Another loss for the Edmonton Oilers. Another game where Jesse Puljujarvi was underused and confused.
Finishing the game with only 14 shifts over 9:31 seconds of ice time, Puljujvari was ineffective — as he has been on many nights in an Oilers uniform. But, it’s hard to tell if his lack of success is on him or the organization. Playing under a coach who specifically brought him up from the AHL to guide him as an NHL prospect, Oilers’ bench boss Ken Hitchcock now has Puljujarvi regularly riding his bench or playing on the fourth line. His deployment is not exactly what one would hope from a coach that just ‘had to have this player in Edmonton.’
It Only Gets Worse For Puljujarvi
To make matters worse, Puljujarvi’s agent was in the crowd on Friday checking in on his client and said the following:
“It’s kind of hard for me to think you can hit the reset button… Going to the American League… Jesse was already there. There was a great plan, then things changed… Are we reaching the point that for the team and for the player, it might be actually beneficial for going different paths, different routes?”
That quote comes courtesy of an article from Mark Spector of Sportsnet who quoted a conversation between Puljujravi’s agent Markus Lehto and CEO and vice-chairman of the Oilers Entertainment Group, Bob Nicholson. Lehto made those comments when asked about the prospect of sending his client back down to Bakersfield to get him more playing time and make him part of the winning culture — the Condors have won 13-straight games.
The Oilers could still do so, but in making that move, if Puljujarvi has no desire to go back to the AHL, Edmonton now has an unhappy player on their hands. And, if you’ve seen Puljujarvi’s demeanor on the bench, in the locker room or around the boys, he’s a player that is rarely unhappy.
Yet, here both the Oilers and Puljujuarvi seem to be.
What’s Next for Jesse?
If this turns into a situation much like what the Oilers went through with Nail Yakupov, that would be a real shame. What Puljujarvi could become as an NHL winger, no one yet knows. He’s got size and skill and shows flashes of being dynamic. He just can’t seem to put it together consistently. With the good comes the bad for a young player but the way NHL players tend to progress suggests it’s far too early to give up on a prospect with as high a ceiling as everyone believed Puljujarvi could have as a fourth-overall drafted player.
But, based on the comments from the agent, if Puljujarvi feels likewise, how does the team and player move forward together without a trade on the horizon?
The Oilers Can’t Trade Him Now
Edmonton just released a general manager who was fired for making terrible trades. If Puljujarvi is moved before the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25, this would be another bad move in a long line of bad moves. It would be a sign that nothing has changed. Already forced to move Cam Talbot on Friday, the Oilers really can’t afford to make any more bad moves.
Puljujarvi is struggling and as a struggling player, you don’t sell low when you know — or at least have a good idea — that at some point, he’ll rebound.
Many will argue Puljujarvi hasn’t been given a chance in Edmonton. Others will ask what more of a chance he needs? Most should agree, (chances or not) he’s far too young and too gifted a prospect to simply throw in the towel already.
And, if his agent is trying to force the hand of the Oilers and is asking for a trade in a roundabout way, the Oilers need to put their foot down quickly and say, ‘Look kid, we’ll see what’s out there but we have high hopes for you and we won’t trade unless someone knocks our socks off.’
Sadly, if it has come to the point where a conversation like that needs to be had, things may be far too gone.