Nothing has gone right for the Oilers as of late. They’ve dropped eight of their last nine games, they’re closer to dead last in the league than they are a wild card spot, and it seems inevitable that they’re going to end up on the outside looking in at the conclusion of yet another disappointing season.
To compound matters, one of their supposed key building blocks moving forward is questioning his future with the organization. Per Mark Spector, Jesse Puljujarvi’s agent stated concern with his client’s future with the Oilers and suggested “going different paths” might be beneficial.
Jesse Puljujarvi's agent, Markus Lehto, tells Sportset he is unsure if staying with Edmonton is best for his client.
Column to come shortly. pic.twitter.com/QtSFGI00M6
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) February 16, 2019
To say Puljujarvi’s season has been disappointing would be an understatement. The former fourth-overall pick came into 2018-19 labelled as a potential breakout player. The Oilers badly needed somebody to step up on the wings and Puljujarvi looked incredibly good and confident in training camp and the pre-season.
But it hasn’t translated to the regular season. Puljujarvi has just four goals and nine points in 45 games, which puts him on pace to produce even less than he did in an underwhelming 2017-18 season that he spent between Bakersfield and Edmonton. Worst of all, Puljujarvi’s confidence appears to be completely gone. He looks nervous on the ice, completely lost and terrified to make a mistake.
Still, it’s important to remember Puljujarvi is only 20 years old. He’s technically young enough to still be playing Major Junior. Why the Oilers refuse to give him extended AHL time — on a club that’s playing incredibly well nonetheless — is bewildering. As of right now, Puljujarvi’s confidence is eroding with each passing game he plays at the NHL level.
According to Ryan Rishaug, the Oilers have considered trading the young Finn if the right deal comes along. They’ve also considered sending him down to the AHL.
Oilers had discussion with Markus Lehto, agent for Jesse Puljujarvi today. Team is open to trading him if a proper return can be found, and in the meantime an AHL stint to help boost offence and confidence is being considered. No decisions yet.
— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) February 15, 2019
I would certainly hope the Oilers don’t rush to deal Puljujarvi at his lowest point of value. They’ve completely botched his development thus far and jettisoning him after just three years would be horrendous asset management. At the very least, if the organization doubts his future, they should send him down to the AHL where he can gain confidence, inflate his stats, and gain back some value.
Puljujarvi’s case reminds me somewhat of one we saw with Nino Niederreiter about a decade ago. A year after being drafted fifth-overall, the Islanders kept Niederreiter on the team despite him clearly being out of his depth. He played 55 games scoring just one goal. The Islanders would end up trading him in a wildly lopsided deal for Cal Clutterbuck just three years after drafting him. Niederreiter has gone on to become an excellent player.
As for comments from Puljujarvi’s agent. #Oilers should do what Yzerman did with Drouin. Waited for deal that helped the team. It is business not personal. Don’t let young player dictate time for trade.
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) February 16, 2019
The Oilers, I think, need to stick this thing out. They messed up rushing Puljujarvi to the NHL when he should have spent his post-draft year in Europe and his first year in North America in Bakersfield. They can’t travel back in time, but they can make things right by letting Puljujarvi develop in the AHL, like they’re doing with similar-aged prospects in Tyler Benson and Kailer Yamamoto.
The team is desperately in need of talent, but they can’t let their short-term needs get in the way of the long-term development of their key players.