The rumors surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks have gone rampant in the past week. Big news came from NHL insider Elliotte Friedman that the Blackhawks are open to listening to trade offers on any player not named Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Seth Jones. This doesn’t exactly come as a surprise because rebuild entails notable changes. However, if the Blackhawks are to lose major pieces this offseason, they’re going to need help replenishing. The trade market is a big avenue to explore as well as free agency, and there is a player that could interest them in those departments: Jesse Puljujarvi.
Puljujarvi’s Edmonton Tenure
24-year-old Puljujarvi has been puzzling for the Edmonton Oilers, filled with monumental highs and lows. He was drafted fourth overall in the 2016 NHL Draft and made his debut with the Oilers in 2017 against the New York Rangers. Then, after only recording 17 goals and 37 points in 139 games and enduring a season-ending hip surgery, he requested a trade from the Oilers after the 2018-19 season. General manager Ken Holland said he didn’t receive an offer that interested him, so he didn’t end up trading him (from ‘How Jesse Puljujarvi, as a player and person, became perfect fit for Oilers: ‘He’s at home now,’ The AthleticNHL, 06/10/2022).
Working on re-signing Puljujarvi then became a labor of love. Since contract negotiations were not gaining traction, in Aug. 2019, he signed a one-year contract with Oulun Karpat of the Finnish Liiga. He excelled with 53 points in 56 games, which was fourth in the league in scoring. He then signed another one-year deal with Oulum Karpat in Aug. 2020, which included an NHL opt-out clause to allow him to return if he received a deal from the Oilers. He came back to North America in October when Holland gave him a two-year, $2.35 million contract.
The 17 months in Finland seemed to do wonders for Puljujarvi as he returned to the team with a fresh mindset. He finished the 2020-21 season with 25 points (15 goals, 10 assists) and was a plus-6 in 55 games. Last season, he made another statement with his game, notching 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) and was a plus-22 in 65 games, setting a new career-high in points. Although he has played up and down the lineup, he has spent a lot of time on the top line with Connor McDavid, and according to Natural Stat Trick, that duo has worked well together. During the 2021-22 season, when Puljujarvi and McDavid played together, they had 34 goals for and 15 goals against. Now that Puljujarvi is a restricted free agent (RFA), his career with the Oilers is in question again.
What Puljujarvi Can Bring to Chicago
First of all, Puljujarvi is described as a top-six forward, which is appealing right off the bat. When looking at the Blackhawks’ lineup, they have a lot of depth forwards but not enough who have top-six potential. Besides the usual suspects of DeBrincat, Kane, Toews, Dylan Strome, and Dominik Kubalik, there isn’t enough versatility in that role, which has hurt the team in many ways because it produces over-reliance on the top-six players. It also forces coaches to put depth forwards in top-line roles that they wouldn’t normally play. For example, Tyler Johnson and Sam Lafferty are both bottom-six players that saw time there last season. To win games, you have to put players in positions to succeed, and that is Puljujarvi in a top-line role. It also helps because with the Blackhawks possibly getting a drastic makeover this offseason and being unsure which players will return, Puljujarvi could be an option to fill in someone’s place.
Puljujarvi can also provide the little things that the Blackhawks have been missing, as he is a two-way player who is defensively sound. That’s crucial with a struggling defense and not enough forwards who play that type of game. He has been a plus on the plus/minus spectrum the past two seasons, and with the Blackhawks, for example, not one player was a plus last season. Although those stats don’t always tell the whole story, it shows what he can contribute. He is on the ice for goals more often than not and that is something you want to see if you’re Chicago. He also provides a net-front presence and is good at banging in rebounds.
The Blackhawks’ power play ranked 21st in the league and has to improve next year. Puljujarvi’s net-front presence can help at even strength and on the power play to give them a boost. Overall, he can score, and set up plays. He can be streaky, though, as he started last season with 17 points in the first 20 games but then finished the season with six goals in 52 games. He has to be more consistent, yet, he is improving every season in that department.
Puljujarvi Crosses Things Off the Blackhawks’ Checklist
As far as Puljujarvi’s game is concerned, he carries every quality that general manager Kyle Davidson said he was looking for this offseason, as he previously mentioned wanting speed and players with high character and compete for the future. At 6-foot-4 and 201 pounds, Puljujarvi can move exceptionally well for his size. He has been described as a strong and fast player, which are some physical qualities that make the checklist.
If Davidson is looking for a reference for the other attributes of effort and character, look no further than McDavid. In an interview with The Athletic, he stated, “he’s worked hard at his game. He’s changed his game. Before he left, I don’t think he wanted to do those things. He didn’t want to forecheck. He didn’t want to play hard. And now he’s come back and that’s his specialty. He’s hard on pucks, he’s a big man, he goes to the net hard, and makes D-men pay the price if they want to box him out. That’s the kind of winger we need.” (from ‘He’s transformed himself’: How Jesse Puljujarvi 2.0 is making an impact for the Oilers like never before,’ The AthleticNHL, 5/4/21).
Besides Puljujarvi’s on-ice persona, his teammates rave about his personality off the ice. His coaches and teammates mentioned how his happy personality and smile have been infectious in the locker room. The Blackhawks could use that positive energy for the future.
Puljujarvi’s RFA status carries a qualifying offer of $1.4 million and arbitration rights. The latter can make negotiations tricky, but the former is very reasonable. The Hawks want salary cap flexibility, and with that amount, I don’t see them having to negotiate a hefty contract for him. The best course of action for the Blackhawks would be to trade for him because the Oilers currently have his negotiating rights. The Oilers were connected to Kubalik at the trade deadline in March, so that could be a trade proposal. The writing is on the wall that Puljujarvi has the skill, and most believe he has yet to reach his full potential. The one hiccup is that he needs shoulder surgery with a four to six week timetable for return. It’s hard to say how he will perform next season with his recovery, but for a rebuilding team like Chicago, that should be a chance you’re willing to take.
Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.