Photo Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

Jesse: The Long Game

The NHL isn’t a developmental league. That’s why, unless the current state of his tenure with the Edmonton Oilers changes drastically in a big hurry, Jesse Puljujarvi is better off playing in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors instead of spinning his wheels here. Speaking of that, Puljujarvi will be a healthy scratch against the Washington Capitals tonight.

In recent weeks, there’s been plenty of noise in the debate about Puljujarvi and what has happened, or hasn’t happened, with him exactly 100 games into his time with the Oilers. I wonder if what’s best for the player at this point in his career and best for the team — it’s far easier said than done to separate the two — sometimes gets blurred in the din. 

There are strong opinions right across the spectrum — our comment sections are full of them. At one extreme are fans who think Puljujarvi is getting screwed over by coach Todd McLellan. They make it sound as if McLellan is purposely holding the kid back and cheating him of a fair opportunity because he doesn’t “like” him. “Why does so-and-so get to play with Connor McDavid but Jesse doesn’t? Jesse deserves more opportunity. Why does Jesse have to earn his shot and others don’t?” That kind of thing. It goes on and on.

At the other extreme, there are those who’ve already labelled Puljujarvi a bust who should be dealt away as soon as possible before potential trade partners figure out he’s no good at all and GM Pete Chiarelli can’t get anything for him. That’s ridiculous beyond words of course because we don’t know what a 20-year-old kid with just 100 games on his NHL resume is going to turn out to be, but it’s out there. 

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Most of the angst, pretty much all of it actually, fuelling the debate surrounding Puljujarvi is based on how badly the Oilers have developed young players in recent years. Given the track record that’s there for everyone to see over multiple regimes, that’s understandable. The thing is, what’s happened up until now doesn’t matter nearly as much as what happens next where Puljujarvi is concerned.

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Sep 18, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi (98) celebrates his goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the first half at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

When I look at Puljujarvi, I see a player. He’s big. He skates well. He shows a nose for the net. There’s a lot there to work with. The thing is, he’s so raw. That’s not an indictment of Puljujarvi, it’s the reality. Very, very few players at the age of 20 are complete players without holes in their game. That can make the development curve an exercise in frustration.

Complicating the situation with Puljujarvi is the fact the Oilers need to win hockey games. If Puljujarvi isn’t playing a significant part in making that happen, what’s best for the player can take a back seat. I think we’re seeing that here. McLellan isn’t limiting Puljujarvi’s ice time — he’s averaging 12:28 through seven games this season — because he doesn’t like the kid, he’ doing it because the Oilers need to win games and the coach doesn’t see Puljujarvi playing a big part in that right now. His play hasn’t demanded that McLellan keep throwing him out there.

There’s no sneaking Puljujarvi in under the radar on a powerhouse team with a line-up that can protect him and win at the same time — the Oilers haven’t had that luxury for decades. When McLellan does try to protect him now by playing Puljujarvi on his third line, there are those who say he should be played higher in the line-up to have any chance to succeed and build confidence. I understand the sentiment.

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With one goal in seven games, Puljujarvi will be scratched tonight and some fans are going to scream like hell about it. The way I see it, we’re fast approaching the point where the Oilers have to make a call on Puljujarvi. I wonder, has that point has arrived today? If it has, and if Puljujarvi is sent to the AHL, I have no problem with it. I think that’s the right call here and now. It’s one many have argued is overdue.

It would be terrific if Puljujarvi had the confidence of the coaching staff and was tearing it up with the Oilers — producing, getting more ice time and excelling. You don’t think McLellan would be thrilled with that? That would make everyone happy, but that’s not where we’re at. How we got here is one thing and we can debate that and point fingers until we’re blue in the face, but it’s what happens next that matters.

Send Puljujarvi to the AHL where he can develop and grow. That’s the long game. That’s the smart play.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

      • Glencontrolurstik

        I agree. Send him down to the AHL to learn. Learn in that League until it can’t teach you anymore… Last night was proof, that team, coach & staff have to concentrate on winning & moving forward with the season. Strategies and systems worked on to combat each different opponents style.
        Last night, we took one penalty against the Caps. Another team might be a little more heavy hitting & require a different Oiler response. Let the team worry about that & not have to put energy into what’s Jessie doing now, how is he going to transition between playing styles? What’s he doing over there? It’s a huge distraction & shouldn’t be. Keep him in the AHL & give him experience, it’s not a bad thing or a knock on him. Until he can’t learn anymore at that level.
        He and the team will be much better for it. He’ll be amazing in a couple of years, it has to be done…

  • The Immortal

    Problem is others make the same mistakes over and over and over again..and they get out next shift like nothing happened..it’s the well established dbl standards from the coaches and the media that are frustrating..

