Having seen stubbornness ignite a tire fire more than a time or two over the years when the relationship between a team and a player goes sideways, I wasn’t very confident just a few months ago that Jesse Puljujarvi had any kind of a future with the Edmonton Oilers.
Yet, here we are today, and there’s a chance he does. Whenever the NHL gets back into the rink for the 2020-21 season, it looks like Puljujarvi will have a clean slate to work with here in Edmonton after spending time away playing in Finland based on what we’ve seen and heard the last few weeks.
First, Puljujarvi, who had no interest in playing with the Oilers to start last season and instead piled up points back home, softened his stance. Then, after talks between agent Markus Lehto and GM Ken Holland, Puljujarvi inked a two-year deal with an AAV of $1.175 million before free agency opened. Money talks, and this was a good deal for the team and the player.
Today, Oilers’ coach Dave Tippett had his say about Puljujarvi on Oilers Now with host Bob Stauffer. He made it abundantly clear that whatever happened between the team and Puljujarvi before he and Holland arrived is in the past. Rather than look back at things he can’t change, Tippett is looking ahead and sounds determined to get it right. What, after all, is there to be gained by looking back and doing it any other way?
WHAT HE SAID
“I didn’t know Jesse at all,” Tippett said. “We started having conversations in the middle of the year last year between Ken Holland, myself, his agent, Jesse, just to get to know him. As those conversations moved on, we got more comfortable with each other. I watched most of Jesse’s games this year. He’s playing very well.
“Having a chance to talk to him a little bit, you know, he’s an interesting guy. Like I say, I don’t know what happened before. I’ve heard stories, but he’s taken a lot of responsibility for that himself. He knows he came over, he was a young guy, didn’t know the language, lots of things to learn. Not just on the ice, but lots of things to learn off the ice and it overwhelmed him a little bit.
“So, he’s gone home. You watch him play now, he’s a different player. He’s such a dominant player in the Finnish League right now. He’s taken responsibility. His English is good. He’s anxious to come over and prove that he can be a good player in the best league in the world. He’s willing to play anywhere we want him to play, play any role we want him to play.
“He just wants to come over and fit in and be a good player for the Edmonton Oilers. Right now, watching him in Finland, he’s a top power play guy, a top five-on-five guy. They even have him killing penalties over there. He’s a much more well-rounded player. That happens. It’s just maturity in a player. For him, it’s maturity as a hockey player and maturity as a person. I think we’ll get a much better player coming in here this time.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
The chicken-and-egg thing with Puljujarvi – about whether he struggled during his first tenure here because he didn’t get a fair shake in the top six or because he didn’t earn a fair shake – does not matter now. Neither does the reality he was rushed to the NHL roster instead of spending another year back home developing. It’s easy to forget Puljujarvi is still only 22. He’s a kid.
Holland and Tippett are anything but that – the GM is 64 and his coach is 59. Birth certificates aside, Holland and Tippett have been around long enough to not let a generation gap get in the way. In a situation like this, there’s nothing to be gained by going old school, hard ass on Puljujarvi because he got frustrated and packed his gear and went home.
You can’t handle players that way today, but I’m not telling Holland and Tippett anything they haven’t known for years. As for what’s next when the teams finally get back into the rink, I expect we’ll see Puljujarvi start on the third line alongside veteran centre Kyle Turris and then we’ll go from there.
The rest, as in where he fits in the line-up and how he fits in the locker room moving forward, is up to Puljujarvi and what he does with the opportunity. As it should be.