Jesse Puljujarvi’s agent Markus Lehto added another chapter to the trade talk yesterday when he went on Vancouver radio to talk about his clients Olli Juolevi and Puljujarvi.
Lehto discussed many things, but he stepped back from his earlier statement about Puljujarvi playing in Europe this coming season.
When asked about heading back to Europe Lehto said, “First off, I’m not sure Jesse is going to go back to Europe. I don’t think Jesse himself ever, or I don’t think I did, ever told anyone that unless he’s traded he’s for sure going to be back in Europe.
“What Jesse has been saying to Kenny (Holland, Oilers GM) and everybody else, and what I’ve been saying, is we just don’t think it’s going to work out any more. He could definitely benefit from a fresh start. I think he deserves a fresh start. I think he has done everything that Edmonton coaches, management…they had a plan. He went down three times to the American League. Every time he played excellent and he was brought back up, right?
“It’s very unfortunate, I think that it’s been in the media a little bit, in Jesse’s mouth there has been put all kinds of words and in my mouth too. I never actually said anything. We’ve been having a really good dialogue with Kenny Holland about the trade possibility and obviously I’ve got so many teams calling me, asking what’s going on. Obviously nothing has happened yet,” Lehto said.
He is correct that Puljujarvi never said it, but in an interview with Mark Spector a few days before the NHL draft this quote was right at the top of the article: “If he doesn’t get traded,” Lehto confirmed, “he will play in Europe next year. He will not play in Edmonton.”
Things change, but unless Spector misquoted him, which didn’t happen considering Lehto never came out the next day to say he never said that, then Lehto has changed his tune. Which is fine, we have all changed our tune at times, but don’t claim you don’t think you said it, when you did. He likely made a statement like that to get a trade moving, but to suggest he didn’t think he said it isn’t a good look. Own it.
Regardless of what he said, three weeks later nothing has changed on the Puljujarvi front, and clearly Holland is in no rush to make a trade. He will make a deal if it helps the team, and I was told the Oilers, and some other teams were unaware that Henri Jokiharju was on the table. Not every team knows about every trade possibility. I still remember many GMs seething when the Bruins traded Joe Thornton, because the Bruins never mentioned he was available. I’m surprised the Hawks would trade Jokiharju for Alex Nylander considering Jokiharju played with Duncan Keith at times last year. But I digress.
When Holland hired Dave Tippett he spoke with Lehto and he told him there would be a clean slate under the new coach and GM, but Lehto said a trade was better. That was surprising to Holland, but he’s been around for three decades so he’s seen a lot. As he said in his most recent press conference, “In Detroit we had players who asked to be traded. Some of them played in Detroit again, and others never did.”
During his interview on Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver yesterday, Lehto was asked if Puljujarvi might consider returning to Edmonton with Holland in charge.
“Well, that’s something that really kind of makes Jesse and really myself think that he should try and go back. But at the same time it’s a lot like a confidence issue here. If he goes back and all of a sudden things don’t really work out, you know, are we then in the same low point again? Which is not going to help either Oilers nor Jesse. And then what’s going to happen after that? Then for sure maybe we lose a player who definitely is an NHLer.”
Later Lehto went deeper on his concern about Puljujarvi’s confidence.
“Of course I’m afraid and worried about that and I think everybody else would be worried about that too. We all have our responsibilities towards a young athlete, right? Not just as an agent. I have a responsibility, but the teams that draft these guys too, you know, they have some responsibilities for these guys too, you know. So when you draft a guy, even if he’s a high, high, high pick and expectations are really high, you kind of have to help these guys to become as good an athlete and player as they can be, right? They need support and help. Not just like, ‘Well, we drafted you, you do whatever we want, right?’. That’s the way I see it, how it should be, right? It’s a two-way street. It’s up to the athlete too. It’s not just a one-way street,” said Lehto.
I completely agree with this statement.
No doubt confidence is a major factor in Puljujarvi’s early NHL struggles, and much of that was due to how the Oilers mishandled him. As Lehto accurately said earlier, Puljujarvi went to the AHL three times, played well, but was recalled. The Oilers really screwed up recalling him last year after he had four points in four games. They should have let him stay there for a month, maybe more, so he could regain his confidence. The argument he didn’t want to be there is irrelevant. Most players who have been in the NHL would prefer to go back rather than stay in the AHL, but what was Puljujarvi going to do? Quit?
I doubt it, so the Oilers botched their final opportunity to have him develop in the minors. That isn’t an option this year, as he requires waivers to be sent down and there is zero chance he’d clear.
My stance on Puljujarvi hasn’t changed since the day he was drafted. I wrote the Oilers needed to be patient with him. I looked at other European players and the majority of Finnish players didn’t become offensive contributors until they were 22 and that includes Teemu Selanne, Mikko Koivu and other top Finnish players.
Where Puljujarvi was drafted shouldn’t matter. The reality is only ten 18-year-old players have debuted in the NHL the past five years, which means 99% of them aren’t ready. Why the Oilers felt Puljujarvi was made no sense. It was the wrong call. And they did send him down halfway through the year. Then at 19 he started in the AHL again, but he was recalled after ten games. He’d scored five points in ten games, but only one goal. He played 65 games with the Oilers and had 12 goals, which was decent, but he never looked confident or overly comfortable.
It seemed the Oilers wanted him to be an NHL player now, regardless of how he played. It was the wrong decision time and time again.
But none of that is on Holland or Tippett. Holland has a proven track record of not rushing players, but he won’t have that option with Puljujarvi, but the communication between Tippett, Holland and Puljujarvi will be different than the previous regime, simply because they are different people.
The challenge is: how can the Oilers play to win while helping Puljujarvi regain or maintain his confidence? It is extremely difficult to do, and maybe Puljujarvi won’t ever do it here, but this situation was completely avoidable had the Oilers just kept him in the AHL.
Lehto has a right to be concerned about his client and his confidence, but at the same time he should recognize there might not be a better chance in the NHL for Puljujarvi to regain his confidence. No team in the NHL has the combination of skilled centres and a lack of proven wingers. If Puljujarvi has a good preseason and gains some confidence he will have a great chance to play with some skilled players. If he is traded to another team he will most surely have more competition for a wing position.
Things can change quickly in the NHL, and so can confidence and how a player feels within his organization. Zack Kassian wanted a trade early last year, but one never came and then he had an outstanding second half of the season.
Maybe Puljujarvi can do the same, maybe he can’t, but it seems his agent has clearly softened their stance on going to Europe.