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GDB Game Notes: Oilers @ Predators

All losing streaks will come to an end eventually, some just take longer than others. The Oilers victories over the Islanders and Ducks last Thursday and Saturday were their first back-to-back wins since they defeated Buffalo and Vancouver on January 14th and 16th, and it was the first time they won consecutive home games since December 9th and 14th when they defeated the Flames and Flyers. Edmonton has won three games in a row only three times this season, and if they want to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, they will need to string together a lot more wins down the stretch.

They skate into Nashville tonight, a place they ended a four-year drought earlier this season, with some renewed confidence, but also overmatched as Connor McDavid sits out his final game of a two-game suspension.

1. The Oilers are 1-1-1 without McDavid this year. Twice he sat out due to illness and the Oilers lost 4-1 in Dallas, and 3-2 in a shootout to Arizona, before defeating the Ducks 2-1 this past weekend with him suspended. Edmonton will need another strong performance from Mikko Koskinen to have a chance tonight and they will need Leon Draisaitl leading them offensively. He has four points in three games without McDavid and has factored in on four of the five goals they’ve scored with #97 sitting in the pressbox.

2. Koskinen made his first start with the Oilers on October 27th in Nashville and won 5-3. That was Edmonton’s first victory over the Predators since March 3rd, 2014 and ended a 13-game losing steak. Sam Gagner had 1-1-2 that night. I think Koskinen has played quite well since Cam Talbot was traded. He will make his seventh consecutive start tonight, and despite not getting wins in the first four I felt he played quite well. He’s given them a chance to win every night.

3. Here is an update on the Jesse Puljujarvi situation. Here is what I do know. He did skate last week. He can skate without pain, but if he has to engage in a battle he feels discomfort in his lower body. I can’t confirm where the discomfort is, and speculating what an injury usually leads to an error, but I’m guessing it is a groin or hip problem based on what I’ve heard. Based on conversations I’ve had I sense they are getting a second opinion because they (Puljujarvi’s camp and the Oilers) want to figure out exactly what is the problem. Players often play with a nagging injury, but eventually they want to see progress or at least know exactly what the injury is.

4. I mentioned on my show on Friday that surgery might be a possibility, and if so, it will end his season. And because of that there is the one aspect of this entire scenario that I don’t understand. Why did Puljujarvi’s agent, Markus Lehto, tell Mark Spector maybe it was time for a change of scenery the day before Puljujarvi sat out due to this injury? The agent had to have known his client was banged up. Had the agent not said anything, some fans, and certain media members, wouldn’t have been speculating that Puljujarvi was faking the injury or they asked for a second opinion to ensure he couldn’t be on the AHL playoff roster. Lehto’s timing made no sense to me. It came out on February 16th, and Puljujarvi didn’t play that night. Bad decision by the agent.

5. I’ve never wavered on my thoughts on Puljujarvi. I didn’t think he was ready at 18, 19 or even earlier this year and that the Oilers organization hasn’t helped his development by not realizing this. I’ve also said I believe when he is 22 years old and filled out his massive frame he will be a solid NHL player. I’m not sold he will be an elite point-producer, but he has the ability to be a really good contributor. Yes, the Oilers and Puljujarvi’s relationship is strained a bit right now, but that happens to players all the time. Zack Kassian’s agent mentioned a trade early in the season. It didn’t transpire and Kassian has been very good for the past six weeks. The relationship between a player and management evolve and change all the time.

6. The Oilers have made bad decisions on Puljujarvi’s development to this point, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make better ones moving forward. They won’t be able to send him to the AHL without clearing waivers next year, so he either develops here or possibly a year in Europe. It might not sound ideal, but going to Europe for a year did not hurt Mark Giordano. Giordano was 24 when he couldn’t agree to a deal with the Flames, so he went to Moscow Dynamo. He returned to Calgary the next season, and while he didn’t light it up in 2008/2009, he scored 11 goals the following season and has developed into one of the league’s best defender. Not every path to NHL success is the same, and if Puljujarvi plays one year in Europe, and plays a lot, that might not be the worst-case scenario for the Oilers and Puljujarvi.

