A big topic of conversation for the past few months has been the future of Jesse Puljujarvi. The former fourth-overall pick’s entry-level deal will expire on July 1st and reports indicate that the struggling young Finn wants a fresh start with a different organization.
Puljujarvi had yet another disappointing season with the Oilers this year. After a great showing in the pre-season, he was slated as a breakout candidate, but a nagging hip injury made him largely ineffective and brought his season to an end a couple of months early. Puljujarvi would score just nine points in 46 games with the Oilers, giving him 37 points in 139 games over the first three seasons of his NHL career.
There’s still reason for optimism that a fully-healthy Puljujarvi can still become an effective NHL player. It isn’t uncommon for European players to take longer to adjust to the North American game and Puljujarvi is still only 21 years old. That said, the issue here is that Puljujarvi seems to believe he needs a fresh start to reach his potential.
Landed in Van… not surprised by @DarrenDreger report on Puljujarvi trade request. Oilers don’t have to rush to trade him. I’ve said since April a year in Europe would be best for his personal development. Regain his confidence. Could improve his trade value as well. #Oilers
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) June 19, 2019
As disappointing as this situation is, the Oilers really shouldn’t be in a rush to complete a trade involving Puljujarvi. His value is at an all-time low and the Oilers still hold the cards in this scenario. Even if he asks for a trade, the Oilers still hold his rights and the only thing Puljujarvi can do is either continue playing for the Oilers or try to figure it out overseas.
For a comparable situation, we can look back at Jonathan Drouin and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Drouin was picked third-overall by the Lightning back in 2013 after an incredible season with Nathan MacKinnon on the Halifax Mooseheads.
The Lightning sent Drouin back to Halifax for his post-draft season. He put up an absurd 108 points in 46 games and then went ahead and scored 41 points in 16 playoff games. The year after that, Drouin played 70 games with the Lightning, scoring just four goals and 28 assists. The year after that, Drouin continued to struggle, and the Lightning sent him down to the AHL. A few months after getting sent down, Drouin requested a trade.
A few weeks after the trade request, Drouin was suspended by the Lightning for refusing to play for their AHL squad. The trade deadline came and went, but general manager Steve Yzerman didn’t budge. Drouin remained a member of the Lightning, finally reported to the AHL club, and ended up getting called back up in mid-April.
He would play the entire 2016-17 season with the Lightning, the final in his entry-level deal, and break out for 21 goals and 53 points. In the off-season, Tampa Bay finally granted him his wish and he was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens for Mikhail Sergachev, a move that seems to have worked for both sides.
Puljujarvi and Drouin aren’t the same player and this isn’t the same situation, but the moral of the story here is that Yzerman was patient in the wake of Drouin’s trade request, allowing the player to rebuild value before making a deal that was favourable for his club.
Giving into Puljujarvi’s demands now and firing him off somewhere for a third-line winger would be terrible asset management. Ideally, Puljujarvi inks a one-year deal with the Oilers and has a solid season and the team can either reconcile the relationship or they can find a deal akin to the one between Tampa Bay and Montreal. If not, Puljujarvi can go ahead and play in Europe. Putting up points in that league won’t bring his value down any further than it is right now.