Unless agent Markus Lehto or Jesse Puljujarvi pick up the phone and tell Edmonton Oilers’ POHO and GM Ken Holland in no uncertain terms he won’t play for the Oilers again and he wants out of Edmonton so bad he can taste it, it makes no sense to trade him this off-season.
Until that conversation is had — we don’t have any indication that is the case, and recent buzz that Puljujarvi isn’t exactly happy with how things have gone in Edmonton shouldn’t be a revelation — it would be a huge mistake to move him down the road now when his value couldn’t possibly be lower.
To be honest, I’m not certain there’s a player here, but until the Oilers take the time to find out with Holland and Dave Tippett taking a run at turning him around, there’s no upside to moving him along. Yet, as of writing this, there are already items out there about potential trade targets in a deal for Puljujarvi, who is only 21 years old and coming off hip surgery.
What we do know is that through 139 games with the Oilers since being drafted fourth overall in the 2016 Entry Draft, Puljujarvi has struggled mightily to find and keep traction under coaches Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock. In parts of three seasons, despite being a big, lanky kid with a good shot and pretty decent wheels, his 37 points (17-20-37) is unquestionably underwhelming.
A SECOND LOOK
As always, there are extreme takes on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to players like Puljujarvi. Some people believe he has been handled so badly by the Oilers — jerked up and down and out of the line-up — he’s had no chance to succeed. What about his linemates? How come no sugar time on the power play? There are legitimate concerns about his usage amid the hyperbole.
At the other end of the spectrum is the camp that insists he’s simply a bust, that Puljujarvi is a player who doesn’t think the game that well and likely never will. Remember how Columbus GM Jarmo Kekäläinen passed on Puljujarvi at the draft and took Pierre-Luc Dubois instead? Hmm. If Jarmo said, “No thanks,” he must have known something, right?
I can’t get all-in with either of those camps. The truth, as is often the case, is likely somewhere in the middle. That said, it doesn’t really matter how Puljujarvi and the Oilers got to this point. What matters is they are here now and what happens next. If Holland and Tippett are going to turn Puljujarvi around, it’ll be a project. Ray Ferraro, whose opinion I trust more than anybody else I can think of, framed what he sees with Jason Gregor.
“My concern is he doesn’t look anything like he looked in junior,” said Ferraro. “In junior he carried the puck, he shot the puck, he used his size to create separation. He doesn’t do anything like that. When he gets the puck it looks like, and I’m going a lot by the very few games this year when I watched him live, his first thought seems to be to get rid of it as fast as he can because he doesn’t want to screw up. And you’re not even looking at a player anymore. You’re looking at a guy in a uniform. He has zero faith, it appears, in his ability right now.
“And so the first step would be to build him up and if he makes a mistake, look past it. Coach him up. Find him a path of confidence. And then if it doesn’t come, then it doesn’t come . . . he looks like he’s terrified — like to go to the wrong place, to be in the wrong place, to do the wrong thing. His assets are his physical gifts and he doesn’t use them. And to my mind they started him on a path he wasn’t ready for and the car starts going faster and you’re falling behind every block. And you just never catch up.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
I see what Ferraro sees, and I bet plenty of you do too. I don’t see a player with the confidence to impose his will and his skills on the ice. I see a kid who knows things have gone the wrong way and, as Ferraro said, feels like he can never catch up. Will he ever catch up and be the player people thought he might become on draft day? I honestly don’t know.
What I do know is I’d like to see Holland and Tippett have a go at finding out, assuming Puljujarvi and Lehto aren’t set on getting a fresh start with another team. There’s absolutely nothing to lose in giving it a season. If it doesn’t work out with fresh sets of eyes and new circumstances, the Oilers can walk away. Send Puljujarvi away now, at his lowest point, and the Oilers do so at their own peril.
We’ve seen that movie before, and it can end badly.