Lightning Could Find Value By Pursuing Oilers’ Puljujarvi

With the Tampa Bay Lightning wrapping up another deep Stanley Cup Playoff run that saw them coming up just two games short of pulling off a historic three-peat, it is now time for the franchise to enter offseason mode. The 2022 offseason won’t be the most active one for Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois, as he has a fairly set roster and little cap space to work with so he won’t be able to break the bank in order to bring fresh faces to the team. This is further exasperated by their big spending at the 2022 Trade Deadline, which left the team with few resources to swing another deal.

However, if you’ve been following the Lightning throughout BriseBois’ tenure, you know that he is rarely willing to rest on his laurels. He is the sort of general manager who will get creative in order to improve his team, even if it is through unexpected and expensive ways. This should lead you to look around the league to try and find any low-cost opportunities that the Lightning could pursue to help bring in new talent to their roster.

Jesse Puljujarvi Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi’s time with the Edmonton Oilers may be coming to a close in the 2022 offseason. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Oftentimes these additions are cheap veteran signings, but the 2022 offseason may present an opportunity for BriseBois to do something a little bit bigger. As the Edmonton Oilers enter an offseason filled with uncertainty and cap restrictions, it appears that they will be making Jesse Puljujarvi, the fourth-overall pick in 2016, available for trade. Normally a player of this caliber would be outside the Lightning’s payroll, but due to a set of extraneous circumstances, the young forward may be a possibility for the team.

Lightning Have Need for Top-Nine Talent Like Puljujarvi

While the Lightning are still one of the best teams in the NHL, they will experience some significant talent bleed throughout the 2022 offseason, namely Ondrej Palat and Nick Paul. Barring an unforeseen situation where both Palat and Paul decide to take less money to stick around with Tampa Bay when they hit unrestricted free agency on July 13th, there will be general managers out there willing to pay big for their services and lure them away from the team.

What this means for Tampa Bay is that they will have a few glaring holes in their top nine, especially as Palat has been entrenched in his role for the better part of the last decade.

Related: Lightning’s 3 Biggest Needs to Address This Offseason

Now, while Puljujarvi is not a direct replacement for either player, he has the talent and toolkit to be an effective top-nine forward for a team like the Lightning, especially if they are able to acquire him at a relatively low cost from the Oilers. To put it simply, his time in Edmonton has not gone particularly well, as his scoring totals are nowhere near the fourth-overall selection they used to draft him. This could depress his value, making him worth perhaps a mid-tier package of picks and prospects.

However, when you look at his size and toolkit, everything is still there for him to be an effective middle-six winger, who can chip in 15 goals and roughly 35 to 40 points a season. With a team like the Lightning, the expectation wouldn’t be for him to be a star, but just an effective forward who can learn to fully utilize his size to round out his defensive game. He also has solid advanced analytics to build upon (these are likely boosted by playing with two of the best hockey players in the world), which showcases that he is already starting to understand how to play a smarter two-way game.

This is the sort of player who could thrive in the Lightning’s structure, as they have a talented core with strong leadership that would help Puljujarvi unlock his full potential. You only have to look toward a player like Paul to see a similar turnaround, as he quickly found a new gear with Tampa Bay after being given a different opportunity by the franchise.

Lightning Could Give Puljujarvi a Show Me Contract

The other benefit to pursuing a player like Puljujarvi right now is the fact that his cost will likely be reduced due to his mediocre postseason and consistency struggles with Edmonton. As a restricted free agent (RFA) coming off a two-year, $1.175 million per year deal, the young forward likely won’t command a large salary increase. Perhaps if the Lightning could lock him down three-year, $2.5 million per year deal, they could find some incredible value for a player who has a high ceiling.

Jesse Puljujarvi Edmonton Oilers
There’s a lot of talent in Puljujarvi that could be unlocked with a change of scenery to a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Sure, Puljujarvi will likely never live up to his fourth-overall billing, but if he can continue developing into a middle-six forward who takes on 12 to 14 minutes of ice time each night, chips in 35 points a season, and can lay down 100-plus hits, that would be well worth a cap-hit of $2.5 million. Plus, if things didn’t work out in Tampa Bay, that’s still a tradeable asset for the team to recoup some of the lost future assets.

So, while it may seem unlikely, it does feel like there is at least a conversation to be had between the BriseBois and the Oilers. Perhaps, if the right pieces fall into place, he could acquire one more young piece to augment his already talented roster.

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