Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Oilers @ Senators: Patience for Puljujarvi

The Ottawa Senators have had one top five draft pick — Jason Spezza 2nd overall in 2001 — in the past 21 years, but that could change this year. They are currently 28th in the NHL, and have the fourth best odds to win one of the three draft lotteries. They are 5-7-1 in their last 13 games and with the Arizona Coyotes gaining six points on the Senators in the past month, there is a good chance Ottawa could finish the season in the bottom three and increase their odds of a high pick.

The Oilers have had seven top-four picks since 2010, and they, like every organization, will gladly accept winning one of the three lotteries. But the Oilers want to finish the season strong.

1. I’m intrigued by the two opposite opinions on Jesse Puljujarvi. I’ve received hundreds of texts to my show on Puljujarvi this year, arguably more than every player, except Milan Lucic. Most fans are in the same frustrated-with-Lucic camp, but the thoughts on Puljujarvi are very different. Many think the Oilers are punishing him, while others think he is a bust. Seriously. I enjoyed Dustin Nielson’s article on Puljujarvi earlier today. He brought up a valid point about his power play usage. If you want to state Puljujarvi should get a look on the league’s worst PP over the past 53 games, that is hard to argue, but I don’t buy any suggestion he is getting shafted at 5×5.

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2. Puljujarvi is 19 years young. He has some areas to work and improve on, which is completely expected. He hasn’t gotten shafted at 5×5 nearly as bad as some suggest. He has played 694 5×5 minutes and he’s played 36% with Connor McDavid (249). He has played the most with Lucic, but his third to sixth most common linemates are Ryan Strome, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jujhar Khaira and Leon Draisaitl. He isn’t getting short-changed.

3. He has had the most success playing with Strome. They have combined for 10 goals in 166 minutes, and only allowed five. Playing him with Strome means he doesn’t have to face the best defenders every shift like he would playing with McDavid. Playing with McDavid is fantastic, of course, but when I look at Puljujarvi’s overall game I see no reason to rush him there and have him struggle. The only forwards who have played more with McDavid than Puljujarvi are Lucic, Maroon and Draisaitl. Draisaitl was the right winger who bumped him out and I don’t think anyone can argue Draisaitl isn’t a better player today.

4. Puljujarvi hasn’t produced big numbers at 5×5. Courtesy of Corsica, Puljujarvi is currently ninth among Oilers forwards (I didn’t include Ty Rattie and Pontus Aberg, due to their lack of games in Edmonton) in points/60. Puljujarvi is at 1.45. He is a young kid finding his way in the toughest league in the world. For years Oilers fans have complained about them rushing players. Now they are not force feeding him minutes, which is better for his confidence and development, and some complain. I don’t understand it. If you think he should get a bit more time on the PP, sure, I can buy that, but any suggestion of him being punished at EV doesn’t jive when you look at his linemates.

5. As for him being a bust, good grief. He is 19 years young. He still isn’t close to filling out his massive 6’4″, 218 pound frame. He is still very young on and off the ice. Because he isn’t lighting it up right away like McDavid or other top picks means very little to me. Especially when you consider many of today’s great NHL players weren’t even in the NHL at 19 years of age.

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6. Take a quick look at the top-ten scorers in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Johnny Gaudreau, Alex Ovechkin and Blake Wheeler weren’t in the NHL at 19 years old. Wheeler debuted at 22 and didn’t score 50 points until he was 25. Gaudreau entered the NHL at 21. Giroux split his 20-year-old season between the AHL (34 points in 33 games) and the NHL (27 points in 42 games) while Ovechkin, Malkin and Kucherov debuted at 20. Ovechkin and Malkin were great right away, but Kucherov had 9-9-18 in his rookie season before bursting out with 65 points when he was 21.

7. Coming over from Europe at 18 and 19 years young is extremely difficult. It is fantastic that Patrik Laine has been able to do it, but he’s the exception (and exceptional). I don’t expect Puljujarvi to ever be a dominant 100-point player, but any suggestion of him being a bust because he isn’t lighting up the NHL now is simply insane. And when you consider his massive frame, you can’t overlook the fact he isn’t strong enough to use his body effectively yet. There are many stages to developing and I think Puljujarvi is doing just fine. The best situation for him at 5×5 is playing softer minutes with Strome.

8. A few other names who took a few years to get going: Alexsander Barkov, second pick overall in 2013. He had 24 and 36 points his first two seasons at 18 and 19, then jumped up to 59.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin, second and third overall picks in 1999, debuted in the NHL at 20. During their first four seasons, Daniel produced 34, 32, 31 and 54 points, while Henrik had 29, 36, 39 and 42. They were 25 years old when they exploded up to 70 points.

Mikko Koivu, sixth overall pick, had 21 points as a 22-year-old rookie. He scored 54 points when he was 23.

