Puljujarvi Could Become Second-Best Player from 2016 NHL Draft

Jesse Puljujarvi now has 12 goals and 19 points in 44 games played this season for the Edmonton Oilers. In terms of where that ranks him for NHL points this season, he’s not close to the top of the standings. In fact, he’s all the way down in the low 200’s, ranking 216th among NHL players. Make no mistake, there’s no delusions here that the player has a long way to go.

That said, he’s starting the change the narrative when it comes to comparing him to other players from one particular category.

Ivan Provorov, Jesse Puljujarvi
Edmonton Oilers’ Jesse Puljujarvi, and Philadelphia Flyers’ Ivan Provorov (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Matt Slocum)

This has been a rebound season for Puljujarvi. He returned to Edmonton with a new attitude, a more mature outlook, a different frame of mind and an elevated game, having dominated for Karpat in the SM-liiga. He’s mixed in well with the Oilers top six, he’s felt welcomed by the team, and he appears to be a staple on the top line alongside Connor McDavid, the two building nice chemistry.

It’s an interesting turn of events, considering around this time last season, Puljujarvi was a player many fans wanted to ship out of Edmonton. He was easily an afterthought in the 2016 draft class, some many considered to be a bust. With that in mind, the way everything has fallen into place, is it fair to ask if Puljujarvi has the potential to be the second-best player from that class?

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Taking nothing away from players like Charlie McAvoy, Alex DeBrincat or Carter Hart… for the purposes of this discussion, I’ve focused on names from the top ten of players selected in this particular draft year. The reason is simply to weigh potential versus the results and the expected ceiling versus projections.

Auston Matthews Is Still The Man

In terms of picks from that season, Auston Matthews is still the prize of that particular draft. With 340 points in 324 games played, he’s far and away the best player to come out of that pool of prospects and his game just seems to improve year over year.

He’s not just an elite goal scorer, but his all-around game has gotten dramatically better with time and his leadership skills have improved as well. He’s arguably a top-five NHL star and many would say the contest is close between he and McDavid for the top player in the NHL.

Questions Surrounding Patrik Laine

If you look at his history in the NHL, along with the numbers he’s produced to date, one might find it hard to argue that Puljujarvi is a better player than Patrik Laine at this stage in their respective careers. That said, a lot has changed over the course of the last few months.

Specifically, well-respected NHL analyst John Shannon was on with Oilers Now with host Bob Stauffer this week and said, “By the way, when you look at what Puljujarvi has done… let’s just remind everybody that Patrik Laine has 10 goals.” He added, “Patrik Laine was supposed to be better than Puljujarvi this year..”

Patrik Laine Columbus Blue Jackets
Patrik Laine, Columbus Blue Jackets (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

While some might say that doesn’t mean Shannon is arguing that Puljujarvi is actually a better player than Laine, the veteran broadcaster argued that of the top-four, Jesse’s next. And, when a texter added to the show that he wouldn’t trade Puljujarvi for Laine right now, Shannon said, “I’m not trading Puljujarvi for anybody right now, not only because of what he’s done, but because of what the potential upside is.”

Part of the issue for Laine seems to be his attitude. He’s had trouble adjusting to teammates and coaches, both in Columbus and Winnipeg, and many suggest he’s got a sense of entitlement that he may not shake. The love insiders once had for this player seems to be fading quickly.

Pierre-Luc Dubois’ Upside

This season, Dubois is also not producing at the level many would have hoped. There was the drama in Columbus under coach John Tortorella and since joining the Winnipeg Jets, he’s got only eight goals and 19 points. That’s certainly not terrible and it’s more points than Puljujarvi has in fewer games, but it’s the potential upside and future outlook for these two players that becomes an interesting debate.

Pierre-Luc Dubois Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg Jets, Pierre-Luc Dubois (Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

At this stage, it’s fair to state Dubois is the better player. His 178 points in 269 games stands out when you compare the two. That he’s a center is just an added bonus. But, when it comes to potential, it’s hard to ignore what Puljujarvi is doing and some are wondering if there’s a brighter future ahead for the young winger.

If Puljujarvi continues the upward trend he’s on this season and gets minutes with a player like McDavid to close out the year and for most of 2021-22, how dangerous could Puljujarvi become? What is his ceiling?

Matthew Tkachuk

Another player who has struggled, you either love Matthew Tkachuk or you hate him. And, with how the Calgary Flames have seemingly imploded, and Tkachuk’s lack of production (10 goals) directly tied to that struggle, there are serious changes coming to the Flames organization. I don’t think you’ll find too many people who believe Tkachuk is a non-tradeable asset at this point.

Matthew Tkachuk Calgary Flames
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

No doubt, Tkachuk is skilled. He’s probably the best player on the Flames roster. It would take a lot to pry him loose from the Flames. But, if there’s a culture issue in Calgary and there’s any sort of trouble brewing, Tkachuk is typically where the first fingers are pointed. He’s supposed to be this team’s on-ice leader. At times, he acts like anything but.

Again, he’s got much higher production on his side. Still, in a year’s time, it’s more than fair to ask who you’d rather have on your team.

Puljujarvi Is Only Getting Better

What’s so exciting about Puljujarvi is the fact that every game seems to be better than the last. He’s now got 12 goals on the season, he’s solidified himself as a top-six forward and he’s still just figuring out his style of play and how it meshes in the NHL. Remember, this a player who has played a mere fraction of the games these other players have.

This is a big body who is learning to use his frame to his advantage. He’s not quite mean enough yet, but you can see that skill set starting to register in his thinking too. He’s confident, he’s skilled, he’s fast and he’s on a team-friendly contract that benefits Edmonton for at least another season beyond this one.

Is he the second-best player from that 2016 draft class now? No. Could he be in time? Certainly. And, considering where he was in his development at this point last season, that’s a huge win for the Oilers. While everyone else but Matthews seems to be going backwards (or at best, standing still), Puljujarvi is improving by leaps and bounds.

It’s actually kind of scary how good he could become.