7. Puljujarvi is far from a bust. The vast majority of 20 year olds are even playing in the NHL. Just because his development has been slower than some hoped, doesn’t mean he won’t be able to develop further from here. The Oilers aren’t going to give up on him. They won’t trade him away just because he and his agent aren’t happy. Of course a trade is possible, but I don’t see them making it unless they are getting a player back who they view has the same upside. There is still much more upside than downside to Puljujarvi’s game. I’ve preached patience on numerous occasions for this player, and I believe the organization needs to remember that now more than ever. They can’t change the past, but his future could still be very bright and all parties need to have an open communication and realize how they can make the relationship more productive moving forward.

7. Who doesn’t love a story like Josh Currie? He battled it out in the minors for six seasons. He played 154 games in the ECHL producing 35-50-85 then was recalled to the AHL where he scored 76-67-143. He was on AHL and ECHL deals for the first five seasons, before signing his first NHL two-way contract last summer. Currie was the hottest goal scorer in the AHL before the Oilers recalled him last week. He has 15 goals in 17 games, and on Saturday night he realized his lifelong dream of scoring an NHL goal. The reaction from his teammates on the ice and on the bench illustrated how much respect they have for him. Players always love watching a guy score his first NHL goal. They all remember their own first goal, but when the player is a guy who battled his way up the ranks, those goals are a bit more special.

8. Don’t freak out, but the Oilers will likely send Currie back to Bakersfield today. But it will only be temporary. In order to be eligible for the AHL playoffs a player needs to be on the AHL roster today. I expect the Oilers will send Currie and Brad Malone down, essentially a paper transaction, and then they will recall both of them so they are eligible to return to Bakersfield for the playoffs if the Oilers don’t make the postseason.

9. The Condors won their 16th consecutive game on the weekend and go for #17 tonight. Shane Starrett is 13-0-0 with a 1.77 GAA, a .936 sv% and two shutouts during the streak. He’s on a great run, but I suspect the Oilers will still sign a veteran backup to a one-year contract and have him and Starrett compete. A lot can change by next October, but if I was betting today I think they would start Starrett in the minors next year and if he dominates again they would recall him during the season. He has only played 42 AHL games, so there is no need to rush him.

10. If the Predators don’t acquire another legit scoring top-six forward I don’t see them making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. They have an excellent defense core, good goaltending and solid forwards, but I think they lack a big-time scorer. Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Victor Arvidsson are all good players, but I don’t think they are great offensive players. If they land Mark Stone the Preds would become a serious contender, otherwise I see them as a really good team, but not one who will make the Cup Finals.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 2/25/2019 – 9:00 am MT

  • rockmoss

    Good article as always but I think you are mistaken on the Condors winning yesterday. I don’t believe they played. They played Saturday and tonight as well

  • ed from edmonton

    Gregor, next to his mom you might be the biggest JP booster out there. My concern about JP is the almost complete lack of progress in his game in almost 3 full years of North American hockey. Will he ever improve his game? This is a valid question to which nobody can give a definate answer. You have been very critical of the Oilers reluctance to send JP to the AHL, but there seems to be some evidence that there has been reluctance from JP to spending time in the AHL as well. Craig Simpson has stated that something over 75% of the players development is on the player. This from a guy who suffered through a very tough D+1 year after being the No. 2 guy drafted, but says he learned valuable lessons that year and it helped his development.

    Will a year in the KHL help JP? Who knows but you had to go back over a decade to find an example of a player for whom it worked. A legitimate concern might be a year on the big ice may actually hurt JP learning how to play on the smaller ice. Many of his problems seem to be linked to the extra quickness that is needed on the smaller ice.

    The No.4 pick seems to be a cursed pick for the Oil. Jason Bongsignoire, Reinhart (by trade) and now JP. If the Oil fall into the No.4 pick this year I suggest they trade down.

    • Shameless Plugger

      Thank you for posting this. I keep asking what it is that everybody sees in JP. That they think he will be impactful in the NHL and the conversation dies there. Ive been reluctant since Jarmo Kekalainen passed on him at the draft for a guy (Dubois) who’s contributing now. So Oilersnation please enlighten me as to what it is JP has that is so appealing to people? I really badly want the player to be great I just don’t see it panning out that way.