      • The Immortal

        Caligula…pick any shift for the past 4 years.., strome getting burnt like a rented mule, yamo taking a dumb penalty 5 feet away from their goal…kassian -4, brodziak -4, but yeah..jesse is obviously a cluster…

        • Hemmercules

          Thats fair I guess. I can really say any of the guys you mentioned look any worse than JP does though. Yam has been drawing penalties and getting chances. Strome got burned by the second best payer in the world the other night and he hasn’t looked terrible so far from what I have seen. Kass and Broadziak, meh, those guys are 4th liners. You JP lovers would crap yourselves if JP was on the 4th line anyway, better off press boxed.

        • Randaman

          Cags has actually impressed so far this season considering he was hurt during preseason and as for Strome, could you do any better against arguably the second best player on the planet? I think not! You want them to replace Kassian on the fourth line with Jesse? Seriously?

    • toprightcorner

      You are out to lunch. It is the decision making mistakes he needs to fix, not execution. People make mistakes on execution, that will happen, but JP needs to improve at making the right decison. when he does, he can usually execute it, but too many times he is afraid to make a mistake and then he either makes the wrong one or is too slow to make the right one. The wrong decision affects the entire line.

      • The Immortal

        you mean like yamo passing it from 15 feet out? Or taking a dumbass penalty?

        Yet he’s praised unconditionally for thinking the game so well….don’t care what he thinks..its what he does…and that’s not much.

    • Not everybody gets treated exactly the same. That’s not the real world. If you’re expecting that, you’re always going to be frustrated. What-about-ism gets you nowhere. The suggestion that McLellan would somehow cut off his nose to spite his face — to not play Puljujarvi if that’s what benefits the team — when he has games to win, is delusional.

      • The Immortal

        Agreed..TM is coaching for his job and player dev is nowhere on his list of priorities…its been an organizational failure for the last 10 years…why change now?

        • Big Nuggets

          I just plain think Puljujarvi would be best served by time in the AHL to find some success and confidence. Your down to your last excuse for his play, he is too scared to make a mistake and it is affecting his play. Maybe thats true, it can happen, but even so this team needs to win games, they are all under pressure, if Jesse can’t handle it he should be in Bakersfield. It seems like an easy call at this point.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Yeah, you don’t know the whole story in that regard.
      If you don’t make mistakes your not trying, I get that.
      Like last night, Bouchard must have passed the puck to 3 different Caps at the point , at different times in the game. However, it didn’t rattle him & he kept at it. Effectiveness came from him not giving up or looking lost. He kept at it, made mistakes, but kept at it. Mostly on the effective side. You have to keep at it, and make mistakes. With experience, those mistakes will lessen.
      You can’t be the player that makes mistakes and clams up. Afraid to take chances. That makes you vulnerable and opens the team up to attack at your expense. That’s why Pully gets benched. He let’s his mistakes get to him. Experience will get him to a great level, but please not at the expense of this good run we’re on now. The Old Oilers would take the “play him now, he’s a first rounder” attitude, not now please? We have to get past that old Oiler attitude, now that we are STARTING to get some depth in the line-up. The term “Stay the course” comes into play here.

  • Hemmercules

    Definitely not a bust , yet. If he’s so rough around the edges I just dont understand why they don’t send him down. Depth I suppose but I’m sure theres at least one guy they can call up that can accomplish more than 1 point in 7 games. Obviously his good pre season play earned him the spot but its apparent in these real games thats he’s struggling. Why do the Oilers hang on to these young players almost every year when its evident they aren’t ready?? Are they worried about hurting someones feelings by sending them down?? Worried the player cant handle a demotion? I guess it often ultimately comes down to lack of options and not being able to roster a team of NHL ready players under the salary cap.

  • toprightcorner

    I was lucky enough to sit in 2nd row on the blue line for the Pens game. 2 things I noticed with JP:

    1) in the defensive zone, he has his head on a swivel to see where the other teams players are at, but he doesn’t seem to react very fast or even know the most important player to focus on. That delay puts him in the wrong spot a lot of the time.

    2) When he has the puck in the neutral zone, he doesn’t seem to know when to dump it in or carry it in. He is so focused on the puck that he doesn’t see his linemates making a change and when he should dump it in, he tries to carry it in and he ends up 1 on 3 near the end of a shift. Sometimes he does dump it in, but not deep into the corner and allows a quick transition and many times an odd-man rush.

