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Random Thoughts… Puljujarvi Doubles Down

NHL training camps open six weeks from today. Rookies will report a week earlier and will play games against other NHL rookie teams in various different tournaments or simply home and away games like the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames rookies when they play Saturday, September 7th, in Red Deer, and Tuesday, September 10th, in Calgary.

The season is inching closer, so let’s take a look at some scenarios.

1. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will start the season together, and Dave Tippett stated Wednesday that Zack Kassian will get an opportunity on the right wing. Does that mean he is a lock to remain there? No, but Tippett wants to see if the rugged winger can remain productive on the top line. From January to April, 2019 Kassian scored 13 goals and 23 points in 43 games. He only had two goals and three points in his first 36 games. He didn’t play exclusively with McDavid and Draisaitl in the second half — he had five goals playing with Kyle Brodziak all season — but he looked very comfortable on the top line.

2. It makes sense for Tippett to give Kassian an opportunity to stay there. He has done nothing in the off-season to deserve a demotion at the start of training camp. The main question now for Tippett is who will play on the second line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal. Neal told me last month he feels playing with a left-shot centre allows him better scoring chances in the offensive zone, in regards to him getting one-timers from the right side. Does that mean he has to play RW? I’m not sure.

3. Tippett could slot Neal-RNH with Alex Chiasson — a veteran second line and right now, they are the three most proven players after the top line. Tyler Benson and Joakim Nygard are the only two who I see as potential options to play LW and move Neal to the right side.

4. What about Jesse Puljujärvi? Ken Holland has stuck to his opening comment about Puljujärvi. He wasn’t going to rush a trade and I got the sense Holland and Tippett would like to evaluate Puljujärvi on their own. I thought there was a still a chance that could happen, but in a recent article today Puljujärvi doubled down that he doesn’t want to return to Edmonton. The article was in Finland, but Edmonton-based Finnish reporter Jouni Nieminen translated some main parts of the article and sent it to me.

“I want a new start on some other team. Playing in North America is still my goal. I will stay in Oulu until I have a contract. I will find a place to play somewhere,” said the young Finn. Puljujärvi is still holding out hope he will get traded before training camp.

5. Clearly he wasn’t happy in Edmonton. I’m not sure this will change Holland’s plan though. He will trade Puljujärvi when he gets a deal that helps the Oilers. The problem for Puljujärvi is if he doesn’t show up, how much of a loss is that for the Oilers right now? Not much. Today, he isn’t a difference maker in the NHL. He might become one in the future, but he isn’t now, so Holland doesn’t have to rush into a deal.

After seeing Buffalo acquire a good, young defender in Henri Jokiharju for Alex Nylander, who was drafted four picks after Puljujärvi in 2016 and has produced even less than Puljujärvi, it illustrates if Holland is patient he might be able to get a solid prospect in return.

6. Expect Kris Russell to be their third pairing left defender. I see Darnell Nurse starting with Adam Larsson, while Klefbom will be the second pair LD. The right side is where the competition becomes interesting between Matt Benning, Joel Persson, Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear, who has been training in Edmonton with Benning and Tyler Benson. I could see it being a matter of Klefbom and his partner getting more offensive zone starts, while Russell and his partner end up with more defensive zone starts.

7. If the Oilers can’t sign Derick Brassard, then the third line centre spot is wide open. Do not overlook Cooper Marody. He had a fantastic rookie season in the AHL, and Bakersfield really missed him in the playoffs. If he can get a bit quicker, especially in small areas of the ice, he will be in the mix for that spot battling Gaetan Hass. I see Colby Cave more as a fourth line centre option.

8. Joakim Nygard is the big unknown for me. I’ve never seen him play in real life. Jason Strudwick and I have spoken to a few Swedish scouts and they really like him. They feel he should be for sure a bottom six forward in the NHL. Can he be a surprise and possibly play on RNH’s left wing and move Neal to the right side? If so, the Oilers would be ecstatic.

9. Tippett said earlier this week he would like to reduce McDavid and Draisaitl’s minutes on the PK. Draisaitl was fourth among forwards with 94 minutes, while McDavid was seventh with 48 minutes. This is a wise decision. I’d rather see newcomers like Markus Granlund, Josh Archibald, Hass or Nygard or Colby Cave and Jujhar Khaira on the PK. The odd shift for 97 and 29 makes sense, but using those two more on the PP and EV is good coaching in my eyes.

