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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.

Recently by Dustin Nielson

  • I really don’t get why Puljujarvi isn’t getting some power play time in garbage time. He’s one of the organization’s best prospects and wouldn’t it make sense to give him something to feel good about? A little power play success would be nice heading into the summer, no? Bah! *yells at cloud*

    • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

      The Oilers are a mess. Bad coaching, bad management. We have McD, so all is not lost, but GM and coach has to go. Best player in the game is wasting away here.

      • a-twig

        honestly GM really isn’t as bad off as the coaching is, i’m reserving judgement until i see what PC does over the summer because he’s made some good choices… but coaching… good god. if TM would just get over his weird coaching tics and play people where they clearly ought to be, i think this season would have gone very differently.

    • TruthHurts98

      The coaching staff should be in the AHL. Don’t believe it, then how come Pete DeBoer has San Jose playing far better team game with much less than TM? If the coaches and GM are here next year it’ll be deja vu all over again. I got trashed for saying Weakins was not a good NHL coach from the get go. TM is far better but still not good enough. Woodcroft is downright terrible IMO. Trash away if you like.

    • jultz=2cups!😂😂

      Lol. That’s what I see when he’s on the ice. Can anyone on this site give absolute proof that the staff hasn’t tried different things in practice? Guy takes one slap shot/one timer and oilersnation has him locked into a position on the 1st pp unit. Lol. All because they want the Gretzky/Kurri, Mcdavid/puljujarvi connection. He just ain’t ready yet. If the plan is to keep Nuge and Connor together then I hope chia goes and gets a veteran shooter to play on the rw. Let jp soak up easy minutes on the lower lines till his skill catches up to his big frame. It will come.

      • crabman

        @Jultz, I agree he doesn’t look ready, which is fine for a19 year old. I would have had no problem if he spent the year in the AHL developing. And think it would be foolish to go into next season expecting him to thrive in a top 6 roll.
        My issue is the lack of opportunity he has been given on the pp. The team is out of the playoffs, and the pp has struggled. Why not give a young man who loves to shoot, and is a right hand shot which is desperatly needed, the chance when nothing else has worked?

  • Joeboot

    Great article with the supporting stats. To add, it’s been said he is also good defensively. I wonder about his confidence, I’m sure he thinks “how come Lucic gets all this time and can’t score and I’m producing and I don’t”

    • Craig1981

      Its hard to say that for without knowing more about what drives him. Personally when I felt shafted in ice time it made me work harder and more determined not less confident. Todd has a pretty solid history of developing players, maybe more so than his coaching to win.

  • morsecode89

    I’m with ya Dustin.

    On one hand, I understand a patient approach and allowing JP to face lesser competition at evens. On the other hand, if feels like as soon as the team hits a rut, Todd is willing to move him down the lineup or off the PP quicker than anyone else – mostly in favor of certain veterans who haven’t produced as much as JP at 5v5.

    But yeah, this kid is a thoroughbred. His development curve isn’t going to be straight. He looks and skates a little janky still. But when he gets going, and plays with confidence, he can be dominant. And he shoots the puck a lot and quite well.

    There is no reason at this point, and even well before this, that JP shouldn’t have been given a chance in the Ovi/Laine (or for the Oilers, the Letestu/Eberle) area of the ice. Strome doesn’t shoot much from there. And no D man seems to post up in that spot on the Oilers first or second pp unit.

    It’s garbage time. Try and get this kid another 3 goals. He has 12 now. 15 this season would prorate him for close to 20 in 82. Play him on the top unit. Play him with Connor or Drai. Just straight up play him more.

    • Edmonton Eulers

      I think management might be trying to get Pulju work on driving his own line, rather than becoming dependent on Connor or Leon. But I still think he should be playing with them on the powerplay as a shooter.

      • morsecode89

        He’s 19 years old. He’s in his second NHL season, but still one of the youngest players in the league. This kid needs to be coddled a bit. That means if he makes a mistake or fails to get the puck in deep at the blue line, he’s not going to get dropped to the 3rd line. Confidence for young, developing players in a new environment is huge.