    He just seems hesitant of making the decision quickly and because he is afraid to make a mistake, he second guesses himself and then he loses the opportunity.

    JP is competitive and works hard and wants to be better, that is the good news and likely the reason he will have a solid career. He needs to trust his gut and make his decisions quicker in order to be successful.

    In preseason, he wasn’t afraid to make a mistake because no real points were on the line, he made his decisions quickly and played very well. He has to bring that to the regular season.

    I think it will be good for him to sit in the press box with Garrison where he can see the plays develop and get a better idea on how to speed up his decision making.

    I do think it would be best if he could spend some more time in the AHL as when he was there his first year, he only got 3rd line minutes whereas now he would bet 1st line minutes and 1st unit PP. He needs to get his confidence back and stop playing scared.

    When Caggiula comes back and with Marody looking solid, I would consider sending JP down for 5-7 games to see if he can get it back.

    The staff also needs to be spending extra time with JP watching video and asking why he made that decision and then walk him through why a different one would have been better. Then show him film of Leon and Nuge and why they make the decisions they make.

    It will take time, but once he figures it out, he has the skill to be a top 6 RWer for a long time.

    • He does, but he does not have a coach that knows how to coach youngsters. Might as well trade him for a partially developed prospect or a fully developed NHLer as this organization is clueless yet again. Eyes on the prize , except the prize is $$$$$, winning is secondary, losing is acceptable to this inept management team still.

      • Hemmercules

        You are so wrapped up in hating the coach and the team that you can’t even fathom the fact that maybe JP just isn’t that good or isn’t ready to be steady NHL player. How on earth do you know Todd is a bad coach with youngsters?? Do your children play for the Oilers???

        • The evidence has been on full display for 3 years and for years before that with the Sharks , not really earth shattering news. I don’t hate the team, I hate the fact they pick and choose who gets accountability & who does not. Ushers, medical staff, trainers, Octane girls, Todd Nelson, Ralph Krueger all sacrificed to keep Lowe and his minions employed.One the one hand they preach accountability, while the other hand continues to show none. This kid is going to get ruined, just like Eakins completely destroyed Yak.For his sake, I hope the organization dumps him, they have screwed up a young players development yet again. How about holding some one accountable for that? I realize Yak did not do better elsewhere, just think by that point in time he was ruined already. I am sure you like me, the first time we saw Eakins behind the bench, we knew it would be disastrous, yet the braintrust could not figure this out and are still blissfully unaware of how unqualified they are and to this day , probably still figure they did a great job. Just like politicians, if they keep getting re elected, they think they are doing a good job until they get voted out. These guys keep voting themselves in when they are the ones that should be on the outside looking in. Wonder how that non existent forensic audit is coming along? More BS from a BS organization.

          • Glencontrolurstik

            whoah,… “Conspiracy Theorist” much?
            This team is on an upward swing, it needs positive vibes, and total concentration from those that coach and develop. It doesn’t need distractions anymore. Ever think that, that may have been an issue in the past. I do agree that just because a player was a first round pick that the Oilers would rush them in. Like Pully, Yak, Schultz etc. Some would work out fast, others took longer. But that was just out of necessity. The team had no depth. Now that they have better depth (not great, but better) they have the luxury of being able to develop these guys.
            They are not “picking and choosing who gets accountability” it’s based on development and skill level, as everyone is different in that area.
            I’m sure they wish it was as easy as everyone being the same, and I’ll choose you, and you. Because I like you guys more than him & him.
            It’s a little more scientific than that guys. Cut the powers that be some slack. Lets move forward & NOT dwell on the past… Especially don’t bring it up all the time, it’s embarrassing for you and everyone else. Your one of us (i’d hope) act like it….

    • BobbyCanuck

      The staff also needs to be spending extra time with JP watching video and asking why he made that decision…In Finnish, that’s what you meant right? Right? See what I did there…


    I agree with all the knocks against Jesse and his mistakes, as well as his need for more development. My only complaint would be that they don’t use his one strength. We all know he can nail a puck from the left circle so why does he never get put there?

    • Randaman

      Please show us where this booming shot is. I always see him fan on one timers or whiffing on slap shots. His wrist shot is weaker that I was led to believe. Are all these Jesse lovers blind because he has a big smile and likes pizza??