    • Ratt McNuge

      I think the problem is the Oilers didn’t send JP to the minors and keep him there so he could learn the North American game down there instead of counting on him to play his way into a top 6 role in the big leagues. I blame the Oilers lack of depth on the wings. They rushed the poor kid. He needed a year or two of seasoning in Bakersfield. Just because he was a top 4 pick doesn’t mean he was anywhere near ready to play in the NHL.

        • ed from edmonton

          Finding a smoking gun for the suspicion that JP had been reluctant about playing in the AHL will be hard to find. But I offer the following:
          Year 1: JP was kept on the Oil roster for 39 games before going down. RW on that team were LD, Ebs, Kassian, Pitlick (for 30 games) and Pakarrienen. Why was JP needed? Suspicious that JP and his agent held the KHL option to get a minimum number of NHL games.;
          Year 2: when asked why JP wasn’t being played “up the lineup” the coach stated that he already is up the lineup. Suggesting the coach didn’t want him in Edmonton. Why was he in Edmonton?;
          Year 3 :. His agents comments in public makes me wonder what was said in private.
          You seem to say that confidence is what JP needs. Maybe so, but I don’t buy that lack of confidence is preventing JP from using his big body to lean on people, win a battle in the corner or protect the puck.

    • Jason Gregor

      I’ve argued he isn’t ready. He shouldn’t be here. He has lost his confidence, of course he can’t make a play. He hasn’t developed it because they continue to be insane in how they view him. Doing the same thing despite same results is insanity and that is what Oilers have done.

      Simpson saying 75% of development is on the player is fine, but did he add they should be in a spot to succeed and maintain confidence when doing so. Simpson also had played entire life on small ice my man. And every player develops at a different rate. It isn’t a sprint.

      Evidence Puljujarvi was reluctant to go? Based on what? He has been sent down three times in three years? Did he ever not go? It only came up two weeks ago when he was injured. Fact is he should have never been recalled. Oilers have done a horrible job developing him. Sure, Puljujarvi can take some responsibility, but I disagree that to this point he is 75% responsible when he wasn’t mature or skilled enough to be in the NHL.

      He is same age as Juolevi (5th), Nylander (7th pick), Jost (10th pick), Logan Brown (11th) Micheal McLeod (12th) pick and Jake Bean (13th) pick..Jost has about same numbers as him, while others are in the AHL this year after being in junior previous two years. Puljujarvi should have been in same spot as them. Where he was drafted means nothing to me. Putting a player in the NHL because he was taken 4th, even though he isn’t ready, make no sense.

      I’m sorry man, I put where he is at squarely on Oilers. Now, keep in mind I don’t see JP being a big time scorer. I’ve said that from day one, and I also don’t see him being a factor until he is 22, like vast majority of NHL players.

        • Jason Gregor

          I didn’t write an article about equivalent…I’d be curious to read it. The start of his career hasn’t been great, so him trending below others wouldn’t surprise me, but if he had played in AHL for a full year I will always wonder how different he would look now. He has no confidence with the puck. Hard to play in any league without confidence, but virtually impossible to play well in NHL without confidence. Veterans struggle with it and I think it eats away at young kids.

          • Shameless Plugger

            Confidence is one thing, and I get that argument. It’s valid. However what I’m curious about is what has he SHOWN that makes you believe at 22 he’ll be an NHL player ? As in what are the tools I’m not seeing ? He’s big and is an decent skater ! He doesn’t wow me with his passing or his puck handling, his decision making is suspect and I don’t see him as being “smart” enough to be a penalty killer. I understand he’s young but in three years I fail to see what it is that he does well or what makes him the “A” level prospect some (mostly Nielsen) here think he is or could be ?

