On Tuesday afternoon, the Edmonton Oilers announced that they had come to an agreement with restricted free agent (RFA) Jesse Puljujarvi on a one-year contract that will carry a cap hit of $3 million. According to Jason Gregor, management was looking for a deal worth $2.8 million, while Puljujarvi’s camp hoped for $3.2 million. Instead of going to arbitration, the two sides managed to find common ground to get this deal done.
One of the bigger Oilers storylines heading into this offseason was the future of Puljujarvi, though his contract status had little to do with it. Instead, it involved a potential trade, one that the media considered a matter of time. This reportedly stemmed from both sides believing a fresh start might benefit the 24-year-old, who struggled immensely during the second half of the 2021-22 season, and although the two sides came to an agreement, that does not mean the possibility of a trade is now out the window.
Puljujarvi a Protected Asset at a Cheap Cost
Because Puljujarvi’s contract is just for one year, he will still be an RFA at the end of the 2022-23 season. This is extremely important for any team showing interest in the Finnish winger, as they won’t have to worry about him leaving via free agency next offseason. On top of that, the $3 million price point isn’t a hard one to fit in for most teams.
Given that Puljujarvi is likely considered a bit of a reclamation project, those teams most interested in him are likely in rebuilding/retooling stages. For the most part, this means that they have the cap space to bring him in and can afford to be much more patient with him than a team like the Oilers, who are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
As for why teams are interested in him, there are a number of reasons. While his finishing skills leave plenty to be desired, he is an analytics darling who is relentless on the forecheck and forces turnovers. This tenacity has made him a great winger for Connor McDavid, as he could maintain possession more often than not. On top of that, he is a much better defensive player than he is given credit for and even received his first ever Selke Trophy vote this past season.
Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad, like Puljujarvi’s finishing skills or lack thereof. After starting the 2021-22 season red hot with 10 goals and 23 points through 29 games, he finished with a rather disappointing 14 goals and 36 points in 65 outings. Those totals are even more disappointing, given that he spent a good chunk of the season on McDavid’s wing.
Despite his lack of finishing skills, there is still plenty to like about his game. The slow start to his career offensively, matched with his very strong play away from the puck, has drawn comparisons to Valeri Nichuskin, who took time to develop but has become a force and was recently rewarded with an 8-year, $49 million deal. Whether or not Puljujarvi can turn into that type of player remains to be seen, but there is no denying that he still has plenty of potential, and because of that potential, a trade out of Edmonton before next season isn’t a guarantee before.
Oilers Can’t Give Puljujarvi Away
While management may be correct in thinking that Puljujarvi may benefit from a change of scenery, they need to make sure they don’t give him away. Several reports have suggested he hasn’t received a ton of interest on the trade market, as other teams, along with the Oilers, can’t figure out exactly what his ceiling is.
To Puljujarvi, a significant player needs to be coming back. The Oilers are in win-now mode, meaning that parting ways with a capable, top-nine scoring winger and receiving nothing but a draft pick in return won’t cut it. If Edmonton can’t find a capable defenceman or a top-nine forward in return, there isn’t much point in making a trade. Instead, they would be better off seeing how the season plays out and hope that he can turn into the force many believe he is capable of becoming.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.