Nothing is certain yet, but it looks like Jesse Puljujarvi will be a part of the 2020-21 Oilers.
On Thursday, Mark Spector reported at Sportsnet that he expects, after communicating with both camps, that the former fourth-overall pick will be back with the Oilers at training camp.
Puljujarvi, as we know, requested a trade last summer, seeking a change in scenery after things didn’t work out for him in Edmonton. He ended up spending the year with Karpat in Finland’s top professional league, scoring 24 goals and 53 points over 56 games.
This time last year, it seemed that Puljujarvi had played his last game as an Oiler. But rather than rushing into a trade, general manager Ken Holland remained patient and allowed the young Finn a chance to return home and regain his confidence. Now, here we are, a year later, and it looks like Puljujarvi is ready to give his career in Edmonton another go.
There’s no doubt that Puljujarvi’s work in the NHL has been disappointing thus far. While other players from the 2016 draft like Matthew Tkachuk and Pierre-Lud Dubois have hit the ground running, Puljujarvi struggled in his transition to the North American professional game. Through three seasons, Puljujarvi has 17 goals and 37 points over 139 NHL games.
But it’s important to remember that he’s only 22 years old. If Puljujarvi were a North American skater, he would have been able to spend two years after his draft playing major junior. The 2019-20 season would have been only his second professional season in North America.
Looking elsewhere in the 2016 draft, No. 5 pick Olli Juolevi hasn’t yet made his NHL debut and other top picks like Logan Brown and Jake Bean are still honing their craft in the AHL. So as ho-hum as Puljujarvi’s first few seasons in North America went, he’s still far from a bust. It’ll be interesting to see what he can do now with the confidence of a very strong season in Finland under his belt.
Again, no deal has been finalized between Puljujarvi and the Oilers, but Spector is a very well-connected reporter and I believe that we can trust the accuracy of his report. So, assuming he’s back, where does Puljujarvi best fit on the 2020-21 Oilers?
Looking at Edmonton’s roster composition, there are two clear needs up front: a third-line centre and a top-six winger to play alongside Connor McDavid.
The trio of Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was a revelation this season. They dominated opponents to the extent where you could argue they were the best forward line in hockey. But, as great as that line was, it left McDavid pretty much by himself.
Could Puljujarvi be The Answer on McDavid’s wing?
The two have quite a bit of experience playing together. Between 2016 and 2019, McDavid was Puljujarvi’s most common linemate at even strength. The two played 407:45 together with very positive results. They boasted a 479-to-391 shot attempt share and 24-to-15 goal differential.
The issue here is that Puljujarvi is a right-winger and Zack Kassian has also been excellent on McDavid’s right wing. Kassian was good enough in that spot that Holland inked him to a rich multi-year extension back in January. Logic would indicate that Kassian begins the 2019-20 season on McDavid’s right.
Assuming that the duo of Draisaitl and Yamamoto stick together, that might then leave Puljujarvi playing on Edmonton’s third line with whichever centre Holland finds this off-season. Puljujarvi and Ryan Strome did good work together a couple of years ago, outscoring opponents 10-to-8 at even strength over 306:43 minutes. Strome obviously isn’t here anymore, but that’s an indication of how Puljujarvi fared playing third-line duty.
Personally, I would like to see Puljujarvi and McDavid have an extended look together next season. The numbers suggest that the duo did very well and it would give the young Finn his best chance to hit the ground running in his return.