        I keep thinking that if JP was named Jimmy Patrick, and was from Fairmont B.C. and not Finland, and had the same skill set and draft pedigree, the coaches and fans would be a lot more willing to let his mistakes and development slide a little more.

  • VK63

    Nicely done Dustin.
    Of note, most stats guys, when inserting objective data are compelled to present the subsequent analysis in a condescending dick head manner as they build their superior (and completely subjective) narrative. Work on that eh.
    You actually presented provocative questions and avoided Bulverism. *GASP*

  • elliotsmom

    Obviously, General Disappointment and his coaches are morons. When they value Caguilla higher than Puljujarvi that is very telling to me. This will be another trade we lose before we even have an opportunity to see the potential that Jesse brings. That is outrageous, but it is the Oilers way. Hopefully both Chia and all of the current coaches will all be replaced before the next season of hockey starts. Maybe someone that appreciates true talent can run and coach the Oilers, and give the guys a chance to play in the post season again.

  • Kr55

    If we assume this team is run with any intelligence, the only conclusion for Pulju’s handling is that they are trying to ensure he has a dirt cheap 2nd contract. But, it’s a leap to think this team is run with intelligence, so that opens up a lot of other possibilities. But, I do hope his agent isn’t starting to think the Oilers are intentionally trying to sewer this stats for the next negotiation. That could make things ugly.

  • The Oilers have a history of rushing their young players into the NHL way before they are ready. He should still be in the AHL learning how to play the game on the smaller ice surface and what is expected of him playing pro hockey. A perfect example of another young Oiler draft pick who’s confidence is being ruined and development set back by management trying to justify their draft choice.

    • Hemmercules

      How is his confidence being ruined and development set back?? He’s not in the press box, he’s 19 and plays 10-13 minutes a night in the NHL. He’s had time throughout the lineup. They don’t thrown him to the wolves every night. He will be fine. I’m not even a big fan of his but he will be a useful Oiler next year I think unless he gets traded for a Dman instead of Nuge.

      • Kr55

        I think his use on the PP is the easiest thing to point at. After 50 games of this team entirely focusing on trying to set up Letestu (who lost 3 steps last summer) on the left side on an abysmal PP, we never got to see our actual best right handed shooter in that spot. Not even on the 2nd unit when he finally learned enough English to get a shot there. It’s just nonsensical, especially when the season is done.

        McLellan can claim he’s scared of hurting the kids confidence and yadda yadda, but in a done season, with really no expectations on the team aside from being spoilers now and then for teams fighting for playoff position, is our coaching staff really not able to establish some reasonable expectations for this kid with a chance at taking some 1-timers on the PP? Have we created some environment for this kid on the team where he feels like the world will crash around him if he does for a couple games what we all saw Letestu and Lucic do (epic failure) for 50 straight games from the start of the year? What exactly is going on with how we’re handling this kid. That’s what I think many fans are wondering right now.

        • Hemmercules

          I think most of you worry too much. Its not like the guy is riding press box every game. He should be happy just being in the NHL. Im sure not being on unit 1 isn’t hurting his feeling as much as everyone wants to believe.

        • jultz=2cups!😂😂

          Letestu didn’t lose 3 steps last summer. The oilers did. John Davidson was praising mark yesterday and said he came in and solidified the 4th line. Columbus has been rolling since he went there. Just another case of oilersnation blaming the wrong guy. As usual

          • Hemmercules

            Guys like Mark should be easily replaceable or they could always bring him back. Chia made a great move trading him at the deadline and getting a good prospect in return. Not sure anyone was directly blaming Test for anything? He just wasn’t as good on the PP this year like everyone else. The blame for this season rides on everyone in the Org not named McDavid.

  • Imrighturwrong

    If the Oilers were smart, which they are not, they’d dump him to the jets for…. Oh idk….TROUBA. But that’s just makes way to much sense so we all know that won’t happen.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Um… Jesse Puljujarvi is 19 years old. He’s a teenager.

    Can everyone just relax? Jesse’s on the big team. He’s getting ice-time. He’s being worked in slowly and not rushed. I have no concerns about his usage at this time.