      • ed from edmonton

        Finding a smoking gun for the suspicion that JP had been reluctant about playing in the AHL will be hard to find. But I offer the following:
        Year 1: JP was kept on the Oil roster for 39 games before going down. RW on that team were LD, Ebs, Kassian, Pitlick (for 30 games) and Pakarrienen. Why was JP needed? Suspicious that JP and his agent held the KHL option to get a minimum number of NHL games.;
        Year 2: when asked why JP wasn’t being played “up the lineup” the coach stated that he already is up the lineup. Suggesting the coach didn’t want him in Edmonton. Why was he in Edmonton?;
        Year 3 :. His agents comments in public makes me wonder what was said in private.
        You seem to say that confidence is what JP needs. Maybe so, but I don’t buy that lack of confidence is preventing JP from using his big body to lean on people, win a battle in the corner or protect the puck.

  • Billy Charlebois

    I get the whole argument regarding how the Oilers have screwed up JP’s development. I think it is true to some extent, but some of the stuff I see him do on the ice isn’t development related. Maybe it’s confidence related, but falling down, fumbling the puck, not going hard on the forecheck, passing to guys when they are 10 feet offside, etc., speak more to his skill set than to development. I guess, I wonder how much JP has to bear in all of this? Not only that, but why is he and his agent pissed? He’s playing in the NHL, and all the perks that go with it, rather than in the AHL.

    I dunno, I’m a huge Oiler fan and pulling for the kid, because he seems like a good kid and his success would be huge for the team, but it just seems like something is missing, like a good tool box.

    • Alberta Ice

      Glad to know they will send Currie down so that he can play for the team in the AHL playoffs. Must be a very incredibly good vibe to be playing with a team that is knowing how to win at a record pace. Maybe that vibe will translate to their NHL team level down the road.

  • Heschultzhescores

    Maybe there is a deal for JP with the Jets. Hooking him up with Laine might be the spark he needs. I don’t see him becoming anything with the Oilers. Move him before his value drops to Yak levels. Hockey IQ needs to move up higher in our drafting requirements

  • Glencontrolurstik

    Nobody has said this yet, but please hear me out. The Oilers issues after the playoff run, are because of McDavid. Sure Chia traded away assets without much return, but slowly, aside from Nuge & Draisaitl the rest of the team has been relying on McDavid more & more, as they get worse. The confidence level on the rest of the team is very low.
    When McDavid is playing all passes, outlet or otherwise are going to him. Even though he’s double covered with others open the pass always goes to Connor. That’s why secondary scoring is abysmal, it’s because the whole play involves Connor. I think this two game suspension is a great thing for the team, especially tonight against stiff competition. It’ll show us all (and most importantly, them) that the team does have what it takes to make plays & be a threat without Connor, as we saw against the Ducks (that was a great game). They aren’t as bad as everyone thinks they are… When Connor’s back & he’s on the ice, just watch all the outlet & other passes, they’ll ALL go to Connor, with other forwards clearly open for the play. Mix it up a bit, is all I’m saying. For a more balanced attack… This suspension is a blessing in my eyes. Plus, the Leafs will get a “rested” Connor, I can’t wait, I’m having a Wednesday night party.

    • 99CupsofCoffey

      There are 3 other lines on the ice when 97 is on the bench, so “secondary scoring” applies to those three lines when 97 has nothing to do with the play. I get what you’re saying, but the other players other than 29, 93 & 97 need to actually make some plays when they are out there without 97. And they just aren’t doing it.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    Those lines without McDavid often find themselves playing overly defensive, thinking that Connor’s lines will do the scoring. They have reverted to that, cause it’s easy for them. Without McDavid they have to work harder as we saw last game. If they bring that same confidence & work ethic forward, with Connor, we suddenly have a different team.
    Connor is double shifted most nights so 2 lines without Connor.

    • 99CupsofCoffey

      That’s a major problem with the coaching staff, if they allow players to not play up to their potential, thinking “well, the other line will score.” It’s just one more fundamental flaw in the entire Oilers organization, from Katz all the way down to Pelletier.

  • OilCan2

    JPs agent was just blowing smoke trying to cover the injury. He will need more than that to get a big time contract for his guy. Most players continue to improve up to 25 so we have a few seasons to see if he takes a big step forward. On the issue of really young players Jones, Benson, Lagesson and Bouchard are all being slow played and may be able to contibute at the NHL level next year.