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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday Tidbits: Puljujarvi = Patience

Jesse Puljujarvi turned 20 last month. He has played 93 NHL games — a grand total of 1,184 minutes — and produced 13 goals and 28 points. He hasn’t dominated, far from it, but no one should have expected him to. I realize it is summer time, and maybe the heat is getting to people, but the suggestion Puljujarvi “needs” a breakout year this coming season is grossly premature.

Every player develops at a different pace, and when we evaluate players there are many other factors that should come into play other than where he was drafted and how his production has been through two seasons. It is way too early to suggest he is a bust or the Oilers have ruined his development.

I still don’t believe he should have been in the NHL in his first professional year, albeit for only 28 games, and while I recognize the organization was trying to help him get acclimatized to North America, I think playing in the AHL all season wouldn’t have hurt him. Regardless, I think history tells us it is way too early to suggest he needs to take a major step forward this season.

Let’s look at some other players and how they produced playing in the NHL at 19 years of age.

Puljujarvi played 65 games this past season and produced 12 goals and 20 points. Here are some other players who had similar offensive numbers.

Alex Barkov had 36 points in 71 games.
Sean Monahan produced 34 points in 75 games.
Phil Kessel had 29 points in 70 games.
Jordan Staal had 28 points in 82 games.
Sean Couturier and Milan Lucic each scored 27 points in 77 games.
Ryan O’Reilly had 26 points in 76 games.
Ryan Johansen scored 21 points in 67 games.
Kyle Turris had 20 points in 63 games.
Shane Doan had 17 points in 74 games.
Petr Nedved had 16 points in 61 games.
Ryan Smyth had 11 points in 48 games (lockout shortened season).

Only O’Reilly and Lucic (second rounders) were not top-seven draft picks.

Here is how they did in their 20-year-old season.

Alex Barkov scored 59 points in 66 games.
Sean Monahan produced 62 points in 81 games.
Phil Kessel had 37 points in 82 games.
Jordan Staal had 49 points in 82 games.
Sean Couturier had 15 points in 46 games. He also scored 28 points in 31 AHL games. He never scored more than 39 points until he was 25 years old when he scored 76.
Milan Lucic scored 42 points in 72 games.

Ryan O’Reilly had 55 points in 81 games.
Ryan Johansen scored 12 points in 40 games. He produced 33 points in 40 AHL games. He then scored 63 points at 21.
Kyle Turris played in the AHL scoring 63 points in 76 games. He had 25 points in 65 NHL games at 21 and 29 points in 55 games at 22. When he was 23 he scored 29 pts in 48 games (lockout shortened season) which prorates to 49 points. He finally cracked 50 points when he was 24 years old with 26-32-58.
Shane Doan had 12 points in 63 games. When he was 21 he had 11 points in 33 NHL games and 42 points in 39 AHL games. He had 22 points in 79 games when he was 22. Then he jumped to 26 goals and 51 points when he was 23.
Petr Nedved had 37 points in 77 games.
Ryan Smyth scored 39 goals and 61 points. The next two seasons he produced 33 and 31 points, before scoring 50+ points in ten consecutive seasons.

So five of the players had 45+ points in their 20-year-old season, and Smyth then had two more 30 points seasons before becoming a consistent point producer. Couturier, Turris and Doan, who were all top-seven draft picks, needed multiple seasons before they became consistent NHL point producers.

Maybe Puljujarvi takes a major jump and scores 45+ points, or makes a solid improvement to 30-35 points. Or maybe he still struggles to find consistency. If he has a great year, it doesn’t guarantee he will become a solid point producer, although it will significantly increase his chances, and if he still struggles to find some traction in the NHL that doesn’t mean he or the organization has failed.