    Again … he’s 19 years old. Normally and … truthfully… ideally…a player his age should either be in the AHL or even back over in Finland honing his game in the pro league. He wasn’t exactly lights-out in the AHL last year but the Oilers have him up here anyway.

    I think they’re doing the right thing with Puljujarvi. They’re not rushing him. They’re attempting to teach him the NHL game, at pace. The Oilers were criticized, on this website and others, for throwing other players Puljujarvi’s age in the deep end at age 19. And, now that they’ve chosen a different, more patient route with Puljujarvi, they’re being criticized for that. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

    I say again … Jesse Puljujarvi is 19 years old.

    Side note: Dustin asks us to “check out Todd McLellan’s reaction on the bench,” wondering “What’s going on there?”

    So I stop reading the article right there and check out the clip. McLellan’s reaction-clip runs for about two steamboats, maybe three. It’s so short there’s absolutely no context as to what that reaction may be about; in fact, there’s no indication that McLellan’s reaction has anything to do with Puljujarvi, at all. I continue reading the article looking to see what Dustin is asserting. I assume he’s about to tell us that he either thinks that McLellan’s mad at Puljujarvi scoring … or doesn’t like Puljujarvi or … something?

    But … there’s nothing. What’s going on there, Dustin? I have no idea. But you can’t just leave it there and move on. Tell us what you think Todd’s doing there. Are you thinking he’s mad at Jesse for scoring a goal?

    • Hemmercules

      I second the confusion on Todds reaction. He always looks like that. Looks like he was just telling a line to go out there or something.

      I think this is just a case of angry Oiler fans reading into things too much. I’m sure Jesse gets his practice time on the PP, maybe they just dont think he’s ready there. I know Todd has been working hard on getting Lucic back to confident again which isn’t really a bad thing. We have Looch for a long time and he wont be going anywhere in the next couple years, give him the ice time and let him work it out. Jesse will be at camp and playing in the top 9 next year. He will get his time.

  • Snoop Scottie Dogg

    I get the idea of having to earn it. BUT, something tells me the yammer would be on the power play if he was playing for the Oilers.

    I believe Jesse will score 25 goals next season.

  • OilersBro

    Here’s a lineup I would love to see that would put Jesse in a spot to succeed:
    Khaira – Drai – Jesse
    The reason being: Jesse is a versatile player. He’s shown size, ability to win puck battles, speed, a solid shot, defense, the ability to crash the net to score, passing, etc. Let’s put him on a line where both his linemates can do the same and see what happens. It gives the defense very few options to stop him.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    This coaching staff has the best young player in the game today and a PP that is the worst in the league. They are not using Jesse properly, you say? Colour me surprised. TMac has to go.

  • ubermiguel

    I’ll admit I have watched the Oilers less and less as the season went on, but I had some doubts about Puljujarvi’s positioning and ability to get open. He’s a teenager so it’s nothing he can’t learn (…I hope…Yakupov never did).

  • Hazeldeanrookie

    19 year old playing 3rd line with a decent center and getting a bit of PP2 time, why is this an issue? He is doing fine … compared to Hall, Gagner, PVR, Yakopuv this might be the best handling of a teenage prospect the Oiler’s have ever done.

  • crabman

    I’m fine with Puljujarvi playing most his time on the 3rd line against easier competition. I thought he hampered the top 2 lines quite often when he tried to be the puck carrier instead of his center. A lot of plays died at the blueline with an extra move and putting his line mates offside. And his shots/60 are inflated by poor shot selection and just firing the puck from everywhere. That said, I like the guy and think he will turn into a good winger in time. There is no reason this team shouldn’t be putting him in a position to succeed on the pp. He likes to shoot, the rest of the pp seems to be content just passing tthe puck around. Put him on his off wing and just let him fire away. It can’t hurt. what we are doing hasn’t worked. It’s time to start something different.

  • Billy Charlebois

    I see some similarities in the development of JP and Draisaitl. Neither of them blew the doors off of their 1st year. In fact many wondered if they were going to be busts. In their 2nd year there was much improvement but still concern. Obviously no issues with Draisaitl in his 3rd year, when he blew the doors off things. Both guys are big and strong, but I think it took Draisaitl a few years to realize how strong he is. He used to get knocked down in the corners. Now he initiates and bulls his way around the ice. I think JP will get there too. He will figure out that he can drive the net off the wing with his skill, size and strength. His first few seasons he looked like a baby giraffe on roller skates: falling down, overskating the puck and fanning on shots and passes. I see way less of that now. He seems to be growing into his body.

