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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Year in Review: The Oilers haven’t made life easy for Jesse Puljujarvi

This is one part of a player-by-player Year in Review series we’ll be doing over the next couple months as we look back on the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers season. 

2017-18 Edmonton Oilers No. 98: Jesse Puljujarvi 

GP: 65, G: 12, A: 8, PTS: 20

It looked like the Oilers got a gift when the Columbus Blue Jackets elected to select Pierre-Luc Dubois with the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft. It allowed the Oilers, who picked at No. 4, to grab big, skilled Finnish winger Jesse Puljujarvi who was coming off a historically-good performance at the World Juniors. That said, there was something ominous about Columbus’ general manager Jarmo Kekalainen opting not to select his highly-touted countryman with the No. 3 pick.

Did Kekalainen know something that everyone else didn’t? Puljujarvi scored 28 points in 50 games in the Finnish Elite League and nine points in 10 games in the playoffs. His best showing, though, was an absurd 17 points in seven games on a loaded, gold medal-winning Finland squad at the World Juniors in Helsinki. Leaving this player on the board was certainly shocking.

Puljujarvi cracked the Oilers as an 18-year-old in 2016-17. He would play 28 games with the team before being sent to the AHL for the rest of the year. Last season, Puljujarvi started the season in the AHL while Kailer Yamamoto was given his nine-game cup of coffee in the NHL. After Yamamoto was returned to the WHL, Puljujarvi came back up and put up 12 goals and 20 points in 65 games. That’s good for a 15-goal pace over an 82-game season, which is pretty solid for a 19-year-old who saw little power play time.

It’s very easy to say that the results for the big, skilled winger have been underwhelming thus far. A lot of this comes down to the fact players taken in the same draft have hit the ground running at the NHL level. Patrik Laine, his triggerman at the World Juniors, is already a bonafide All-Star, and Matthew Tkachuk, taken a couple spots after by the Calgary Flames, buried 24 goals in his sophomore season.

It’s also very, very easy to forget that Puljujarvi just turned 20 years old in May and that all players develop at different rates. For the sake of comparison, when Leon Draisaitl was Puljujarvi’s age, he was playing in the Memorial Cup with the Kelowna Rockets. Draisaitl also had the added benefit of playing two seasons in the WHL to acclimatize himself to the North American game, which Puljujarvi didn’t.

What Puljujarvi is going through isn’t uncommon for European players. For every Patrik Laine that quickly hits the ground running in the NHL, there are multiple European players who take a slightly longer developmental path. Filip Forsberg, likely the best player from that strange 2012 draft, played one post-draft year in Sweden and finally broke out with the Predators in 2014-15. William Nylander spent half his post-draft year in Sweden and the other half in the AHL and then began his second post-draft year in the AHL before breaking out with the Leafs in 2016-17. Mikko Rantanen spent his post-draft year in the AHL in 2015-16 and then broke out in 2017-18 as a 21-year-old. So the European player coming to the NHL and lighting the world on fire like Laine has is the exception, not the rule.

One common theme with those aforementioned players, though, is a slow, predictable development plan. There’s a post-draft year in Europe, and NHL cup of coffee, and steady AHL time. The Oilers haven’t done that with Puljujarvi. Back in March, Craig Button slammed the organization for the way they handled his development:

“I’ll be very straight forward on this… I thought it was ridiculous to have him over last year [2016-17] in the American Hockey League. I think it’s ridiculous to have him over now [2017-18] and not playing him… I don’t think the Edmonton Oilers have done a real good job of developing Jesse Puljujarvi, and when I watch him play… he looks like his physical strength isn’t quite there, he doesn’t always have his legs underneath him. He can’t assert like he wants to. But you see him at other times, you see the skill, you see the ability to drive and be determined. But when you don’t have confidence in your physical strength, you’re not going to go out there and assert all the time, because you can’t, and you know you can’t. And you’re playing against men and players who are strong and physically developed and mentally and emotionally developed.”

When watching Puljujarvi last season you could clearly see a player who simply wasn’t ready to play in the NHL night in, night out. He showed flashes of brilliance, both as a scorer who could go to the net and finish and as a playmaker who could forecheck and free up the puck, but there wasn’t any consistency behind it. Part of that comes down to what Button mentioned, which is a lack of physical maturity, and another comes down to him bouncing around the lineup a lot. He played his most even strength minutes with Milan Lucic and played at least 100 minutes with all four of Edmonton’s top centres.

What to make of all of this? Yes, the Oilers haven’t really made life easy for Puljujarvi in his development as he was rushed over to North America to bounce around two different levels without a distinct role. No, the damage isn’t irreversible. Sure, Puljujarvi could have been better off with a season in Europe and a full season in the AHL, but regardless, he’s heading into his 20-year-old season with a very good understanding of what it takes to perform at the NHL level. He already shows brilliant flashes, as I mentioned, he plays a very good two-way game for a young player, and, of course, all of the tools are already there to be a player.

