Based on the lines from practice, the Oilers — after 80 games — have finally decided on letting Puljujarvi get another taste of the top six. I know what you’re thinking: “What if this kid blows it for the Oilers in these critical games?” I’m here to rest your mind at ease.
Jesse Puljujarvi is not having a fantastic season for the Edmonton Oilers. He’s in his second season but the big, talented forward has not adapted particularly well to his role in the NHL. He has just 12-8-20 in 63 games this year. The former fourth overall pick has some challenges to overcome but I’m willing to look at some context before I start to panic.
For starters, Puljujarvi is hella young. He’s still a teenager and despite this being his second NHL season, he’s still the ninth-youngest player in the NHL this year (minimum 10 games). You can make a case that the Oilers have not done this young man any favours by pushing him to the NHL a year ago and continuing to do the same now. I recognize that Chiarelli emptied the wings and probably pencilled JP into a spot, but it’s hard to argue time on the top line in Bakersfield wouldn’t have been more appropriate than playing the third line in Edmonton. As a European pick, he’s one of the few players where the parent club even had the chance to send him to the AHL as a teenager.
Puljujarvi’s youth was the topic of a recent Todd McLellan quote in a Jim Matheson article, “Somebody said Jesse’s 19-going-on-17 with the way he carries himself and how happy-go-lucky he seems. Whether that’s fair or not, I don’t know. But he is a young 19.” A young 19, for whatever that’s worth, seems like a great thing to this blogger. I would kill to be a young 19 again. *Stares into the distance*
So he’s young, it’s true. He’s also (somehow) only this season been given a full-time English teacher. One would have thought whether here in the bustling metropolis of Edmonton or down in California, the Oilers could have found someone who taught English for a kid from the Finnish hinterlands, but maybe there just aren’t enough people who speak the now almost dead language.
Now, it is not uncommon nor unreasonable to assume that inexperience and language barriers are going to result in issues at the workplace. That holds as true in your office as it does on the ice. And NHL coaches are here to win, presumably, which means that young players in the NHL aren’t going to get the same chances as veterans who can clearly communicate with the staff. That’s just human nature.
One of the most common concerns I see used in the argument to keep Puljujarvi out of the top six is that he’s not ready to handle those minutes. The youth, the language barriers, and his results show that he’s just not there yet. I’ll grant the youth and the fact that he might only be able to fluently order a pizza over the phone are real, but I disagree with the results.
Jesse Puljujarvi currently sits fifth among the 13 Oiler forwards who have played at least 500 minutes in shot attempt percentage. He’s fifth in unblocked attempt percentage, sixth in scoring chance for percentage, and fifth in goals for percentage. When he’s on the ice, the Oilers are winning the battle for control of the puck and ultimately goals. Good things are happening with JP on the ice.
His usage doesn’t exactly scream “sheltered” either. He’s basically 50/50 in the split between defensive and offensive zone faceoffs, which is low on the Oilers. I’m not a fan of the “Quality of Competition” stats or arguments, but Puljujarvi is sixth among Oiler forwards with at least 20 games in Time on Ice Percentage quality of competition. What I’m getting at is that it doesn’t look like we can say with any certainty that Puljujarvi being on the third line for much of the season has actually meant that he’s faced easy competition, nor that the coaching staff has kept him safe.
What we can say is that Puljujarvi has played 776:07 in 5v5 play and 458:58 of that has been with Milan Lucic. That’s 59.1% of his season with a man who has hit rock bottom in his NHL career. Puljujarvi has scored 17 points 5v5 this year and nine of those have come with Lucic patrolling the other wing. That translates to:
With Lucic 1.18 P/60
Without Lucic 1.51 P/60
If we look specifically at how Puljujarvi has worked with McDavid or Draisaitl (the two centermen of Edmonton’s top six moving forward), we see that they are the centres who Puljujarvi has had the most individual success with.
In McDavid, Puljujarvi found a pivot for 250:36 5v5 with whom he produced a solid 1.92 P/60. They had a 54.7% CF together as well as a 61.9% GF. Now it is impossible to hide when you’re playing with Connor McDavid. Those would have to be the toughest minutes (in terms of competition) that you can find as an Oiler and the results were great in goals, shots, and individual points.
Time with Draisaitl has been much more elusive for Jesse. They have only shared the ice for 76:03 5v5. Considering that the year was lost and Draisaitl has been finally tasked with driving his own line, it’s actually shocking how little these forwards have played together. It is only natural to assume that there is a not-too-distant future in which they would be paired together very naturally. In the extremely brief time that they’ve been on the ice together, Puljujarvi has produced 3.16 P/60 (wow) but the duo has been on the wrong side of the puck and behind in the score.
Two games are a laughably short time left in the season to get a decent handle on whether Draisaitl and Puljujarvi can be compatible. This is something the coaching staff has had a long time to experiment with, but for reasons that I don’t think matter, they’ve avoided doing so. The insinuation from Matheson’s article was that Edmonton’s top centres didn’t want him on their wings. The results with McDavid don’t support banning him from duty there and there really hasn’t been much time at all put in with Draisaitl.
What I’m sure of is that the Oilers didn’t draft Jesse Puljujarvi to play on their third line, and spending the majority of his time with Lucic and Strome doesn’t appear to be helping him learn how to play in the top six. Perhaps the team just needs to let the kid play and live with the consequences rather than teach him how to be a third liner and face those consequences.