calling Thursday.
That possibility is largely going to depend on the health of goaltender Cam Talbot, who, according to coach Todd McLellan, tweaked something in his upper body in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win against the Arizona Coyotes. As of writing this, no decision about Talbot’s status had been announced by the Oilers.
If Talbot can’t go or needs time on the IR, the Oilers will have to call up a goaltender (Nick Ellis) from the Bakersfield Condors and send down either Anton Slepyshev or Puljujarvi because they’re on ELCs and don’t need waivers. If Talbot can dress, or the recall is made and Slepyshev gets the AHL ticket, we could see Puljujarvi with McDavid against Toronto.
I’d like to see it work out that Puljujarvi gets the push against the Maple Leafs. Beyond that, I’m of the mind that Puljujarvi should get that push (whenever it comes) not just for a shift or two or a period or two, but for a stretch of games to see if he’s ready to take the role and run with it. Three games? Four games? More? I don’t know the number, but if the Oilers are grooming the big Finn for a top-six role, and they better be, then let’s see what he got.
TAKE A LOOK
Puljujarvi, 19, has played 106 minutes through eight games, for an average of 13:13 per game, so we haven’t seen a lot of him so far this season. He’s produced 2-0-2 in that playing time — one of those goals came on a wicked one-timer in a 6-2 waltz over the Detroit Red Wings. Puljujarvi has moved around a bit since being recalled and hasn’t had much of a look in the top six.
From where I sit, I’d like to see that change – sooner than later. It goes without saying the Oilers need every point they can get right now, starting with the two up for grabs against Toronto, so I’m not intent on seeing Puljujarvi gifted minutes with McDavid he can’t handle, but I’d also like to see him get more than a few shifts or a period or two to show whether he’s ready for more prime minutes.
It’s a balance to be sure and it’s one that will have to come with the forward lines being a moving target. If McLellan goes with McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down the middle, there’s room for Puljujarvi with No. 97. I’d also like to see Puljujarvi as a shooting option off the wall on the power play. The Other lines today were Patrick Maroon with RNH and Slepyshev, Drake Caggiula with Draisaitl and Ryan Strome and Jujhar Khaira with Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian.
It’s not make-or-break time with Puljujarvi (he’s only got 36 NHL games on his resume), but I’d like to see a guy who shoots the puck like No. 98 does play a stretch with a guy who moves it like McDavid does. If it’s obvious he’s not ready for the role after three or four games, change it up. There’s something to be said for some consistency in line combinations beyond a period or two. It’s not like you’d be breaking up any trios going great guns right now.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- As you’d expect, there’ll be lots of eyes on McDavid and Toronto’s Auston Matthews tomorrow and the Oilers’ captain was asked about that in the post-practice scrum. “He’s obviously a real good player. He’s got a great shot, I think one of the best in the league, just in terms of accuracy and how fast he can get it off and all that. He’s definitely a real special player.”
- The Oilers are looking to make it three straight wins for the first time this season against the Maple Leafs. The Oilers last managed that feat in their final three games of last season, beating San Jose 4-2 and Vancouver 3-2 and 5-2.