    • Oil Can

      Because this coach was sure that Letestu was untouchable in that spot and could do the job better. The coach should have had the same fate as his assistants last year.

  • tkfisher

    “Send Puljujarvi to the AHL where he can develop and grow. That’s the long game. That’s the smart play.” IT was the smart play two years ago. Unfortunately smart, and Oilers management have not had much to do with one another for a long time.

  • Drinking my Oilers problems away...

    Man do the Oilers find a way to not do themselves any favors when it comes to rushing guys along. What I wouldn’t give to be Katz for a day to end this stupidity. I said it in the other article that they should invest in a time machine and let him do his thing in the AHL for a year or 2. Frig, they couldn’t even be bothered to get the kid an English teacher till last year so you would think they would eliminate any barriers for this kid to learn properly. Is the player rough around the edges? Yeah sure, he’s young what do you expect but there’s still some great tools there to work with. Develop the kid’s strengths so he gets the confidence to get better at the other things.

    But of course the Oilers can’t figure out why this happens to their prospects most times. They rush kids along and then blame them at the end of the day for not being what they should be.

    “Sink or swim hockey” doesn’t work at this level very much and especially for the Oilers.

  • Serious Gord

    If they are going to not dress him then send him to the AHL and don’t bring him back until he has led the team in scoring for ten-plus games.

    Including tonight he will have played 84 minutes in eight games.

    That’s maybe a third of the minutes he would get in the AHL. He needs more minutes and he needs the focus taken away so he can learn the game by making mistakes that won’t impact the the oils chances.

    It’s terrible that that wasn’t done much sooner.

  • Moneyball

    PJ might be an excellent player one day, but he needs work and might also. Not pan out. The development risk is huge with him so why not trade for another player who has less upside and more stability to his game. Get a dman and the oilers will be better off and another team with a deeper prospect pool can give him the development time he needs to mature.

  • Heschultzhescores

    With the small warming of PP time and limited ice time I cannot say he has been given a fair shake. He is a potential one time guy on the PP…but have we even seen that attempted?

    • Hemmercules

      Its not as easy as just going to that spot on the PP and hanging out until the pucks come to you and just slap them in. I wish it was that easy. The PP still needs to be setup prior to that and you need move to that position at the right time for the one timer. Staying setup and getting to the right spot at the right time is where he likely struggles. I’m sure if he was drilling them home from the Ovie spot in practice he would get some looks on the PP more often. That obviously isnt the case.

  • Ratt McNuge

    Totally agree. If he’s not helping the team win, help the player by sending him down to play big minutes and work on his game. Keeping him up here isn’t doing the Oilers or Jesse any good. They can win games without him right now. Do right by the player. If he starts tearing it up in the minors, bring him back. He needs to play and play often. He’s not going to get that right now with the big club.

  • Rufio Barcoli

    If the NHL is not a development league-then, why the heck is Yamamoto in the lineup?
    Yamamoto is much worse then Puljujarvi but he gets the benefit of not being European and being gifted better linemates to make him look less useless.

    • Much worse than Puljujarvi? No, but that aside, the European angle is remarkably lame. It is literally the weakest argument you could possibly make. I think the Oilers knew Jesse was European when they drafted him, no? Your contention is they’d draft him, then screw him over because he’s a Euro? Is that right?

      • PaPaTroll

        I’m a long time reader, first time commenting. The one thing I wish your readers would take into consideration when arm-chairing there point across. Developmental curves are impossible to cross analyze, and therefore discussing such ( especially in a vacume ) brings out the most retarded comments. Nobody is taking into consideration, how much harder it is for a big boy like JP to be effective at the role he was drafted for. If we were expecting yamo to do some of the things we want Jesse to do then we would see his other skills lack the polish that they currently do. Its hard for us to know what todd is asking of each player strategy wise ( this may be why jesse has some moments of indecision ), on the flip side how different is the day to day decision making of ty rattie ( move him to the third line and he might even look lost ) Food For Thought.

      • Rufio Barcoli

        Yes. Worse than Puljujarvi. What does Yamamoto done in his 15 games that is better than Puljujarvi?
        What are his stats with better and consistent linemates and icetime compared to Puljujarvi’s?

        It is not lame, it is remarkably true.
        I’m not only speaking of the Oilers, but the media and fans in general.
        Canadian players are given a longer leash and a lot more tolerance than their counterparts across the pond.
        How many articles have been written about Jesse, on this site alone, in the last little while? Then look over at TSN and SportsNet and you’ll see the same thing.
        No such articles on Yamamoto? Nothing negative written about his negative play.