10. In 2016 the Oilers finished 29th with 70 points. In 2017 they finished eighth overall with 103 points. They improved by 33 points. Realistically they only need to improve by 16 points from last season to make the playoffs this year. With the changes in management, coaching and on the roster I don’t think it would be that difficult of a task.

11. They are all really good players, but if I had to pick I would take Brayden Point over Mikko Rantanen and Mitch Marner. Point plays centre, but is also highly skilled and has more edge to his game than Marner. I’d take Rantanen over Marner, only because I think their skill level is the same, but Rantanen has a huge size advantage. All three are really good, but it is odd to me how many feel Marner will get paid the most. Of course his agent will want to use the Auston Matthews contract as a comparable, but if the Leafs give Marner close to Matthews money it will be a fail in negotiations.

12. In early August, Tampa Bay is my Stanley Cup favourite. Many great teams have lost in the first round of the playoffs, but then went on to have a lot of success in the following years. The Lightning have great goaltending, an elite defender and lots of depth up front. The only knock I see is that they have too many of the same type of forwards. I wonder if Julien Brisebois can trade one of them. The issue is, outside of Point and Nikita Kucherov, all their veteran forwards have NTC.

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      • OilTastic

        ya that’s the guy i was thinking of too was RW Julien Gauthier from Carolina’s system. or how about a straight up trade to the Rangers, where i’m sure Jesse will be as happy as a pig in mud, for equally failed prospect, LW Lias Anderson?

        • DJ_44

          Failed prospect? Unlike JP who will require waivers, Gauthier and Anderson are both entering the second years of their ELCs.

          Trading JP last summer at least gave teams options to work with him in the AHL…..his value is discounted because he needs waivers.

      • ed from edmonton

        Leavins at the COH suggests that JPs issues are of his own making. Stubborn to the point of being hard to play with to the point where other players did not want to play with him. Ouch.

    • OilerForLife

      Oilers aren’t stuck with possibly having to protect him in the expansion draft if he isn’t signed. If they trade him after the expansion draft its like tucking away some assets in the bank for a later project since he wants to play somewhere in the NHL, Just not Canada. He stated at one point He just made it easier for the Oilers to manage the rest of their assets in the interim. Oilers can simply tell him to wait until likely the summer of 2021, and don’t call us we’ll call you.

  • Goaltender Interference

    Just another example of an arrogant selfish self-entitled pro hockey player that gives the rest of them a bad name. At this point I’d be glad to see him not pay another game in the Oilers Jersey. There’s a lot of evidence behind the fact that the Oilers mismanaged his development – but equal to that is the onus on the player to be a professional which sadly JP has never shown he is interested in doing.

    Let him twist in the wind. It might be poor asset management in the short-term to lose JP for nothing but long-term it’s beneficial in setting the example and ensuring future players on the Oilers roster know what will be expected of them. Attitude counts.

    Bye bye JP. Your lack of production and poor attitude won’t be missed. My bet is you’ll regret this decision for the rest of your life.

    • T Shuttz

      I really don’t see where the Oilers mismanaged JP. They gave him millions to play a game he loves, drafted him high and allowed him the opportunity to play with one of the best players of his own generation. What else could you ask for, Jeebus.I would let him play in Europe as long as the Oilers retain his rights. By the time (if) he ever makes it back to the show, his skills and playing abilities will be long gone. Sad end to a career, but it is his choice to do so.

      • Goaltender Interference

        The mismanagement was in a couple areas:
        – this “handshake agreement” that Jesse didn’t have to play in the Minors. He should have been allowed time on the farm to develop his game and hockey IQ before being given a ticket to the show that he hadn’t yet earned
        – not hiring a language or life coach to help him acclimatize to North America until way too late

        Those are a couple examples. Although as I said, the flip side of that coin is a willingness on the part of the player to make that lifestyle change and make every effort to earn a spot on the roster… JP has always appeared to act like his roster spot and ice-time has been automatically earned just based on his position in the draft.

        • NickL89

          I feel like calling these two things “mismanagement” is a stretch. This is a professional organization. They aren’t there to babysit and shouldn’t have to save him from himself. Sure they shouldn’t have given him what he wanted but it was what HE wanted!!! JESSE could have hired an English tutor and sent Bobby Nicks the bill. He could have been sent down and handled it like a grown up (and every other player sent down) and used the time to develop. The fact that he asked for a deal to not be sent down and made no effort of his own to learn English just reeks of entitlement. It’s sad but even more than that it’s pathetic.