Development is not equal for every player. There are many factors to consider, but the positives for Puljujarvi start with is work ethic. He puts in the time to get in shape. For a big man his cardio and conditioning were very good last year. That likely won’t change, and if anything he’ll become even more efficient in those areas. He is going to get stronger, fill out his massive frame and when he does he will be able to use his body size to his advantage during puck battles and protecting the puck in the corners and on the wall. He also has a good shot. He will learn how to get it off quicker, and likely we will see him experiment with different stick lengths and flex. I’d argue his stick was too whippy last year, possibly due to him gaining more strength, and a bit too long.

But remember, NHL players are no different than non-NHL playing young men. They mature at different times. Just look at your group of friends. You likely had a buddy who was physically mature at 18 or 19, while another didn’t fill out until he was 22. Some were more mentally mature and able to live on their own, manage money or avoid doing dumb things, while some took a few more years to figure it out.

The challenge for Puljujarvi is he had to find his way in a new country, learn a new language and compete against mature, experienced men. The elite players like Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane and others who are able to do it as teenagers are extremely impressive, and rare. We should applaud their ability to produce at such a young age, but we shouldn’t look at players like Puljujarvi and declare they are busts because they didn’t rip up the NHL as a teenager.

Puljujarvi has played a mere 93 games and not even 1,200 minutes of NHL hockey. It is fair to hope he continues to improve, but stating he must take a big jump this year or he is headed for Bustville is premature in my books.

TIDBITS…

Mar 31, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers right wing Zack Kassian (44) during the face off against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

1. Now is not the ideal time for Peter Chiarelli to trade away players who had a less-than-productive year. The list of Oilers who were good last season is pretty short, yet it seems Zack Kassian is one veteran many want to trade away. Kassian wasn’t as assertive physically or emotionally last year as he was in 2017, but I think he is more than capable of finding that tenacity again, rather than think it is gone forever. Kassian has the speed to be a solid bottom six contributor. After taking a few overzealous penalties early in the season, I felt he became less aggressive, and I wonder how much of that had to do with the Oilers dreadful PK. If you know there is a good chance the opposition will score when you’re in the sin bin, it’s understandable why you might become leery of taking a penalty. When you play on the edge, you expect a player to cross the line now and again.

Kassian had seven minor penalties in the first 13 games. Then I felt he tried lost his edge a bit. He wasn’t engaged as often and he only had nine minors in his final 61 games, and five of those came when the Oilers were trailing 4-0 in games. Kassian plays best when he is aggressive. I expect players like him to take the odd aggressive penalty, but the combination of the Oilers tough start, a horrible PK and him taking too many penalties led to him being much more passive. Playing aggressive comes naturally to him, and while he might be a tad pricey, I think when he is on his game he brings a much needed element of emotion. He skates very well, and he and Jujhar Khaira should be able to be an effective fourth line. I’d be leery of trading Kassian away, just to save a little cap space, because I still think a team needs a few players who play with an edge.

2. The deadline to qualify RFAs is less than three weeks away. The Oilers would need to qualify Ryan Strome at $3 million or lose him to free agency. Their other option is to sign him to a contract prior to the QO deadline at less than $3 million. Many teams have done this in the past. The question is: does Strome’s camp believe they have to do it? If they balk at a two-year deal worth $2.5 mill/year, then they can force the Oilers to qualify him at $3 million for one season. If Strome’s camp believes he could sign for $3 million/year as a free agent, they might not agree to multi-year deal at a lower rate. Money is only one factor. Strome knows his role in Edmonton. He would be the 3C and play on the PK, and possibly some second unit PP time. There is also the bonus of playing with McDavid, and history shows the league’s best players usually find a way to get close, or win a Stanley Cup. “I believe many teams would gladly pay him $3 million,” wrote an NHL manager via text this week. “He looked more comfortable as a third line centre this year and depth down the middle is crucial,” he added. I’m interested to see if the Oilers can sign Strome to a lower salary, qualify him at $3 million or risk losing him for nothing.

3. Pending UFA and former Oiler Mark Letestu was on my radio show yesterday and had some really good thoughts on free agency, finding a role and added the following about McDavid.

