The Oilers have a nice group of young players who will be looking to crack the team and make an impact this fall. Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard, Ethan Bear, and even Cooper Marody will all be given honest looks at training camp but none face the pressure that Jesse Puljujarvi does.
Last year, the term “bust” was being whispered around Oilersnation which wasn’t fair to Puljujarvi. Yes, he was a fourth overall pick, but he was young for his draft class. For a player is just 19-years-old, I think the numbers he posted were pretty respectable.
Don’t get me wrong, 12 goals and 8 assists in 65 games is by no means outstanding but I like his 1.18 primary points/60. That put him 6th amongst regular Oilers forwards and 187th amongst NHL forwards who played at least 600 minutes.
To call him a bust after a season where he produced a reasonable amount of offence, just doesn’t make any sense.
With all being said, Puljujarvi needs to raise his game to another level this year if the Oilers want to compete. They don’t have very many skilled wingers on the roster and a breakout season from the young Finn could fill a massive hole in their roster.
In my “High/Low” series, I set his ceiling at 30 goals for this next season. That’s obviously incredibly generous, and realistically I think a good target for him would be somewhere in the 20-25 goal range.
Here’s how I think that could happen:
Last year, Puljujarvi ended the season on Ryan Strome’s line and looked pretty comfortable there. He spent 238 minutes at even strength with Strome and in that time they produced 105 scoring chances with 41 of them being considered “High-Danger”. That resulted in 10 goals while the two were on the ice.
Puljujarvi also spent 258 minutes with Connor McDavid, and the numbers they posted were noticeably better. In that time span, the Oilers had 170 scoring chances and 80 of those were “High-Danger”. It resulted in 13 goals.
The numbers look good for the two and it’s worth noting that almost all of McDavid’s shot/possession percentages are better WITH Puljujarvi than WITHOUT.
Still, when I compare Puljujarvi’s play when with both of those centres, I always felt he was more comfortable with Strome. Part of it was because he got significantly weaker matchups and part of it was because he could have the puck on his stick more often, which he likes to do.
He also spent 103 minutes with Leon Draisaitl, who I think could be the best long-term fit for him, but the two didn’t show too well in their brief time together. Where almost all of McDavid’s numbers got better, those same numbers almost all got worse when Draisaitl was paired up with Puljujarvi.
If Jesse is going to score 20-25 goals this year, he’ll have to stick on one of the team’s top two lines and for that to happen I think he needs to change his game a little. He needs to be better at putting himself in a position to shoot the puck and finishing chances when he gets them. He also needs to be just a little more willing to go to the net and look for a greasy goal.
His game has to mature a little, and in his 20-year-old season, there’s a good chance it does.
SHOOTING THE PUCK
Last year, he scored 10 goals at even strength with a shooting percentage of just 7.94%. He also had 119 scoring chances, 50 of which were high danger.
Anyone who’s spent the last few years watching him play can see the potential in his shot. It’s just a matter of him reigning in it a little. His low shooting percentage isn’t only a measure of poor luck, it tells us a little about the quality of his shot as well.
Not only would an improved shot help with his 5v5 game, but it could lead to more opportunities on the powerplay.
THE POWER PLAY
Last season, there were nine Oilers forwards who got more powerplay time than Puljujarvi. NINE! This is the part where I saw the Oilers coaching staff needs to help out a little. I don’t buy the “make him earn it” explanation one bit.
He’s a young, offensively gifted player who needs to be put in good positions and giving him reps on the powerplay is extremely important.
A mix of Puljujarvi coming into camp a more mature player, with a better shot and the coaching staff feeding him opportunities could lead to a breakout year, which is no doubt something the Oilers will need if they want to return to playoff contention.
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