  • Oilerz4life

    Just disappointing, as the Oilers were supposed to take Tkachuk with that pick until they lucked into JP. Everyone holding out for and standing by JP and we get dummied.

  • RJ

    I have to call B.S. on most of the comments here. How many players can you name who get the shaft because it’s in the “best interests” of the team? How many workers do you know have gotten the shaft because it’s in the “best interests” of the company? How many workers do you know have left good paying jobs for another job for as little as $1-$2/hour more?

    The kid has been mismanaged most of his Oilers career. The advanced stats say that when he’s gotten top-six minutes he’s performed well. So if course he hardly played there.

    He wants to play somewhere else for what he thinks is the betterment of his career? Good luck to him.

    • Goaltender Interference

      The article quotes him as saying he wants to play in the NHL – just not for the Oilers. Staying in Europe isn’t something he’s doing for the betterment of his career. Rather it’s the actions of a petulant child.

      Comparing an NHL player earning hundreds of thousands as an average league minimum to any situation involving blue-collar workers is a flawed analogy.

      Blow the advanced stats up your pie-hole. For any stat you show me showing JP was productive I can show you a dozen others that say he wasn’t. Advanced stats is all in how you interpret them whereas a bad attitude can not be hidden from sight.

  • camdog

    Kurt Leavins had the scoop on JP months ago, something to the effect that JP doesn’t feel comfortable in the locker room. RnH, Connor and Leon don’t want to play with him. JP isn’t being arrogant right now, he’s fragile/broken. It happens to most of us at sometime in our lives, even to the keyboard warriors.

    • T Shuttz

      Watched him in Red Deer in the Memorial Cup. He was the second best player on the ice behind Christian Dvorak. He was drafter a year earlier by Phoenix. He was exactly what Edmonton needed, but Chirelli got greedy and thought he had a home run with JP. That blew up in his face obviously, but hindsight is 20/20 right?

  • Moneyball

    When you hear that Connor and nuge don’t like playing with Puljujärvi you know the problem is on him, not the team. If he can’t get along with two of the most talented and unselfish players in the league you know it’s a Puljujärvi problem.

  • Bob Lawblaw

    Pre-draft, Jesse Puljujärvi was highly rated by almost every expert. I wonder if a huge red flag appeared to the Oilers brass at the draft table when the Finnish GM Jarmo Kekäläinen, passed on Jesse. Being from Finland, Kekäläinen should have all kinds of contacts to get a more localized player evaluation.
    That being said, the timeline for a quick decision at the draft table would have been minimal. and, again he was so highly rated. I see no fault with the Oilers picking him.

    I didn’t think he was particularly poorly handled (Oilers have been fast tracking young highly touted players for years now. Hopefully that stops now) but at least half of the onus has to be on the player. I don’t know anything more than what I’ve seen from his playing and at times it is good to very good but most of the time I feel like he’s just going through the motions, uninspired. He needs to come in and fight for a spot, earn a spot and play hard every night. This is the best and quickest way for him to ‘get outta Dodge’ if that’s really what he wants.

    I wonder if his ‘immaturity’ has to do with him or some bad advice from an agent.
    Hmmm.

  • NeverWas

    Iove how all these comments blame it on the kid and basically write him off. There was a 4th overall pick wasted on him… Look at all the other magic pulled out of that draft and look what the oilers are left with…

    Also, for everyone who says he “got an opportunity” or “he had poor hockey sense” … Wake up!!!! He’s a kid!!! And he hasn’t been developed into a NHL hockey player… He was miss managed and thrusted into the NHL in a spot he wasn’t ready for.

    The oilers have ruined another promising young prospect that will probably light it up somewhere else .

    Just look at how the Canucks in 3-4 years have developed there young players and now have surrounded them with a bunch of great support pieces . Development is key.

    • Odanada

      A 4th overall is a tremendous asset and it’s been squandered by the organization.
      It’s called “asset management” and this is an organizational FAIL

  • CMG30

    If I was Holland I would listen to offers if they should appear but spend absolutely no time shopping him. I would instead be rubbing by hands together in glee that JP is self deporting himself to Europe where he will continue to develop for a year or two. When he decides that he wants the big bucks he will slink back but we won’t risk losing him on waivers by sending him down again. The irony is that JP would be closer to a trade if he had just underperformed again…