“It is tough to say he is going to get that much better with him winning scoring title after scoring title, but I’m sure there can be more growth to his game. Maybe he can become a better leader, other than just scoring every night. There are other ways to grow. You look at Sidney Crosby — the comparisons are always there — and Sid doesn’t lead the league in scoring every year, but he still puts up huge numbers and does well in the playoffs. His teams are always in the playoffs and in the hunt every year and he drives it. I think Connor has that ability where he can bring guys along and drive it. He is still so young. He can’t have it all figured out yet (laughs), right? He still has some growth in that sense, but the entertainment value and high lite reel, he is must watch-TV every night. He truly is a special player,” said Letestu.

He also touched on the WOW factor of McDavid through the eyes of a teammate.

“It happened weekly to be honest. You’d turn around and look the coaches or teammates, and smile, ‘I can’t do that. How is that possible?’ I remember the opener, when he flew by everyone and scored. We just kind of looked around at each other and said, “It is too early for that kind of speed. What is going on?” he said. He then added a fun barb.

“He is only 15% on breakaways, he will have to work on that if he wants to win the Rocket,” he laughed.

Do they juice him about that in the dressing room?

“You have to. He is the best at everything, so you have to find something he isn’t good at,” said Letestu.

You can listen to the entire interview here. Letestu gave a very honest assessment of free agency, mainly what players say after signing, but also he shared a funny story about the trade deadline when he was traded from Edmonton to Nashville to Columbus in a very short time span.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • TKB2677

    The one thing I will say about Kassian is you are paying him 1.95 mill and right now he is a 4th line RW. That’s way too much money to pay a 4th liner if that is all he is.

      • Leo Tard

        I think both Milan and Kassian were watered down by TMac. My feeling is they were told not to engage in anything rough. In fact, I think that the entire team was asked to play hockey and to play within a timid structure. Not only did it hurt and cost the team by taking this approach, but both of these players were rediculously bad after this happened. You cannot ask a player who depends on being aggressive to not be aggressive. The result is exactly what happens when you tell a player to back away from the edge.

    • LAKID

      They are playing him there because they are forced to play Lucic on second or third. Kassian is at least a third liner. Todd has not used Kassian properly and thats on the coaching staff.

        • LAKID

          He can skate, shoot,pass is an instigator and can fight! What does Lucic bring? Can’t skate,pass and no one wants to fight him. Lucic also was a pouty piece of not showing a veteran presence.

        • camdog

          PC signed him to be a third liner, coach played him as a 4th liner. If you compare him to the other forwards on the team he’s in my top 9. I didn’t have Cagguila, Khaira, Cammalleri/Jokinen Pakarinen, Aberg, and Slepyshev ahead of him.

      • crabman

        @LAKID,

        Kassian is and always has been a 4th liner. Sure because of his skill set, size and speed, and his draft pedigree he was tried in a top6 role in the past. He had an audition with the Sedin twins two seasons in a row but could never make it stick. But over the course of his career he has always been deployed as a 4th liner by average minutes/game. only I season did he average more minutes than a 4th liner, 2014-15 Canucks, and he was number 9 on that team.
        If it is a coaching problem it is a problem all of, Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneault, John Tortorella, Willie Desjardins, and Todd McLellan all have because they all deployed him as a 4th line winger.
        I believe he has more to give than the 13th most minutes/game forward on this team but I wouldn’t say he is “at least a third liner”

        • Moneyball

          Kassian’s season last year was outstanding and he showed what he could do. He is a useful 3rd or fourth line player and all those coaches you listed would agree.

          • crabman

            @Moneyball,

            I agree. They all played him as an everyday player. He is an NHL player and a useful one at that. But he isn’t, “at least a third liner”. He has been played as a 4th liner his entire career not just in Edmonton. He also moonlights up the lineup from time to time, but so does Caggiula and that doesn’t make him anything more than a 4th liner either.

