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Photo Credit: © Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Curious Case of Jesse Puljujarvi

Puljujarvi is not Finnish for “has to earn it more than everyone else in the line up”. According to my good friend and Finnish writer Jouni Nieminen, Puljujarvi loosely translates to Hill Lake and to be honest with you, I don’t think I’m going to be able to work another Hill Lake reference into this piece. 

With the exception of the power-play, penalty kill, goaltending, and overall coaching in general, nothing has frustrated Oilers fans this season as much as the usage of fourth overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi.

I’ve been a big supporter of Puljujarvi since watching him destroy the World Juniors in December of 2015. Puljujarvi teamed up with Patrik Laine and Sebastian Aho to form one of the most dominant lines in tournament history. All three players were outstanding but it was Puljujarvi that took home both Top Forward and MVP honours. In fact, Laine didn’t leapfrog Puljujarvi in the draft rankings until he went on a tear in the Finnish playoffs later that spring.

The first scouting report I received on Puljujarvi and Laine came from former Oilers d-man turned Finnish hockey analyst Janne Niinimaa. I met Niinimaa while playing in the World’s Longest Hockey Game in 2015 where he was one of my roommates. In February 2016, Janne returned to Edmonton to be honoured by the Oilers and that’s when I talked to him about the two players. He told me that Laine would make an immediate impact but Puljujarvi would likely develop into a more complete player down the road. The Oilers would have received this same message as they too spoke with Niinimaa about both players at that time.

Fast forward two years, and Laine is battling for the Rocket Richard Trophy while Puljujarvi is battling for ice-time on the worst power-play in the National Hockey League.

EARNING IT

Is anyone else tired of hearing that Puljujarvi has to earn his opportunities on the power play and in the top six? I know I am.

I was recently told by someone in the Oilers department of hockey operations that Puljujarvi has yet to prove he can one-time the puck well enough to see regular time on the man advantage. “Not a great shooter” I was told. I respectfully disagree.

I’d like to enter the video below into evidence as “Exhibit A”. I know this goal came off the rush but watch the area on the ice where Puljujarvi releases the puck from — pretty much exactly where you would need him to fire from in the “Letestu” spot on the PP.

Now, just for fun, watch the video again and check out Todd McLellan’s reaction on the bench. What’s going on there?

When given the opportunity, Puljujarvi has done more than enough to warrant time in the top six and on the power-play the rest of the way this season. This will be the part of the article where I complete my transition to the dark side and use analytics to back up my point.

Goals Per 60 minutes (5 on 5, minimum 20 games played)

  1. Connor McDavid 1.22 G/60
  2. Jesse Puljujarvi 0.86 G/ 60
  3. Jujhar Khaira 0.86 G/60
  4. Leon Draisaitl 0.73 G/60
  5. Drake Caggiula 0.73 G/60

Shots Per 60 minutes (5 on 5, minimum 20 games played)

  1. Jesse Puljujarvi 9.84 S/60
  2. Connor McDavid 9.27 S/60
  3. Anton Slepyshev 7.35 S/60
  4. Mike Cammalleri 7.17 S/60
  5. R. Nugent-Hopkins 7.14 S/60

Goals per 60 minutes (Power-Play)

  1. Jesse Puljujarvi 2.99 G/60
  2. R. Nugent-Hopkins 2.4 G/60
  3. Leon Draisaitl 1.6 G/60
  4. Connor McDavid 1.43 G/60
  5. Drake Caggiula 1.25 G/60

Shots per 60 minutes (Power-Play)

  1. Mike Cammalleri 16.24 S/60
  2. R. Nugent-Hopkins 13.8 S/60
  3. Jesse Puljujarvi 13.46 S/60
  4. Drake Caggiula 12.54 S/60
  5. Leon Draisaitl 11.83 S/60

As you can see, when Puljujarvi is on the ice he is producing shots at a very impressive rate and is actually the only player to show up in the top five of all four categories.

Just in case you were wondering, Puljujarvi has only played 40 minutes on the power-play this season, which is 10th among forwards if you include Maroon and Letestu.

The Patient Approach

Jan 20, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi (98) celebrates his second period goal against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

I can buy into some aspects of the patient approach that Todd McLellan appears to be taking with the big Finn.

Does it make sense to have him on a third line so he avoids difficult defensive match-ups? Sure.

Does it seem reasonable to try him on his off-wing for a little bit to see what he might be capable of? I guess.

Does it seem better for his long-term development to keep him off the top PP unit for now? Maybe.

I do, however, feel that the coaching staff is completely dropping the ball with this player when it comes to the second unit PP.  When he does get an opportunity on the second group, they have him standing around in the high slot or the “bumper zone” as it is sometimes called. Puljujarvi should be locked into the shooter spot on the second unit. I think he’s best suited for that spot right now and even if the organization disagrees, they should give him the opportunity to work on his craft in that position. If the final 20 games of this season were supposed to be about evaluating, why is a player who has been an effective power-play weapon on every other team he’s ever played on sitting and watching as the worst power-play in the league stands around and does nothing?

I was recently chatting with a former Oiler who still has some ties to the organization and he used the word thoroughbred to describe Puljujarvi. The last time I checked you don’t stick a thoroughbred in the same pen with a bunch of donkeys. Everyone involved with Puljujarvi will have to be extremely patient, including the player himself, but when the organization has an opportunity to give him even the slightest of opportunity and they refuse to do it, I believe it’s only fair to question what the long-term plan is. The Oilers need Puljujarvi to pan out in the worst of ways and if he doesn’t they will only have themselves to blame… again.

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