Tomas Vanek, fifth overall in 2003, debuted at 21 years of age and had 48 points. There are many examples of players not being productive until 22, 23 or later, especially Euros who had never played in North America before.

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9. I’m not sure exactly how productive Puljujarvi can become. Once he is stronger and capable of using his big frame more to his advantage, I’m curious to see how he performs. He needs to move the puck quicker and see the play better, but that is something he can learn through video and experience. I have no concerns with Puljujarvi’s development at this point. It is fair to want him to get a bit more PP time, but whether he can consistently find openings and get off good shots remains to be seen. Other than the minor concern about PP time, I believe the Oilers have handled him quite well.

10. Some other recent picks to think about when looking at Puljujarvi.

Nino Niederreiter, fifth overall in 2010. He played nine games at 18 and went back to WHL. He played 55 games in the NHL at 19 and he had one goal and one point. That’s it. At 20 he played the entire year in the AHL and scored 28 goals and 50 points in 74 games. He was then traded to Minnesota and at 21 he had 36 points with the Wild, then he scored 24 goals and 37 points at 22 years of age. He had 20 goals the next year and had 24 goals and 57 points last season.

Mike Zibanejad, sixth overall in 2011. He played nine games at 18 and then returned to Sweden. At 19 he played 23 games in the AHL (4-7-11) and 42 in the NHL (7-13-20). When he was 20 he played 69 games for the Senators producing 16-17-33. The next season he scored 20 goals and 46 points and had 21 goals and 51 points at 22.

Keep in mind Leon Draisaitl only played 37 NHL games when he was 19, producing 2-7-9 before going back to the WHL. He picked up 51 points at 20 and had 77 last year.

A six-month off-season when you are 19 turning 20 can produce a lot of physical change. I don’t see Puljujarvi as a 70-point player right away, but don’t be surprised if he takes a good jump next year to 20 goals and 45 points. And he’ll still only be 20 years of age.

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  • DannyGallivan

    Give me a break. 19 years old, first NHL season and spoke no English when coming to the North American game. Take it slow and manage expectations. Let him learn the NHL game against 3rd line competition then move him up when he is ready. He is a stud and will pay FUTURE dividends if the team takes a measured approach.

    • Deezy

      Totally agree with this post. And, the English piece is important to note since the geniuses that run our team didn’t think that an English teacher/tutor might actually help JP’s transition to North America in his rookie season. Let’s be patient with him. He has the potential with all of his tools to be a big time player for us, in the future.

  • Friesenhan

    Craig Simpson had 26 goals and 51 points his 2nd year (19/20 years old)… in the 80’s, don’t forget. And he turned out quite special, quite intelligent. Puljujarvi is just fine, and is learning so much right now, which he has to… even the language where he lives now. Let’s not beat up a teenager because he cannot meet the lofty expectations we have set for him!

  • 24% body fat

    jason one top 5 pick in the last 21 years is misleading. the 5 years before they picked in top 5 every year. yes it was expansion. and zibanijed was picked 6th.

    considering the 2010 oilers. they were stripped down to an expansion team. so kind of the same.

    lol thats how pathetic those 2010 teams were.

    • McRaj

      Man why do we make so many excuses for our team. Flat our are organization is one of the worst in sports. I am sick of these excuses. The fact that we are even talking draft lotto is an embarrassment.

  • Natejax97

    Looking forward to see how Jesse performs next year. The perfect scenario would be right wing beside Leon or left wing unloading one timers off perfect passes.

  • Homer

    I think JP will turn out just fine but I’d rather of gotten Matthew Tkachuk, that kids a beast right out of the gate. Most likely that’s just hindsight because JP was highly ranked but Matthew sure checks off a lot of boxes

    • toprightcorner

      Thachuk did not and does not have the same all around talent as Puljujarvi. Thachuks biggest advantage is that his dad was an NHL player and was groomed for the NHL game for years, and was projected to be the most NHL ready only behind Matthews. I admit he is better out of the gate than I would have expected, but I still think he will peak faster and JP will catch right up to him. I see them being in the same range as points a season, with Tkachuk being a pest, where JP will be better in all zones. They are completely different styles but I see JP pushing the river on his line in a few years where Tkachuk will be the complimentary player of the 3 players on his line. They will help their teams in different ways but JP still projects to be the more complete player.

  • toprightcorner

    I think people compare him to Laine because as teammates at the World Juniors, Puljujarvi won the MVP. Laine has a fantastic shot and that is the easiest thing to replicate in the NHL, get to a spot and shoot the puck. Puljujarvi’s game is about IQ, puck control and seeing the ice. That is a lot harder to translate from Europe to the NHL as the games are played and thought differently. The closest player that I see in development is Barkov as they both played and thought the game the same before being drafted. I am not saying that Jesse will ever put up 70+ points, but I expect Pujujarvi to start putting up more points next year in the range of 18 goals and 25 assists and then blossoming the following year up to 25 goals and 30 assists.

