FULL DISCLOSURE: I wrote this article while watching the game on a 60-inch television in my basement while wearing a pair of shorts and a Blue Jays t-shirt.
The Oilers need to make a decision on Jesse Puljujarvi and it needs to happen right now. Sitting any 20-year old for four straight games just doesn’t make any sense.
The organization basically has two options right now. They can put Puljujarvi back in the line up alongside Strome or they can leave him on the sidewalk outside of Rogers Place and wait for a complete stranger to pick him up and drive him to the airport for a flight to Bakersfield.
After the loss to Minnesota, I could see McLellan inserting him back into the lineup, even though I get the sense he doesn’t really want to.
Just in case you missed my Great, Good, Bad and Ugly piece yesterday I’ll quickly recap one aspect of it. Former Oiler Janne Niinimaa, who the Oilers talked to Puljujarvi about prior to the draft, had this to say about the big Finn’s struggles.
“His thing his entire career is that he plays the best when he’s just out there enjoying the game with a smile on face and not overthinking or pressing things. I see him doing just that in the NHL. He wants to make it so bad and things are a lot harder in the small rink. He’s not loose and is unsure of himself.”
When I see the words “unsure of himself” I immediately think he needs time in the American League to regain his confidence. I also think it’s important to point out Niinimaa is still mentioning how difficult it is to adjust to the smaller ice even though he’s been in North America for three seasons. Draisaitl was playing on North American ice for four years, more than half of that in junior, before he “popped”.
The way I see it there are three reasons to send Puljujarvi down to Bakersfield right now.
ICE TIME, LOTS OF IT
The Bakersfield Condors have not been playing much as of late but that’s about to change. Including tonight the Condors will play five games over an eleven-day stretch. Puljujarvi could go down there and get almost as much ice-time over the final four games of that stretch than he has had here in Edmonton all season.
Jay Woodcroft is clearly familiar with the player and will know what he needs to work on and exactly how to use him effectively.
The real upside would be that, unlike last time he was in the AHL, the Condors actually have some skill for him to work with.
THE DOGHOUSE DOESN’T EXTEND TO BAKO
Todd McLellan appears to be frustrated with Puljujarvi and he is absolutely tired of talking about him.
After the morning skate on Tuesday McLellan was asked about Jesse being scratched for a 4th consecutive game. “Players need to play, right now we are sitting here with a 19-year old, that nobody is asking me that question about, we just sat him out for two games and he’s going to sit for his third, he’s 19 and he can go back to junior and nobody is questioning us about that. Jesse’s important, we’ve got Cooper Marody, who’s hurt, we aren’t happy that he’s not playing games.”
You can tell McLellan is tired of talking about Puljujarvi because he doesn’t even really refer to him during his answer and tries to compare it to Bouchard’s current situation; which is nothing more than a reach that doesn’t make any sense. One is a 20-year old forward with 100 games of NHL experience who CAN be sent to the American Hockey League to develop, and the other is a 19-year old d-man that everyone assumes you will be sending back to junior eventually. The reason people aren’t asking about Bouchard is because they understand the team is extending his nine games as long as they can. The reason they are asking about Puljujarvi is because after four games in the press box something needs to give.
It may be best for both Todd and Jesse if they are apart for a month or so.
TOO IMPORTANT TO SCREW UP
The third reason to send Puljujarvi down is because this player is simply too important to the franchise to ruin him. His upside is EXACTLY what the team needs moving forward, they must find a way to unlock it.
So far the Oilers have not done themselves any favours in the development of the player.
In his rookie season, he scored in his first game and then played less than eight minutes in his second game. So you could say he was doomed from the beginning. Despite not producing the Oilers kept him around for 29 games even though he only saw more than ten minutes twice in December and January. What were they hoping to accomplish?
In his second season, they completely dropped the ball by not letting him run a bit after the team was completely eliminated from contention. They had multiple months to give him legitimate top-six minutes yet in February, March and April Puljujarvi only played more than 15 minutes just twice. That is absolutely ridiculous. You had three months to allow him to learn from his mistakes and develop some chemistry with Draisaitl or McDavid, it’s didn’t happen. I believe he had a brief look with Draisaitl near the end of the season but nothing significant.
In the first 100 games of his career, Puljujarvi has only played more than 17 minutes FOUR TIMES. So you can’t tell me he hasn’t been held accountable.
Right now it’s pretty simple. You can send him down to the American Hockey League and allow him to learn from his mistakes while at the same time playing as much as he can handle. Or you can put him back into the line up alongside Ryan Strome who hasn’t recorded a point yet this season and Milan Lucic who has two goals in his last 57 games. On second thought Jesse may want to request a trip down south.