It’s difficult to say what the Oilers will get from Puljujarvi next season, but a clear and defined role with consistent linemates could do wonders for a player who hasn’t been given much predictability since being drafted.

      • Fat Steve

        I said nothing of sort. As far as the ESL teacher, this supersizes you? His play is uninspired and predictable, just the sort of thing the team doesn’t need. At this age most players are chomping at the bit to go. Clearly a case of immaturity therefore he should have stayed in Europe a few years longer and learned English.

        • Glencontrolurstik

          Or maybe tutored English & shown a little confidence, so he could show his talents to us in a more confident way? If JP yelled “Pelaa minun valmentaja” to you on the bench, what would you do?
          You as a team have a responsibility to educate and develop a player, in all aspects of need.
          As a team, you knew what you were hiring, or you should have?

    • Oilman99

      Did you not read the article, the guyis twenty years old. You don’t trade away twenty year old top five draft picks. He probably would hav progressed better if he had spent his first year entirely in the minors getting more ice time, but the tools are there to be a very good top six player. History, with other Euro players in the same situation ,says he should have a breakout season this year. Be patient.

    • ricardo2000

      The guy is a first round draft pick. In your league, he could play in snowshoes and still score more goals than your entire team.
      This was a ‘meh’ Oilers team because they couldn’t pass the puck or play team defence. Most of the season they were called ‘slow’, but that wasn’t the problem. It was a team defensive strategy that made the players look like orange traffic cones. It is easy to go around a defender when they are always starting from zero, when they are motionless.
      This team has all the talent. Now the coaches have to step up and produce a playoff team.

  • TKB2677

    To counter Button. JP needed to learn English, he needed to play on North American ice playing the North American game. How does he do that playing in Finland? When they brought him over in 16-17, he should have been in the AHL from the start.

  • Rama Lama

    I never watched a game last year where I thought JP was the problem………in fact I watched every game and on most nights I though the unique line -combinations were at least part of the problem, or to put it bluntly our uber intelligent head coach.

    On most nights he coached himself out of a victory. Playing guys out of position, never keeping a line intact for more than a couple of shifts, rewarding his favourite players with unearned ice time, etc.

    I’m no hockey wizard, but you need to let chemistry develop, and this should be done in the preseason…….we seem to struggle with line combinations early in the season, and are still trying to figure this out 20 games into the season. Most teams are way ahead of this curve and have their rosters trimmed during the preseason but not our coach…….he is still experimenting until well into the season.

    It’s no wonder our team seems to have no chemistry……..hopefully our head coach figures out how to coach in the modern NHL and has this team ready sooner rather than later.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      The Edmonton Oilers 2017/18 coaching Staff, brought to you tonight by “Vita-Mix.”
      I couldn’t agree more… It was certainly a frustrating season to follow… especially after the brief success the season before. The BEST Oiler news in the last 12 months is definitely the change in coaching. Hopefully this new mindset will challenge Todd & help the young guys & guys like JP? A lot of young player effectiveness is in their confidence. If the coaches can’t tickle that confidence in these guys we’ll have nothing again… Blending the lines continuously is doing NOTHING for building confidence, it breaks it down actually.

    • DARYL G

      I agree relied on veterans far too much and benched JP when ever he made a mistake now Todd has no choice but to use his young guns and if he doesn’t he will be gone.

  • OilersBro

    “Hey kid, you’re having trouble learning the game because of your language barrier so here’s a different linemate every period.”
    Pulu is not the problem

    • Big Nuggets

      people are making a lot about his English skills. I don’t think it is that big of a factor as far as on ice influence. How many phrases does he really need to learn to get through a game. Even if he had zero English going into training camp, by the start of the season he would know most of the phrases the coaches are yelling out at him.

      A lack of English would influence his ability to integrate and make friends and in general have a good experience in North America. Which in turn may effect his on ice performance. But by the end of last season I’m sure he understood what the coaches are expecting of him. Starting this season can we agree that his performance is not a result of tye language barrier?

  • Leaking5w-30

    I’m not sure why he didn’t get pp time. I remember reading his points per sixty on the pp were high . If given Pp time I’d put him close to 20 goals… not concerned

  • McNugent

    JP Lucic McDavid (Lucic in front of the net)
    Klefbom Sekera

    Nuge Drai Reider
    Nurse Benning/Bear

    If the Oilers play JP on the top PP all season, he hits 20 goals minimum.

    A 20 year old third overall pick with a 20 goal season under his belt has serious value.

    This would be ideal asset management.

    • OriginalPouzar

      Its tought to put any stock in his PP numbers b/c the sample size is only 50 minutes but, no, his P/60 were not high as he had zero assists in those minutes. He had two goals and his G/60 were actually second on the team but, again, it doesn’t mean much b/c of the small sample (Caggulia was 1st in G/60). He is well down the list in P/60 on the PP but, again, small sample size.

      With all that said, yes, its fairly evident that he should be a mainstay on the PP this year – the main question will be which unit.

