Amongst the many mistakes the Edmonton Oilers front office has made in the past decade, prospect development has ranked high on the list. For proof of this, look no further than the mismanagement of young Finnish forward Jesse Puljujarvi. Unable to find his stride at the NHL level to this point, frustrations are flying high in Edmonton. Despite the imperfection of his early NHL career, recent history shows the Oilers should exercise patience in outcasting another one of their highly regarded prospects.
Oilers Jesse Puljujärvi Not The Only Recent Late Bloomer
Coming off a historic World Junior Championships performance in 2016, Puljujärvi was taken fourth overall by Edmonton in the 2016 draft. As Oilers radio analyst Bob Stauffer notes, his expectations were high given Puljujärvi’s previous accomplishments:
On Jesse Puljujarvi.
I am the first to admit I would have thought he would’ve gained more traction to this point in his NHL career.
Especially given his performance in 2016 WJC.
He is still only 20.
Life (let alone hockey) isn’t always one continuous upward trajectory
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) February 15, 2019
As Stauffer states here, a players trajectory is not always upward and steady. Although this describes the current situation for Puljujärvi well, he is certainly not the first highly touted prospect to stumble out of the gate.
Drafted a year prior and one spot higher than Puljujärvi (2015 third overall) by the Arizona Coyotes, expectations for Dylan Strome were very high. Much like Puljujärvi, Strome represented his country at the WJC twice, which in Canada did little to slow the hype surrounding the player. Despite this, success at the pro level did not come easy for Strome early on. Unable to find a regular NHL roster spot, Strome tallied 16 points in 48 scattered appearances for the Coyotes during a three-season period. With another post-season free campaign looking likely, the Coyotes felt they needed to make a change. This change consisted of trading Dylan Strome and teammate Brendan Perlini to the Chicago Blackhawks for Nick Schmaltz.
That's Dylan Strome's 10th multipoint game in 32 games with the Blackhawks. Yeah, that trade's working out OK.
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) February 10, 2019
As the Athletic’s Mark Lazerus states, Chicago have heavily benefited from the addition of Strome already. Since his arrival in the windy city, Strome has looked like the player scouts originally pegged him to be. 37 games into his Blackhawk career and Strome is nearly a point per game player, providing 36 points to date. Be it familiarity with former junior teammate Alex DeBrincat or simply a change of scenery, something has sparked Strome. Regardless of the cause, Arizona general manager John Chayka has surely been kicking himself over the Strome-Schmaltz swap so far.
Fellow countryman and former WJC teammate Kasperi Kapanen, like Puljujärvi, started his North American hockey career slower than some expected. Originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 2014, Kapanen was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Phil Kessel trade. At the time, Kapanen’s value had dropped within Pittsburgh’s camp and moving him was done so without a second thought. In fact, the Penguins weren’t the only people skeptical of Kapanen’s potential. After the trade to Toronto, TSN’s Craig Button questioned whether Kapanen was consistent enough to be a regular NHL player.
After spending some time with the Leafs AHL affiliate, Kapanen found himself in the NHL lineup last January.
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) January 23, 2018
Since that call-up, Kapanen has been a fixture in the Leafs lineup appearing in 98 consecutive games. This season Kapanen has scored 18 goals and added 19 assists in 60 appearances, good for fourth on the team. Questions of Kapanen’s consistency or NHL capabilities have long been dismissed. Although the trade has worked out quite well for Pittsburgh, Penguins fans are sure to be thinking “what if?” having seen Kapanen find his stride in Toronto.
Possible Solutions for Oilers and Puljujärvi
Give Puljujärvi Chance To Develop In AHL
One of the common factors in Strome and Kapanen’s growth into quality NHL players was AHL success. Both players had point per game seasons in the AHL between their NHL growing pains and their eventual success. Puljujärvi, on the other hand, has played only 14 AHL games over the past two seasons. Confidence and comfort are tough to build when a player isn’t given enough time to settle in with a team. An extended stretch of playing games and adding points is necessary for any young, skilled forward.
Increase Minutes, Play With Skilled Players
When a player is struggling to produce offence, limited ice time is not the best way to break a slump. Similarly, playing with fourth line level talent doesn’t make the job any easier. A promotion in the line-up, playing alongside the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl would strongly benefit Puljujärvi. This has been evident for both Strome in Chicago as well as Kapanen in Toronto. Playing alongside DeBrincat and Auston Matthews, respectively, has played a huge role in the two players young careers. On top of the increased 5v5 opportunity, both skaters have benefited from the chance to play regular powerplay minutes. With the skill he possesses, Jesse Puljujärvi is exactly the type of player which warrants powerplay time.
Make The Right Trade
If ultimately the Oilers and Puljujärvi can’t make it work, a trade is a sensible solution for both sides. Recent comments from Puljuärvi’s agent Markus Lehto show the idea of leaving Edmonton is at least being considered:
Jesse Puljujarvi's agent, Markus Lehto, tells Sportset he is unsure if staying with Edmonton is best for his client.
Column to come shortly. pic.twitter.com/QtSFGI00M6
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) February 16, 2019
If the Oilers do trade Puljujärvi down the road, it should be carefully considered and not rushed. TSN’s Ryan Rishaug recently backed the Oilers faith in Puljujärvi and claimed his trade value remains high:
I think the return needed to convince the Oilers to trade Puljujarvi would be quite high. Team still believes in the player and if return isn’t what they want they’ll be happy to sit tight and continue working with him.
— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) February 15, 2019
At the end of the day, trading Puljujärvi should be the last resort for the Oilers. In the past decade, trades and draft choices have not been kind to the Oilers and their fanbase. Trading Puljujärvi and watching him flourish on a new NHL team could be the last straw for some Edmonton fans.
EDMONTON, AB – NOVEMBER 29: Jesse Puljujarvi #98 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against Mitch Marner #16 and Tyler Bozak #42 of the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 29, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)