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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Finnish league champion Kärpät wants Jesse Puljujarvi back next season

According to the media outlet Ilta-Sanomat, the defending champions of Sm-Liiga (the Finnish Elite League) are interested in adding Jesse Puljujarvi to their team for next season, though, it should be noted, that his agent stated this is not the case. Could there be smoke here?

“According to Ilta-Sanomat, Kärpät wants Jesse Puljujarvi to be part of the group for 2019–20.” – Source that has a translation.

Puljujarvi will be a restricted free agent on July 1 as his entry-level deal is set to expire. The Oilers, barring a trade at the draft, will undoubtedly tender the former fourth-overall draft pick a qualifying offer. Given the team’s cap situation, I would imagine they’ll try to negotiate a cheap multi-year deal for the young winger in order to keep him cost-controlled beyond one year.

If Puljujarvi wanted to play in Finland, he would reject Edmonton’s qualifying offer and head overseas. Regardless, the Oilers would still maintain his NHL rights so long as they’ve tender that qualifying offer. Also, if he plays in Europe, he wouldn’t gain the accrued professional North American season that would push him a year closer to unrestricted free agency. In essence, playing in Finland for a year would keep him stagnant in terms of his free agent status in North America.

There’s no doubt that Puljujarvi has had a very difficult start to his North American professional career. After a historically-good showing at the World Juniors in 2016, Puljujarvi curiously slid to fourth in the draft after Finnish general manager Jarmo Kekalainen opted to selected Pierre-Luc Dubois with the Blue Jackets’ third-overall pick. Fast forward three years and Kekalainen, who seemed insane at the time, might have known something that everybody else didn’t.

To be fair to Puljujarvi, the Oilers haven’t really made life easy on him. The Oilers probably shouldn’t have brought him overseas as an 18-year-old and they probably should have given him at least one full season in the AHL. Puljujarvi, who was considered a breakout candidate this year, managed to score just nine points in 46 games with the Oilers. That said, part of his struggles can likely be chalked up to dealing with a nagging hip injury, which the young winger had surgery to repair last month.

I generally wouldn’t make all too much of a European team wanting a player to go back overseas like this, but, given Puljujarvi’s agent’s cryptic comments prior to the trade deadline, this is worth talking about. As a refresher, Puljujarvi’s agent questioned his client’s future with the organization and suggested a parting of ways might be best for both sides.

Ilta-Sanomat’s post doesn’t include any comments from Puljujarvi, his agent, or anybody from Kärpät or the Oilers. Instead, it’s just a general discussion about Puljujarvi’s struggle to find himself in Edmonton and how Kärpät would be interested in bringing him back.

Puljujarvi came up through Kärpät’s youth system and played for their Elite League club in 2014-15 and 2015-16 before getting drafted. Based in Oulu, they’ve been one of the most successful SM-Liiga teams in the 2000s, winning the league championship in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2014, 2015, and 2018.

Again, there’s no real evidence here that Puljujarvi would be interested in returning to Finland. I mean, obviously Kärpät would be interested in bringing back one of the best prospects they’ve ever produced. That said, this is definitely an option for Puljujarvi. Given the fact he hasn’t yet played 160 games in the NHL or spent five years under contract, he can be sent to the AHL without having to clear waivers.

If you’re Puljujarvi, would you spend some time playing professionally in Finland to get your swagger back if there was a genuine worry the Oilers wanted to send you to the AHL in 2019-20? Based on his agent’s comments a few months ago, there might be a little more to this whole thing than just some random tabloid speculation.

From where I stand, this doesn’t seem like the end of the world. As I discussed earlier, the Oilers still maintain control of Puljujarvi regardless and this would give him a chance to re-find his game all while the Oilers don’t have to give up a control year of his contract. We’ve all said that he should have spent a year in Europe after being drafted. Maybe this can be an opportunity to right the ship and rejuvenate Puljujarvi’s development.