    I see him as a consistent 55 – 60 point guy that scores 20-25 goals a season that is also very solid defensively. That is a great top 6 RW. I see him as a Loui Eriksson/ Jere Lehtinen type of player. Lehtnen started producing points in the NHL when he was 24 (3rd NHL season)and Eriksson at age 23 (3rd NHL season) and that is a heck of a player to have on your team.

    It is extremely rare for a European to have any NHL success before they are 20 so I prefer the slow play with his development to adapt his game to the NHL, in a perfect world, he would have played more in the AHL last year, but considering the lack of AHL talent, it may not have pushed his development any quicker.

      • toprightcorner

        I am not saying Laine is a dime a dozen, he has one of the best shots in the NHL and everyone knew that when he was drafted. All I am saying is that if your talent is having a world class shot at 18 years old, you can adjust to the NHL much faster as a European than if you are a player with a better all around game but not top 5% talent in any 1 area.

        You cannot compare the development curve of Laine and Puljujarvi because their style and talents are so different and I think that is what too many Oilers fans are doing. Laine was expected to be a prolific goal scorer immediately, Puljujarvi was expected to take a bit longer to develop because he was more of a 2 way player.

  • OilersBro

    Different ice size, different language, different style of game and still growing into his frame. I think his progression is coming along nicely. I think the only reason why some people think Pulu is a bust is that they are comparing him to Laine. When he and Laine were drafted people predicted that Laine would have more success from the start but Jesse would become the stronger 2-way player. He’ll be a great player for us, it’ll just take patience

  • Bills Bills

    I still think it is interesting that out of the top 6 picks of which 5 were forwards, only one is not living up to the draft billing at this point. Even Pierre-Luc Dubois who is in his first season and is a month younger and really not much different in stature, has 37 points and 15 goals so far in his rookie season. I understand that every player develops differently and I am not overly concerned with JP at this point but there seems to be a reoccurring theme here. So I have to ask, is this just bad luck? Or are the Oilers doing something different in their drafting and developing than other teams? I think I already know the answer. Let’s face it, the only forward who they didn’t rush was Jordan Eberle who had a great progression after spending an additional year in junior.

    On the other side they have not been rushing their defense and the progression of draft picks like Nurse and Klefbom have been fine. Coincidence? Doubt it.

    • toprightcorner

      Dubois did not have to move to a different country, learn another language, learn a different style of game on a different size of ice. You CANNOT compare the first few years of development between a European and a CHL player.

      You cannot compare team development between Dubois and Puljujarvi as Dubois played last year in the WHL and actually had a rough year with his offence dropping considerably compared to his draft year. Dubois still has the luxury of playing the same style of game since he was 5 years old, JP did not have that.

    • toprightcorner

      Not living up to draft billing??? It was widely agreed that Puljujarvi would likely take longer to adjust to the NHL game but after a few years had the ability to be the second best in the draft. Wait until after playing 200 NHL games before even thinking about comparing the top 10 picks of a draft.

      • Bills Bills

        Well the way I see it, you could have read my entire comment and responded to it. Or you could have read the first sentence and responded. I know what you two did.

  • Bittersomfan

    Peter Forsberg didn’t play in the NHL untill he was 21. Nicklas Lidström didn’t play in the NHL untill the was 21…. The idea that JP is a bust is just ludicrous. Good teams give their prospects time to develop, it’s worth it. Bad teams rush them and then give up on them when they are 21.

  • matt999

    The confidence Puljujarvi showed with that little flip play goal against Carolina has me bullish on his future. I expect to see him at Draisaitl levels sooner rather than later (60/70 points). I’m both worried and encouraged by the Craig Simpson comments that Puljujarvi needs to grow up more re how he trains and approaches the game in-season. If there is more upside available by just bearing down, well, fantastic. If the Oilers can’t get him to bear down when he’s in the same dressing room as McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nuge, well, WTF? Those are serious, young, successful, respected guys. Management has to get leadership to convey to Puljujarvi that he has to eat a certain way, sleep a certain way, train a certain way, and do homework. I can’t believe he’s been here for two years and hasn’t picked up more English, nor that the Oilers didn’t cover that base immediately, nor that teammates aren’t compensating. My hunch is that Columbus had the inside track on language/maturity issues (they may be linked) and didn’t like the (Yakupov-esque) risk the situation presented. This all looks fixable though, and I think Simpson has it right.

  • Arfguy

    I have no problems if he’s playing 3rd line minutes. However, when the Oilers have one of the worst power plays…what is the harm of trying him on the power play? Yes, he’s 19…but place him where guys like Ovechkin and Laine play and just say shoot when you get the puck. At worst, he misses the net and the puck comes out of the zone or the shot gets blocked and there’s a counter-attack and a short-handed goal is scored. At best? He starts getting a feel of whether he belongs in that spot or not. The season is lost. A short-handed goal here and there is not going to do any more damage.