    • WhoreableGuy

      Your thoughts remind me of the whole Benoit Pouliot fiasco, being a focal point for Chiarelli and for what? He had an off season, wasn’t on that bad of a contract and the Oilers are still on the hook for $1.333 million for the next 3 seasons still.
      Kassian had an off year, but even if he’s a 4th liner to me he has an edge the Oilers need. You don’t try to move a guy that’s making only $1.95 million out of an $80 million payroll, try and get guys like Lucic and Sekera (who I still want to see as an Oiler with a healthy off season) off the books.

  • Rama Lama

    It appears he has been played in every situation except one where he actually may succeed……….this new coaching system is supposed to make him better??

    I’m sure that TM will eventually have him play defence and wonder why he is not producing. I’m hoping that the new coaches have some vision on how to develop players as the current head coach seems to be in an alternate hockey universe.

  • Serious Gord

    So many players on the oil have something to prove this upcoming season – that last year was an anomaly for them – that they can either return to peak form (Lucic, Sekera..) or return to developing as a player on the way to being much better than they ever have been (Klefbom, puljujarvi…).

    The player with the biggest potential/hoped for delta is JP. But he is arguably the least likely to deliver IMO. He just seems incapable of thinking the game at the speed it’s being played at now. Perhaps he will prove me and others wrong.

    That noted this team has no choice but to stick with the roster it has – including PJ – there simply isn’t enough depth or cap room to do otherwise.

    • Rama Lama

      Could it be that he has been shuffled from line to line and never been put in his natural position to succeed? Just saying it seems that hockey players routinely forget how to play hockey in Edmonton……..and then remember how to play when they go to another team.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      I think your right. My belief is the coaches were all that were missing last year. Now they have some direction I am more than happy, good things are coming… Sidenote” Nothing wrong at all with Kassian & Lucic. With the team firing on all cylinders, those two will be thoroughly improved. Every successful team needs a couple of “spark-plugs” those two, have the potential to be two of the best in the league. As an example, Reaves for Vegas isn’t that fast, but look how effective he is?

      • Leo Tard

        Exactly. They were forced to be players they are not and never will be. The entire team payed the price for TMac not understanding what his players are and for not utilizing them proper.

    • Moneyball

      @seriousgord

      Your assessments are often honest and frank and in my opinion a good view of the situation outside of rose coloured glasses. With JP I agree he has the most potential upside, but also the most potential to be a bust. Where the oilers are now I would trade him and capitalize on that potential value and divest the development risk inherent with PJ. We could get back a player like stone from Ottawa and a 2nd round pick. Maybe as part of a bigger package for a pick moving dman to Carolina. Point being if you want to look at asset management and risk management it’s better to deal him now than to risk PJ losing more value. Right now I would value him at a late first round pick. Next year could be a 3rd rounder and then yak 2.0. When I watch the games I don’t see the competitive edge in this kid.

  • Beer_League_Ringer

    My magic 8-ball tells me JP gets 30-35pts this year, depending on who he plays with. Maybe a few more if Manny uses him on the PP. I think if the new coaches can help him figure out how to play with Drai, or Strome, Jesse will be just fine (he’s only 20).