  • teammate michael

    TM and the coaching staffing get a D on my report card. Chia an F. Cripes Mact may have been brain dead when he hired Eakins but he went to the draft table and choose 29 and Nurse. The brilliance of hiring Eakins is that it resulted in 97. As to Pizza. Draft and develop. Sure. But watching the Oilkers PP this season flounder while not using an asset like JP is a crime. TM and his coaching staff have failed time and again this season. This being example 1223.

  • Consultant

    Great article. So true, its shocking that the PP is so bad yet here is a right hand shot trigger man sitting on the bench… Hence the time for a new coach talk.
    Only reason that makes any sense to me is that they don’t want him to hit 20 goals as the price on the next contract might get too high… maybe then plan on signing him long term to a lowish cap hit then setting him loose…

  • Positive Ray of Sunshine

    You don’t have to be high upon a Hill Lake to see that Jesse is being misused.

    Management believes that the worse a player performs in their ELC the better because it makes their next contract cheaper. They practically bragged about that when they burnt off a year of Leon’s contract. That turned out super. I’m guessing they don’t want Jesse padding his stats on the PP so they make up party lines like “he doesn’t have a good shot” to defend their willful incompetence. Just a hunch.

  • Dr Dragon

    They mismanaged this kid right from the start.. He shoulda went straight to Bakersfield in his rookie year but they left him up here to lose all his confidence first then sent him down… For whatever reason the coach is harder on Jesse then he is with all his younger players(The Drake) for example. The Drake must pick up the coaches dry cleaning and details his car too how else can you explain it.. We still believe in you Jesse even if the coach doesnt

  • The Immortal

    The other day on 1260 Strudwick was justifying playing 13 ahead of jesse and slepy…he’s a veteran, he’s earned it, he offers the best chance at winning.. bla bla bla…

    And that’s when I decided Strudwick is a dummy. As are our coaches. And GM

    13 should have retired last year. He’s been nothing short of awful. What a complete joke of an acquisition.

    There’s no valid reason why Jesse/Slepy don’t get pp time. Especially in the last 20 games of this wasted season. See what they can do? Strome can’t raise a puck, why is he supposedly poised in the shooter position?

    • Big Shooter

      I agree on 13, he’s been exactly what I thought he’d be. Old and slow. As far as providing leadership, that makes me laugh. Was it the LA or ANA game where all he had to do was skate about 10 ft and toss the puck down the ice and the game is basically over? He selfishly tried for the empty netter, like WTF? Guys like Slepy and JP sitting on the bench were probably thinking, “I do that and I’m in the press box next game”.

  • Munson

    Jarmo Finnishname passing on Jesse is still a huge red flag for me. Wouldn’t hurt to experiment with the kid’s role/minutes I guess but I don’t really expect a lot from the kid tbh.

  • Big Shooter

    As far as the PP goes, I don’t get it. Am I missing something? You have 2 guys in Slepy and JP that can hammer it, so why in this dumpster fire of a season, why ouldn’t TM or the PP guru Woodcroft at least try those guys in the Ovie/Stammer spot? Could we get any worse than dead last on the pp? I would bet Slepy is as good as gone next year and that’s another hit to organizational depth. Of course Caguila will probably get tons of ice because ……..he’s sooooo good. (face palm)

  • XL Lebowski

    I really want to see this kid succeed. I saw his interview with Gene Principe after the Carolina game, and he seems like a geuinely nice kid. Even a bit shy. Also really impressed that he stayed in Edmonton to play hockey outside with kids during the break this winter. And love the fact that He enjoys pizza during media scrums in the dressing room. Not sure if McLellan is handling him right, but I get a feeling he’s going to be OK. Might be the soft spoken type of personality that needs to grow in confidence…because the size and skill is definitely there. Maybe next season? Tired of saying that here in Oil land. But in Jesse’s case it might be true.