Edmonton Oilers Jesse Puljujärvi Situation A Delicate One

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Jesse Puljujarvi Top Edmonton Oilers Prospects
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)

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:

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.

Dylan Strome

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.

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.

Kasperi Kapanen

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.

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:

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:

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)

2 COMMENTS

  1. Uh…after 2 cups, a career high in points and a Conn caliber performance in the 1st cup run I can pretty much guarantee that no Pens fans are saying “What if” with Kasperi….let alone with the certainty and abundance that using the word “surely” to describe those fans inquiries connotates. You make that trade 100 times out of 100 and when hindsight is taken into consideration, even though you can’t get better than 100 times out of 100, you still exhaust all resources to figure out a way to improve that number

  2. Hi Josh,
    The point of the Kapanen connection was not to question whether Pittsburgh won or lost the deal (as I stated Pittsburgh did quite well in my opinion). What’s worth noting was their willingness to let him go when other prospects at the time were considered untouchable (eg. Derrick Pouliot) and the different directions their careers have gone since that point. The “what if?” here lies in the fact that numerous other prospects would’ve got the deal done in Kasperi’s place. Given Kapanen’s play this season, I’m sure every team in the league could find a place in the lineup for him on the wing (Pittsburgh included). Nonetheless, as you point out Pittsburgh certainly won’t be losing sleep over this deal thanks to back to back Cups softening the blow
    Thanks for reading!

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