  • crabman

    Gregor, you are right that we need to be patient with Puljujarvi. He was one of the youngest players in his draft and the youngest player in the league in his rookie season. But the expectations were/are so high because of the hype surrounding him. Going into his draft year he and Laine were almost too close to call for the #2 draft ranking. As the season went on Laine pulled away, much like Svechnikov and Zadina this year, but they were both deemed NHL ready. Laine has flourished while Puljujarvi hasn’t been able to find his way yet. Now as fans it is time to regroup and put past expectations away and see where the player is today and where he could still end up.
    I agree he will improve as he grows into his frame and learns to use it to his advantage. And I have been saying for months his stick is too long. It has hurt his wrist shot and has effected his ability to stick handle when pressured. He will make some adjustments and some time with a skills coach will help.
    I would like to know the usage and playing time of the prospects in the article. Were they brought around slowly? Lack of pp time and much of the year on the 3rd line? How did their quality of linemates compare to Puljujarvi? A lot more goes into comparing production than just a players age. I get that the comparisons were just made as an example of haveing patients in a player can payoff and a lack of production now isn’t a sign he is a bust.
    I don’t know what to expect this year and I think much of Puljujarvi’s production will depend on usage. If he is primarily used in the top6 on either Draisaitl or McDavid’s wing a 30-35 point season would be a disappointment. I will be disappointed if Rattie spent the year on McDavid’s wing and didn’t get 40 points.
    A respected commenter, Woodguy, on another blog site had some bullish projections for Puljujarvi next season. 50+ if he played with Draisaitl the entire season and 70 of he played with McDavid. I don’t expect a breakout season like that but 50 in a top6 role and a spot on the pp shouldn’t be out of the question playing with the talented centers the Oilers have.

  • crabman

    I would move Kassian if I needed some or all of the $1M he is overpaid for his position. I am not saying I want him gone or that I would trade him because of an ineffective season. Infact if the cap room isn’t needed I wouldn’t trade him. My issue is his usage. He was 13th in minutes per game for forwards that played at least 30 games. The only player he averaged more time than was Pakarinen. He was buried on a 4th line McLellan used sparingly and was used less on the pk as the season went on. He is over paid at $1.95M to play that role. Kassian has played 4th line minutes everywhere he plays but 13th forward amount of average ice time is too low. If he is still around next year I hope McLellan and company can get more use out of him.
    I do agree a bottom line anchored by Khaira and Kassian would be a great energy line. Fast, hard on the forecheck and hard to play against and I think that line would get more minutes if the team is winning games and playing with the lead more.
    So not running the player down or out of town just being practical about cap space allocation.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      The problem with that is that Kassian will probably be worth more to the Oilers than the savings in trading him? He would have to be replaced, & they’d lose all that potential tenaciousness. that’s hard to replicate & it’s needed, especially in the Pacific division, for whatever reason? I think in Kassian, we’ll have a better version than last season, with the new coaching philosophy?

      • Glencontrolurstik

        Further to above: If the Oilers want to save cap-space, they have to do it with one or two moves. Not by nickel and dimeing with players like Kassian or Strome. They are good, skilled depth players. The kind the Oilers should be targeting…

        • crabman

          @Glencontrolurstik,

          I do hope if he is back that the new coaching staff gets more bang for their buck.
          I also agree that there are more pressing issues cap wise than Kassian and his $1.95M. But unless Lucic gets moved, which seems more likely now than in the past but far from a sure thing, who in the forward group could be moved to save any money?
          Kassian was 6th highest paid forward last year. Behind only, Draisaitl, Lucuc, Nuge, McDavid (after bonuses), and Strome.
          Right now if they move no one and make modest UFA adds, and bridge Nurse there is plenty of money to go around. But if Nurse’s camp pushes longterm but at a team friendly rate, say $4.5M×6, thst’s $1M. What if an opportunity to add a $5.5M top4 RHD for a $4-4.17M LHD becomes available? That’s another $1.5M and now paying 4RW $1.95M becomes an issue.
          Like I said I wouldn’t get rid of him just to get rid of him but I would much prefer to add someone like Beagle, or Winnik, or Brodziak at $1M-
          to play his 11:40 a game and sign Nurse longterm, while adding the top4 RD we could use.
          Not saying this will all happen but no trade/signing is done in a vacuum and if the team needs that $1M to improve the team elsewhere I would move him. He isn’t a difference maker he is a luxury.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      To save cap room they have to move a top paid player. Players like Strome & Kassian are the kind of players the Oilers need to supplement the top 6.
      The problem is that moving 3 million dollar 3rd & 4th liners is a moot point, cause when you replace them your paying the same for similar. It’s moot.
      500K in an $80mil budget is no savings, it’s over/short float.