    • Reg Dunlop

      Attach Pulujarvi to McDavid in 2018/19 and McDavid will demand a trade. Young Jesse is a NHL bust but he may have a resurgence playing on Yak’s line in Siberia.

  • overdue

    Am hopeful that the new assistant coaches, clearly having minds of their own, will be able to steer TM in a more favorable direction when it comes to understanding how to help a player succeed and not be floundering around in over his head or unsure of his role. JP has the tools and potential to be a very good player if handled correctly.

    • Vanoil

      You think these coaches were brought in to challenge TM’s thought process??? Its called Group Think — they are there to reinforce it. They were given the position because they were available and have “experience”. They aren’t bringing with them new ways of thinking or doing things; they aren’t known “problem solvers” who can analyse a situation and find a fix. They will offer a new voice but the message will unfortunately be the same; otherwise there would be a “conflict” and they won’t be invited to stay any longer. Clearly Management (and Ownership) favour the retention of TM.

  • Moneyball

    Wow! What a joke. The Oilers have bent over backwards gifting Puljujarvi time and long looks on many lines giving him every opportunity to succeed. He was given 28 games in the NHL to start and given every opportunity to shine and he got one goal. He was sent back to the AHL and given top line and PP minutes underwhelmed there as well.
    The comment about English really rings shallow. If you are given a million dollar job at 18 and part of the job requirement is to learn English the onus is on the player. If the team has to do this for him it really shows what most people see on the ice. Namely a lack of commitment and drive to succeed. The Columbus GM knew exactly what he was giving up, its too bad w didn’t as there are other players that would have done better. Tkachuk for sure and Dubois sure looks good now compared to JP.
    I would trade him now while he still has some value, this should have been done a season ago though. If we have another season like the last I am really wondering what you would sign this guy for or do you just let him walk?

      • Glencontrolurstik

        + they knew he couldn’t speak english when they hired him….
        The comments from this di*k-head are clearly from a guy that has never been to another foreign speaking country for any lenghth of time. What a jerk.

        • OTOF2

          Did JP not have any idea that he was planning to persue a career in the NHL before even being drafted? Why wouldn’t he have taken English lessons before coming over? Lack of initiative? Lazy? Seems logical to me that the average person would commit some time to do this in persuit of his life dream? And millions of $$$.

          • Glencontrolurstik

            When a hockey team drafts someone, or is interested in the development of a player (and I’m not saying they didn’t) especially underage players. They give specific instructions to nonevent involved, Parents, Teachers, Coaches, Trainers etc. There is a contract involved regarding the leadup to meeting the team for the first time. You are 100% right. If the Oilers had the point of learning English in these requirements, then yes, JP is a lazy kid with a lack of initiative. However, if in fact that all that contract held was training points & such, we can lay no such title to JP.
            We have to remember that he is from a simple Finnish back woods farming town in northern Finland. Probably equivalent to “Smoking Tent” Sask. There probably is more Russian spoken in his hometown than English, let alone find someone who could have taught it to him. If this was in fact the case, the Oiler team should have made every provision available for their budding star.

    • Hemmercules

      I agree with you Moneyball on all but the last part about trading him. He was given plenty of opportunity if you ask me. He should have never been on the NHL team until he earned it and learned better english. Not saying the Oilers handled the whole thing correctly but being motivated and learning english is on him just as much as its on the Oilers. He is too young to trade away and his value likely isn’t high. Hang on to him for another year and see how it plays out. Im not a big fan of his but there is potential there.

    • ” there are other players that would have done better. Tkachuk for sure and Dubois sure looks good now compared to JP”
      I don’t know how you expected us to get Dubois considering he was picked before JP. The only other top-10 picks after him that have turned out better are Keller, Sergachev and Tkachuk.

  • bazmagoo

    While we need him to break out this year, I predict his break out year will be 2019-2020.

    Stay the course, the kid’s going to be a beast similar to Draisaitl once he finds his game.

  • Abagofpucks

    First of all i wouldnt put a lot of stock in what button says, Hes the guy who said the flames had he best defence in the league and they missed the playoffs that year. Then he said how much he hated the deal we made for maroon howd that workout, im saying hes an idiot but i wouldnt put to much stock in what he says. Jesse needs to be put on a line and give that line a reasonable amount of time to to develop some chemistry. Also give him a decent chance either on the 1st pp unit or the 2nd and see how he is .

  • EVILTED

    He looks like a 45pt player. Might peak at 55+ a season or two in his career but he just doesn’t seem to think the game at a 1st line level. His physical attributes should give him a decent length career. We shall see. Hopefully he learns to hit the net more often.

  • Bond 0097

    Jesse is a 19 year old kid and scored more goals than lucic. Also Jesse is going to score A LOT MORE goals than lucic. Some of you were pretty hard on Leon too, try and lighten up and get behind the kid

  • chezzychez

    he still has a bit of those bambi legs… classic with a big bodied teenager. The kid will grow in to his frame and we’re going to see a really really good player. He just turned 20…