The Oilers are pushing through their October schedule better than I think every single person here in Oilersnation expected. This is easily better than anything I ever hoped for. What’s nice, to me, is that this isn’t a case of everything going right for the team. When we look at the situation on the right side of the ice, there is a lot left to be desired. Edmonton could (and should) improve. All eyes are on the Oilers as they handle the two young kids who are supposed to be the future of this position for the team.
There are a number of Oilers presently occupying spots on the right-wing positions. They are: Kailer Yamamoto, Alex Chiasson, Drake Caggiula, Zach Kassian, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Ty Rattie. The first four appear to be regulars right now, the last two are sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch and on the IR respectively. This group, which many had concerns about before the season, has really not accomplished much, save for perhaps Chiasson (who has scored some spectacular goals in limited minutes). The rest? Really not a lot to show.
As far as comparing players goes, I think it would be interesting to look at two players who have gone in polar opposite directions since the season began. Yamamoto has been locked into Edmonton’s top 6 from day one and climbed his way to McDavid’s wing. Puljujarvi started on the third and pushed higher briefly before finding himself a healthy scratch for what will now be four straight games.
Kailer Yamamoto is receiving heaping amounts of praise these days for his incredible tenacity, checking, and effectiveness on the top line. He’s plenty tenacious, but the rest of the accolades seem out of touch with reality for Yamamoto. He was a part of the 2nd line to start the season, but that grouping with Draisaitl was extremely ineffective and eventually broken up. An injury to Rattie opened up the top spot for him and he’s made his way there, garnering these rave reviews. Some have even suggested that when Rattie returns, Yamamoto should stay paired with McDavid because it has gone so well.
One day, someone will write a tell all book about the behind the scenes world of an Edmonton sports journalist and perhaps I will finally be able to understand the way some of these guys think, but for now all I have is speculation. Here’s what I think. I think Kailer Yamamoto is a little guy who goes to the tough areas and draws penalties because of the abuse he takes. I think his feet move twice as fast as giant players who take long strides and that effort deserves praise but also stands out more than it does for an average sized man doing the same thing. And I think Kailer Yamamoto has not done anything with McDavid to suggest he should be there full-time.
The cold hard fact is that through 10 games, Yamamoto has fewer points than he did after 9 games a season ago. Yamamoto has one 5v5 point, a goal, and one assist on the power play. He’s been playing more than 14 minutes a night in Edmonton’s top 6 and a staple on the 2nd PP unit, but he has just 11 shots on net in 10 games. While paired with Connor McDavid on the top line, the Oilers are scoring less than 1 goal per hour 5v5, and he’s played over an hour 5v5 with McDavid. In fact, he’s played with McDavid more than any other RW this season. McDavid sees a decrease in shot attempt percentage, unblocked shot attempt percentage, and goals for percentage while paired with Yamamoto.
Anyone who is praising Yamamoto’s effectiveness on the top line, or even the top 6, is really doing so without checking to see what the team has actually accomplished with Yamo on the ice. This all sounds highly negative, but I think we can all agree that Yamamoto has offensive talent and is likely to break through eventually. He just hasn’t yet. He hasn’t and it’s so obvious that he hasn’t that it makes me highly suspicious when someone praises him for things he clearly isn’t doing. What motivation do we have for this? I don’t know.
Jesse Puljujarvi is just 145 days older than Kailer Yamamoto but while one is being given all the opportunity in the world despite his production, the other seems on the verge of washing out of the team. Puljujarvi is being talked about like a bust, while Yamamoto is just starting his career. It seems entirely crazy, but it isn’t inconsistent with the development plan of the Oilers, which is to take high picks and force them into the NHL as soon as possible then let the hockey gods sort out the rest.
These days, Jesse Puljujarvi is the target of comments about his inability to think the game at a high level as well as frustration about his poor defensive game. That says nothing about his inability to score. Those three areas, taken together, really sound like the scouting report of a failed pick. He’s definitely no Kailer Yamamoto, who has earned that top six time, that’s for sure. That’s why he’s a healthy scratch!
Well, there’s a problem here. I’m going to ignore the “can’t think the game” charge for a second and look at the other areas first. We should talk about Jesse Puljujarvi’s poor defensive game, because he doesn’t actually have a poor defensive game. It’s really the one area of the game where we can say Puljujarvi has exceeded expectations for almost his whole career. Of course, we have to ask ourselves how we can tell someone is doing well defensively. Typically, someone who is defensively proficient will be responsible for reducing the number of shots and chances against while on the ice, which in turn means more time for offense. His entire career has been marked by higher shot attempt and goals for metrics relative to his teammates.
When we talk about players that are bad defensively or are unable to think the game, I think it’s hard to reconcile that discussion with actual proof that they do better than their teammates on the ice in areas that are supposed to be affected by these traits. Dumb players do not consistently do better at pushing the play the right direction. Poor defensive players don’t spend less time in their own zone than in the attacking zone. It does not compute.
If Puljujarvi could be more like Yamamoto it would actually bring him down in areas like points per 60 minutes, takeaways, shot attempt percentage, and his impact on Draisaitl and McDavid. The one major glaring statistic for Jesse Puljujarvi that seems to explain why all of a sudden he can neither think the game nor play in his own zone, is his PDO. Puljujarvi is sporting a .935 combined shooting and save percentage. This is the third lowest on the team and almost certainly out of his control. His on-ice shooting percentage isn’t awful (comparatively), but he’s getting just .894 goaltending behind him through his seven games.
PDO is the stat that is found to link closest to public perception despite having a very low correlation to repeatable talent. Jesse’s sucks, so he sucks and everything is awful.
It definitely appears as though this team is gearing up to make long term decisions based on a tiny window of play. It also appears that actual results are completely divorced from the way fans and media are discussing these two players. They are so close in age and yet have been handled completely differently from each other, which is also playing into how we perceive them. Based on what they have done or not done this year, I think it’s perfectly fine to say that both deserve to play in the AHL right now. You can even tell me that both deserve to play in Edmonton’s top six. What doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny is telling me that these two players are extremely different in their effectiveness and that one has earned top line minutes while the other has earned four straight games in the press box. That just doesn’t jive with reality.