The Edmonton Oilers recently demoted Finnish rookie Jesse Puljujärvi down to the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League. Despite the temporary setback, there is still a great reason to believe that he will become an important piece of the Edmonton Oilers moving forward. The real question is, what role will he play among the stockpile of young talent already in place for the Oilers that includes All-Star captain Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson.
Who exactly is this Puljujärvi character?
You may have trouble pronouncing his name, but you will definitely recognize him and his “Out of World ” smile. The rookie with the contagious smile is part of an upcoming generation of Finnish talent slowly making their mark on the NHL. The group includes Patrik Laine, Aleksander Barkov, Rasmus Ristolainen, Sebastian Aho and Mikko Rantanen to name a few.
Like his fellow countryman, Puljujärvi is more seasoned than your average 18-year-old. His journey to professional hockey started early, he began playing against men at the age of 15 in the Mestis Ice Hockey League for Hokki Kajaani in Finland. He later graduated to play two more seasons with Karpat, in the SM-Liiga. Having over three seasons of professional experience before being NHL draft eligible definitely, gives him an edge over other prospects of the same age. So despite his unimpressive start to his NHL career, there is still reason to believe that he will blossom into a very good NHL player very soon.
World Juniors 2016
He first caught the eye of many North American fans at the 2016 IIHF World Juniors Championship Tournament. He played on one of the greatest forward lines in the history of the tournament, that included Patrick Laine, Sebastian Aho and Puljujärvi himself. The trio dominated the tournament and finished 1-2-3 in scoring, helping Finland capture their fourth ever gold medal. Puljujärvi also earned the prestigious honors of being named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament, joining an impressive list of successful NHLers including Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, John Tavares, Peter Forsberg and Jarome Iginla.
2016 NHL Draft
Puljujärvi was ranked as the third best eligible prospect going into the 2016 NHL Entry Draft behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. Scouting reports described him as being a big, mobile, and an all-around winger who can pass and score. Nobody expected him to fall out of the top three but the Columbus Blue Jackets general manager, Jarmo Kekäläinen, surprised everyone and used the third overall pick to draft Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
Coincidentally, it was also Dubois’ birthday on June 24 in Buffalo, so the Columbus Blue Jackets gave him a birthday to remember. The Edmonton Oilers didn’t miss out on the festivities either as they were essentially gifted a potential franchise winger in Puljujärvi when he fell into their lap at fourth overall. This unexpected outcome gave the Oilers the depth that they needed on the right wing heading into 2016/17 season.
Early career and analysis
Puljujärvi wasn’t expected to make the team right out of training camp in fall of 2016, but the Oilers were willing to give him a long look. At 6’4'' and over 200 lbs with superb speed and puck handling skills, he was seen as NHL ready by many. Despite having an average training camp he managed to make the Oilers at the start the season. Unfortunately, he couldn’t carry that momentum into his early NHL career.
In 28 games with the Edmonton Oilers, he only managed to score one goal and seven assists, averaging 11:15 of ice time per game and was a healthy scratch often. Oilers coach Todd McLellan had trouble trying to find a consistent role for Puljujärvi. Although he has shown flashes of brilliance, his overall play hasn’t warranted him enough playing time to stick with the big club. At this point, demoting him to the AHL for more playing time and development is probably the best move for both sides.
Adjustments Puljujärvi needs to make to stay in the NHL
There are a few areas in Puljujärvi’s game that need to improve and they include:
Decision making with the puck
He seems to have trouble making the right decisions with the puck, like many rookies he has the tendency to over carry the puck in the neutral zone. As a result, they turn into costly turnovers which are a coach’s nightmare. With more experience, Puljujärvi will make better decisions with the puck. In the meantime, it is probably best for him to stick with simple plays - like passing it off to a teammate or dumping it into the offensive zone.
His play away from the puck
He also needs to improve his play away from the puck. At times he is caught puck watching and is not skating into good positions to support his linemates. Therefore, they can’t give him the puck in optimal positions to utilize his speed and driving ability. This will come as he continues to adjust to the NHL level and fine tunes his positioning. In the meantime, he could probably learn a few things from teammates Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Drake Caggiula who are usually positionally sound in all three zones of the ice.
He needs to use his size more often
With his frame, I think that he can make himself much more effective by learning to use his size better in the corners and along the boards. On the forecheck, I don’t see him finishing his checks either, if he makes improvements in those areas he will open up more space for himself and his linemates to retrieve the puck and sustain offensive zone pressure. There are a few teammates that he can definitely learn from in that category, including Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, and Zack Kassian.
Projections at NHL Level, who he reminds me of
Like many NHL scouts, I project him to be a top line winger and possibly the future number one right winger of the Edmonton Oilers. With a rare combination of size, skill, and speed, he has shown great promise to become a solid two-way player that can be used in multiple situations.
Ideally, as an Oilers fan, I would love to see him fulfill his potential and become McDavid’s right-hand man for many years to come. In terms of player comparison; I see a bit of Blake Wheeler and Marian Hossa in his game. But perhaps with less physicality than Wheeler and slightly better playmaking abilities than Hossa.
Do you think that Jesse Puljujärvi will become a franchise winger for the Edmonton Oilers? If so, how soon?