It doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re in, there are times when we make up our minds and dig in our heels about something. We get stubborn. We’d rather cut off our nose to spite our face than take a second look and reconsider our position. I’ve been guilty of it. You’ve probably been guilty of it too. My mind is made up. I’m not changing it.
Pride gets in the way. Hurt feelings can get in the way. Rather than take a second thoughtful look at things when a relationship goes sideways, you say or do something that makes things worse, that there’s no taking back. I’ve seen that happen a time or two with players and teams in the years I’ve spent around the NHL. “I’m outta here,” the player says. “Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out,” the team says. Done.
I’m glad the Edmonton Oilers and Jesse Puljujarvi have managed to navigate their way around that kind of situation when it looked like it might go that way not so long ago — when Puljujarvi said he’d rather stay home than play for the Oilers, which he did. The history we know, as outlined very well here by Jason Gregor, so there’s no need to go through all of that again.
Instead, general manager Ken Holland and coach Dave Tippett, who fall into the age group of hockey men who can sometimes be stubborn when it comes to such matters, have been exactly the opposite. They’ve let Puljujarvi know the door of opportunity with the Oilers is wide open to him, no matter what has happened in the past. All he has to is walk through it. Watching Puljujarvi skate at training camp with the team these days with a big sloppy smile on his face, he looks ready to take at run at doing exactly that.
“I think both guys want me here,” Puljujarvi said today in reference to Holland and Tippett. “I was thinking I can be a good teammate here, help the team be better. I really like these couple days how I come in here and play. Everything is going well.”
WHAT THEY SAID
“He’s a monster of a man,” Tippett said yesterday after watching Puljujarvi go through his paces. “I love that he’s smiling. He looks like he loves to play and has a high skill for a big man . . . there were a lot of comments about how good Jesse looks on the ice and how happy he is. He’s engaging with his teammates, so it’s a good first step.”
Puljujarvi is still only 22 as he begins what amounts to an encore with the Oilers after playing in Finland. The lanky right winger has a clean slate with Holland and Tippett. There is no history, good or bad, to cloud what is happening here. What happens next matters far more than what happened before. That’s an approach Holland and Tippett have preached for months.
“A player like Jesse, I’ve talked to him on the phone a few times but it’s good to get the in-person and get a feel for each other,” Tippett said. “Then you get them on the ice and get a feel for what they can do on the ice, and where the chemistry is going to fit on our team. Hopefully, I can continue to get to know him and we’ll see how he does in some situations, but he looked pretty good for his first day.”
Holland and Tippett were willing to welcome Puljujarvi back into the fold before last season, but that’s not something the big kid and his agent were ready to do at the time. I thought Puljujarvi made a mistake by not taking them up on the offer to return to the Oilers then, but it didn’t play out that way. So, you can either stew about that decision and let it get in the way or you can let it go and look ahead as Holland and Tippett have. It’s sometimes easier said than done.
THE BOTTOM LINE
We don’t know how it’s going to go with Puljujarvi this time around based on a couple of days of training camp, but the Oilers getting the opportunity to find out is better than no chance at all. Will the success Puljujarvi had with Karpat translate here? Will the skills the prompted the Oilers to take Puljujarvi fourth overall in the 2016 Entry draft finally show themselves in more than flashes here and there? Where does he fit on the right side? Again, we don’t know. My guess is on the third line alongside Kyle Turris to start, but that still has to play out.
“This is like, 24-7 you have to be professional,” Puljujarvi said when asked about what he’s done to improve his game. “Just like, being healthy, work hard. You get older. I think you can prove all the time yourself, try to be the best of yourself. That’s what I try to do every day, to be a better hockey player.”
After time away, maybe the 22-year-old version of Puljujarvi is exactly what Tippett needs on a right side that has Zack Kassian and Kailer Yamamoto ahead of him on the depth chart to start this abbreviated camp. Maybe there’s a fit the 19-year-old version of Puljujarvi wasn’t ready for. The door is at least open for that now, which is a helluva lot better than the alternative.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
- Deeper Blue
- From the Top: Ken Holland
- Gretzky, Messier and What Happens with That Third Line
- At Random: Progress
- On Second Thought