  • rivid

    There is nothing in his game at the moment that suggests he will ever be an impact player. Hope l am very wrong about this, but l am thinking that he was a wasted draft pick. Should have drafted Tkachuk!

    • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

      How so? He has a great shot, the right attitude, and he’s got the size. This isn’t a Yamamoto situation where you worry he might be too small for the NHL. No reason I can see just yet to write off Jesse. He just needs nurturing and patience. He’s just a kid! Not everyone is a Laine or McDavey.

  • Tonya Harding Compete Level

    I actually think the Puljujarvi development is working out ideally (if he’s not going to be a Laine). My only concern is that some hot shot GM is going to come along and be impatient and trade him. Some players are just late bloomers but still have high ceilings in their 25-29 year range and I feel like Puljujarvi is one of those guys (similar to Nurse and RNH), in the meantime it means his contracts are going to be cheaper which will help this cap tight club through Chiarelli’s bad contract yrs. He’s big, fast, skilled and defensively aware. 30-35 pts would be ideal this year to keep him under the right price tag. Gradual progression would be awesome long term.

  • The Future Never Comes

    People who are trying to send out 98 at this stage are not the brightest. Lets all crush his confidence and stomp on him before he ever gets the chance to get up and running. Real smart thinking.

  • OilCan2

    JP: it’s OK; most guys peak at 25 years old. Letestu is TOTALLY right: McDavid has still not got it figured out,….(just ignore those TWO SCORING TITLES)

  • OilersGM

    The minute the Oilers trade any one of the young guys Puljujarvi, Nurse, Klefbom and even the 10th overall will be the minute we fans shake our heads again. Chiarelli don’t make the same mistake over and over again it becomes the definition of insanity. I honestly see Puljujarvi eventually becoming a 30/30 guy and maybe even higher but as mentioned patience is the key.. the Oilers in the past have rushed players because there was no one better on the NHL team and unfortunately it might still be the case going forward. Yamamoto should spend a whole year in the AHL next year and no matter how well he shows at the preseason he should be sent down unless they(Chiarelli) hasn’t addressed the Wing positions.
    Learn from past mistakes and get better don’t repeat them again like trading a young forward with talent.

    • IRONman

      Puljujarvi with Leon. Nuff said. The coach has to cement his lines. Stop the gong show. Nuge and McDavid line 1. Leon and JP line 2

      Line 3 is Lucic and JJ and Kassian. Hitters line. Heavy players are needed, especially in play offs. The team needs balance. Maybe Lucic can bounce back. He has value

      • Moneyball

        Puljujarvi hasn’t done well in the AHL or the NHL. What makes you think he will be any better than he already is? It’s not like he was rocking it at the end of season. There is a good trade out there with Puljujarvi’s name on it, just have to find the GM that wants to go hunting for diamonds in the rough. We just have to get back a blue chip return.

        • Rusty Patenaude

          While I don’t necessarily disagree, a “blue chip return” will undoubtedly come with a high price tag. The only way to make a deal like that is to offload salary in another deal or make it part of a multi-player deal. Can’t foresee it happening.

          • Rusty Patenaude

            And…JP is not a player who MUST be traded. He is very young and needs to be put in situations where he can succeed and build his confidence. Perhaps the influx of new ideas on the bench will help in that respect. Powerplay time and more patience with him in the top six would be nice to see.

  • Arfguy

    At this point, I would probably want to lock up Jesse Puljujarvi to 5 years at maybe $2 million AAV. I think he will be a huge bargain contract after this season.

    He is a big body and I think he will be better, if he gets some consistent 1st or 2nd line duties. Gotta let him make mistakes and wonder around, as he will see bad results and will grow on his own. I don’t think the Oilers should set their expectations too high for him, but basically ease him along. Patience is definitely the key with him. I read the article and I can definitely see a lot of parallels to JP.