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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

I Wish I Had Jesse’s Game

After taking a playful poke at Dustin Nielson on Twitter today for another TSN 1260 morning show dedicated to extolling the virtues of Jesse Puljujarvi, I should set the record straight. Flaws and all, I like the player Puljujarvi has been since he returned to the Edmonton Oilers from taking time away to play with Karpat.

His duly noted inability to finish around the net lately aside, I like where Puljujarvi is at in most aspects of his game and the direction he’s headed 253 games into his NHL career. So do many of you — just not as much as Dusty. I’m not alone in that. Thus, my little tweak at him today.

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I was kidding of course. Well, sort of. Puljujarvi has been a very polarizing player since he arrived with the Oilers in 2016-17. That remains the case today even though it’s obvious to anybody paying the slightest bit of attention he’s made big strides in many aspects of his game.

Puljujarvi’s fuel for the critics right now is that he’s scored just one goal in his last 13 games. That’s not good enough when you’re playing alongside Connor McDavid. Puljujarvi had two prime chances in the Oilers 2-1 shootout loss to Colorado Saturday. No cigar.

AROUND THE NET

Oct 16, 2021; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi (13) celebrates a third period goal against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Puljujarvi is doing a lot of things right. He is harder on the puck and on the forecheck in the offensive zone. He creates space and opportunities around the net. He makes the people he plays with, like McDavid, better. There are a lot of positive components to his game. The analytics guys have numbers to show it. Puljujarvi just hasn’t been able to add to the 13 goals he’s scored. Darcy Kuemper stopped him twice point-blank Saturday. 

That gets noticed. “Just bury something, kid.” Mark Spector of Sportsnet put it this way: “It was a tough night for streaks, as McDavid saw his 15-game points streak ground to a halt on the end of Puljujarvi’s stick. The big Finn was robbed twice by Kuemper on sloppy shots that gave the goaltender a chance to make a save that he should not have been given. 

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“Also fading into memory was Edmonton’s nine-game home winning streak, and their six-game winning streak. Had they won the shootout it would have been the first time since 2001 that Edmonton had won seven straight games.”

The best thing for Puljujarvi, who isn’t yet into double-digits in his career shooting percentage, would be to put something in the net and get unstuck from Unlucky 13. The sooner the better. That aside, if there’s a positive here, it’s that the things Puljujarvi does well — his possession numbers come to mind — tend to matter even more when things tighten up in post-season.

Who doesn’t want to score goals? Puljujarvi needs two more to match his career-high from last season. Keep on going to the paint. Keep being a net-front presence. Lean on opposing defencemen in the corners. Eventually, something goes in. I’m guessing that coach Jay Woodcroft is counting on it.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

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