        It is the same approach that was taken with Eberle and Yakupov.
        You don’t have to admit it or acknowledge it publicly, but you I know you it’s there. I’ve seen and read it for years.
        The media will go to lengths to make excuse for one group of players but jump on the other as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

        McLennan is one of the worst coaches in the league in the last two years. Nothing written about that. How come?
        Cult of Hockey?

  • Total Points

    The Oilers should have send Jessee to the AHL to start the season and then bring him up if he is playing well. He had a great preseason but a lot of rookies do that and then fall off quickly when the real games start.

    Now they have Jessee in the NHL and playing poorly and need to send him down to gain his confidence.

    Oilers always reward first then deal with the consequences later – Drai, Schultz, and on and on

  • Rama Lama

    There are a LOT of players 7 games into the season…….who are not yet on the scoreboard in a meaningful way………they must not be ready for the NHL??

    I think that the biggest problem is we have management that cannot recognize talent and a coaching staff that cannot develop talent…….apart from that this organization is fine.

  • Vanoil

    If Pajaarvi has an issue its his work ethic and attention to detail. He hasn’t figured out what it means to be a “pro” in N. America. He desperately needs a mentor to help him figure that out. The problem is the OIL simply don’t have one. That isn’t going to get resolved in the Bake, though there he will be surrounded with a lot of other players in the same boat — maybe seeing the competition creep up on him (Benson, Marody et al.) in the rearview mirror, he might just pay that much more attention to his work habits and detail.

  • RexHolez

    I don’t know brownlee, don’t you think if a kid plays 100 nhl games and gets sent to the ahl it means something went wrong? There’s gotta be fault somewhere. You seem to just be brushing it off with the old ‘every one develops differently’ type of lines. I agree with your opening line, the nhl isn’t a development league, so if they send him to the ahl why does he have 100nhl games under his belt? I think they gotta keep him or admit that they’re simply poor at running an nhl team.

  • Bills Bills

    That was the smart play last year. Yet here he was. Everyone has a right to be critical. I believe JP to be a very intelligent player. As did many others. Enough to rank him third in his draft. In fact after his tournament MVP win in the world Juniors, some had him ahead of Liane. I also doubt anyone thought he was not going to be a top 6 player. Especially those that he played with on that WJ team or in Europe.

    My take, it seems like more of a communication issue. In his first year they kept him up until Christmas saying it was to make him feel comfortable in North America. He barely spoke any English and was to my understanding alone. But he didn’t play much. Not sure how that was supposed to make it easier when he is not able to settle into a routine and play regularly in a NA rink.

    Then they brought in Jokinen to try and help him in his second year and that was a disaster as Jokinen was and is done.

    But the idea that JP is not smart enough or skilled enough to play on the Oilers top six is nuts. Perhaps they need to look at the off ice issues with JP. If he is on an island in Edmonton with still limited English and no true support network, his on ice performance that we have seen so far, would not be surprising.

  • Munson

    Jesse will score 20 in his contract year, the Oil sign him for 6*6, proceeds to hit double digit goals one more time in the rest of his career. Maybe Kassian was teaching him how to be a chronic underachiever.

  • 18% body fat

    None of this would be a debate if caggulia wasn’t given opportunity after opportunity and continues to be overpaid garbage.

    That’s why people are frustrated. Why doesn’t 98 get any of those opportunities.

    5 left handed shots on the PP why?

    Bouchard yamo pulijarvi are all legit options.

    Slepyshev last year as well got no opportunities. How is a player suppose to get confidence when he is clearly better than other options who get every opportunity.

    Yes the world isn’t fair. But there’s more than tough love in player development.

    If he costs you 4 points early I. The season but gains enough confidence to be productive and get you 6 points back later in the season what was best for the season. I know that’s easy to say. But the coach put himself in this situation with a brutal season last year. So he has to win games now and develop JP.

  • KennyG

    The Oilers need players that are nhl ready with first round picks not 2-4 years away. So I’d say it was a very poor pick with JP. He reminds me so much of Yak it’s scary. I’m on the trade fence. We need players now.

  • vetinari

    The only logical conclusion is that this has to be about something other than opportunity and career development and must be personal otherwise having a clean start with a new GM and coach would solve the problem. It’s also not the NHL and it’s not being in North America because he still wants to play here and has not yet signed a contract overseas. If I had to bet, it must either be an issue with the other players on the NHL roster or with playing in the city of Edmonton because those are the only things that have not changed.