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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Jesse Puljujarvi’s season in Finland shows the book isn’t closed on him as a NHL player

Jesse Puljujarvi wanted a trade from the Edmonton Oilers and he will still probably get one, perhaps as a piece to land an upgrade up front before the trade deadline, but for now he remains with Karpat in Finland. Puljujarvi is a point-per-game player with 18 goals and 26 assists in 2019-20. He leads the SM-Liiga with an absurd 323 shots in 44 games, almost 7.5 shots per game.

The SM-Liiga obviously isn’t the National Hockey League. But it’s also not a glorified beer league or any of the sort. Sure, players like Justin Danforth and Cody Kunyk are point-per-game players as well. Danforth and Kunyk are two Canadian players who spent most of their professional careers in North America in either the American Hockey League or the East Coast Hockey League. However, they are 26- and 29-years old respectively. There’s a massive difference between playing in a league like the SM-Liiga as a 21-year old and a 26- or 29-year old.

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Puljujarvi’s having a good season. To put his season into context I’ve sorted SM-Liiga players under 23-years old who scored within 25-percent of his production this season, who played minimum 20 games in a season since 2010.

There aren’t a ton of players Oilers fans would recognize, but averaging a point a game isn’t easy. Some NHL stars appear: Sebastian Aho, Aleksander Barkov, and Teuvo Teravainen. They all scored near a point-per-game and went on to score very well in the NHL. Expecting Puljujarvi to reach their level is unrealistic. Aho, Barkov and Teravainen did their scoring at 18 compared to Puljujarvi at 21-years old.

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Mikael Granlund and Joonas Donskoi are good NHL players. They aren’t stars, though Granlund had some strong offensive years in his career. Kaapo Kakko will have a good NHL career. Alex Texier probably will too.

But Puljujarvi’s surrounded by a lot players who had a go at North American hockey and either went back to Finland or haven’t scored as well in the AHL. This doesn’t mean Puljujarvi is worthless because Henrik Haapala didn’t make it after scoring 1.18 points-per-game for Tappara in the Liiga or because Julius Nattinen is above a point-per-game in the Liiga this season but struggled in the AHL in 2017-18.

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Puljujarvi’s NHL equivalency, which estimates a player’s production in the NHL from historical data from other players who have made the transition, is around 37 points. A 37-point forward is a useful middle-six player.

Teams interested in acquiring Puljujarvi should reasonably expect him to come in and play on a second or third line next season. He’ll be on a dirt-cheap contract, which should appeal to contenders and bottom feeders on a budget. At 22-years old, Puljujarvi is young enough where it wouldn’t be a major surprise if he blossomed into a defensively responsible winger who could score 40-50 points.

The Liiga is a good enough league where Puljujarvi’s scoring has value. It’s unfortunate the relationship between the Oilers and Puljujarvi is fractured. Kailer Yamamoto’s mid-season success shows the need for young, skilled players up front. Maybe Puljujarvi has a change of heart and returns to the Oilers in 2020-21, but more likely he ends up as part of a package for a forward before the trade deadline or the 2020 draft. Puljujarvi’s scoring point-per-game in a good league and that should entice another team to take a chance on the former fourth-overall pick in 2016.

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