Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Over to you, kid

For a lot of fans who’ve been waiting to see Jesse Puljujarvi blossom with the Edmonton Oilers during a time frame that’s still in its infancy, Ken Hitchcock has been saying all the right things since taking over from Todd McLellan as coach and making no bones about the fact he’s squarely in the kid’s corner.

It’s Hitchcock, after all, who pushed GM Pete Chiarelli to have Puljujarvi recalled from Bakersfield of the AHL after just four games so he could be in the line-up tonight against the Los Angeles Kings to wrap up a three-game swing through California. I don’t recall a more public show of support for the big Finnish winger since he arrived as the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft than what we’ve seen from Hitchcock in the last 48 hours.

“I’ve had a lot of success, quite frankly, taking players like Jesse and having quick turns,” Hitchcock said. “And probably some days he’s going to get tired of my voice because it’s going to be during practice like it was today, and he caught himself, and away he goes. But when you see something that good and that much, as a coach you want to take responsibility for the growth of the player.”

“You don’t want to sit there and watch him play in the American Hockey League and think, ‘Ah, he’s going to score a few goals and that’s going to fix everything. Or he’s going to do this.’ There’s elements of his game, it doesn’t matter what league he’s playing in, have to get better and I want that responsibility because the top end is awful, awful high and I want to work with that.”

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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

That’s music to the ears of Puljujarvi supporters, who have complained long and loud that their young man did not get the same kind of support from McLellan and his staff when he was first trying to break into the league. The assumption there being that McLellan somehow didn’t have the kid’s back, didn’t work hard enough or smart enough at putting him a position to make a go of things.

I buy bits and pieces of that line of thinking, but certainly not all of it. Was McLellan perfect in deploying Puljujarvi? No. What coach ever is? That said, it’s a quantum leap – one that some people have made in excusing instances when Puljujarvi hasn’t done enough to hold up his end of the bargain – to suggest McLellan didn’t like the kid, didn’t want to see him succeed. In what world does that make any sense for McLellan? What’s the end-game there?

What I saw, albeit from arm’s length, is a failure by McLellan and Puljujarvi to connect, to form a player-coach relationship and foundation based on trust. I wonder how many times they sat down together to simply talk, to get to know each other, to find out what makes each other tick. Results on the ice trump all, and I wonder if a lack of same had anything to do with lack of trust on both sides.

Now, along comes Hitchcock, reaching out, pushing to get Puljujarvi back into the NHL fray after that four-game cup of coffee in Bakersfield, saying he wants to take responsibility for helping him make the kind of impact fans around here have been waiting for. Who wouldn’t want to play for a coach who has your back like that?

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Everything Hitchcock has said to this point is fine and good and, knowing Hitchcock as I do, he’d never say it if he didn’t mean it and wasn’t willing to act on the public support he’s been offering Puljujarvi. There’s a whole other side to the fresh set of eyes and support Hitchcock brings – Puljujarvi’s commitment to making the most of the chance the new coach offers.

Like the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to pizza, but you can’t make him eat,” or something like that. Hitchcock can offer Puljujarvi every opportunity to succeed, but if he doesn’t take it and run with it, doesn’t play the way the coach expects him to, can’t or won’t find a way to reciprocate the trust he’s shown and make something of it by providing results, this isn’t going to work.

McLellan didn’t want to see Puljujarvi fail. Hitchcock doesn’t want to see Puljujarvi fail. In the end, what any coach wants or doesn’t want, whether he’s firmly in your corner or not, doesn’t matter as much as the player’s determination to make the most of the opportunity he’s given – big or small. Yes, it certainly helps that Hitchcock is getting behind Puljujarvi, but what happens next and how this plays out is up to him. Over to you, kid.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    “What I saw . . . is a failure by McLellan and Puljujarvi to connect, to form a player-coach relationship based on trust.”
    Nothing is one-way, 100%, sure. But do you put that on a 19 year old Finnish kid who doesn’t speak English or on his coach whose job is to connect with and engage with his players?

    Rhetorical question.

  • PSinghBSc

    I watched the Hitchcock interview regarding Jesse P. I think he said the right things. The kid will get his chance. Language barrier or not, if a guy is back there screaming and pointing to where he should be isn’t a sign to get your a$$ back, I don’t know what is. That’s my assumption in terms of what had probably happened during the practice. I don’t believe that anyone doubts that Jesse P has talent … he does. He now, has a chance, to really show himself with a person that will give him the opportunity to show himself and his true character. Right now … I think … Hitch is saying the right things … let’s see some results!
    Best of luck tonight! Go Oil!

    • El Cid

      So Talbot in goal, the Oilers have to double shift a player to even be competitive and the New coach plays Lucic for the last minute of the game that they where winning until…….. and then they where out coached in O.T. by Carlyle? The Oiler’s might get Booed out of their own barn tonight and they are playing in L.A. Geesh?

  • CMG30

    By no means should the Oilers even be thinking of giving up on the kid. That being said, they have consistently mishandled him. If Hitch wants to take a personal interest in his development and feed him big minutes in the NHL then great. If it doesn’t work out then leave him to play big minutes in the AHL. When winning trumps whats best for a player then the team needs to recognize that and get the player somewhere better.

  • What the Puck

    It sure will be nice to see him finally getting caught up with the rest of his draft class. Nice work thus far Hitch. I am getting excellent vibes here.

    • What the Puck

      Yak is just another terribly handled player. Under Kruger he was ok. Once Eakins got his hands on him, he was destroyed. The only comparison is this is what can happen when you mis manage. Afterall they are still thinking with a childs brain after being drafted. They still need guidance and mentoring. Very few players can jump right in on their own.

  • Hockeytalkguy

    I’m rooting for JP, is the kid going to make mistakes….absolutely, but maybe he can figure it out with Hitch. There is so much potential in that big frame of his. Perhaps Hitch won’t staple his carcass to the bench or yo yo him in and out of the line up after every little mistake.

  • Bills Bills

    The issue I believe was likely communication. JP needs to work on his English. TMac didn’t seem to use verbal language at all to communicate with the players. If Koskinen or anyone else can help with translation and ease the communication barrier, it should help on JPs end. If Hitch decides to communicate with anything other than ice time, it should make things easier for every player.