It’s obvious the New Jersey Devils still have some rebuilding to do. They began that process when they traded Brian Boyle to the Nashville Predators for a second-round pick. It’s likely he won’t be the only one moved, as Marcus Johansson and Ben Lovejoy are both on expiring contracts.
Even though the Devils will be sellers, they can still look to acquire talent. One name in the rumor mill is Jesse Puljujarvi’s, who’s struggled with the Edmonton Oilers. His time in Edmonton could be coming to an end, and he could be traded by the Feb. 25 deadline. Is he worth the risk for the Devils?
Puljujarvi’s Struggles in Edmonton
Puljujarvi is one of the more interesting names available. He’s a former top-five pick, and there’s no doubting he has the look of someone who could be a productive NHLer. He’s 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and has the skillset to break into a top-six role. Despite his potential, he hasn’t been able to find steady ground in the NHL. He’s had three AHL demotions in his young career, including one on Nov. 10.
Even after his return to the NHL, he’s still struggled to find regular minutes this season. Puljujarvi has nine points in 45 games and hasn’t registered a point in his last nine games. He also hasn’t scored a goal since Jan. 6 and has seen his ice time reduced, playing fewer than 10 minutes on some nights.
Puljujarvi’s reduced ice time comes with some reason though. He has an expected goals-for (xGF%) of 41.15 percent when on the ice at 5-on-5 and is only averaging 0.80 points per 60 minutes at that game state. He also has a goals above replacement (GAR) of minus-3.7 (via Evolving-Hockey) at all strengths. He isn’t on a good team but producing below replacement is less than ideal.
He may be struggling this season, but Puljujarvi posted decent underlying numbers the previous two seasons. From 2016 to 2018, he had an xGF% of 52.18 percent and a Corsi For (CF%) of 51.68 percent when on the ice. He wasn’t scoring much (just 27 points combined), but those shot rates show the potential is there. The Oilers just haven’t been able to unlock it.
Playing Devil’s Advocate
There are arguments for both sides of a Devils/Puljujarvi trade. He’s only 20 years old and will be under team control for a long time, which is what the Devils would like to acquire. He also fills a positional need for the Devils as their right-wing depth isn’t the best after Kyle Palmieri.
Puljujarvi isn’t thrilled with his situation, and his agent even questioned whether he should remain in Edmonton. He was a healthy scratch for their game against New York Islanders on Saturday night. And when he plays, he’s lucky to get more than fourth-line minutes. The Devils can offer him a more significant role instead of being relegated to nine minutes a night. That could benefit him if he’s playing with more skilled players like Jesper Bratt or Nico Hischier.
It may seem enticing to go after Puljujarvi, but there are reasons to be against it too. He may have a ton of potential, but he’s still an unproven player. If the Devils are going to trade assets, they may want someone who can have more of an impact. If that’s the case, then trading for him might not be in their best interest.
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It’s no secret the Oilers have had problems with player development. Nail Yakupov was a former first-overall pick and is now playing in the KHL. Justin Schultz was a top free agent signing out of the NCAA but could not produce in his time with the Oilers. He was eventually traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins and has turned into a top-four defenseman. Is Puljujarvi heading down a path similar to Yakupov? Or is his situation more like Schultz’s, where a change of scenery is needed.
What Could the Devils Have to Give Up?
Since Puljujarvi was a high pick, I doubt the Oilers will give him away for a bag of pucks. But his value is not what it once was, so what could the Devils have to give up in a trade? My guess is the Oilers would like Bratt. He’ll be an RFA after next season, so he’ll be under team control for some time. That said, he’s one of the Devils’ best offensive players, and there’s no way they should part with him for an unproven player in Puljujarvi.
One player who may make more sense is Pavel Zacha. He’s a former high draft pick, and at times, has struggled in New Jersey. He’s settled in as the Devils’ third-line center and is their best penalty killer, but the offense hasn’t always been there. He’ll also be an RFA this summer, so his situation isn’t too different from Puljujarvi’s. This could be a scenario where both players benefit from a change of scenery.
Another player that could be on the Oilers’ radar is Miles Wood. He’s under contract through 2021-22 at a cap hit of $2.75 million, and he’ll still be an RFA when that deal expires. He’s not having the best season, but he did score 19 goals in 2017-18. Wood has the speed the Oilers lack on the wing in their middle six, and his contract wouldn’t be a burden for a team already tight on the cap.
Puljujarvi is an interesting trade candidate in that you’re trading for someone based on what he could be, not what he is now. It’s worked before; just ask Dylan Strome how he’s doing since being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. There’s a lot of risk in a trade like that, and not everyone turns out to be Strome. If the Devils think he’s another Strome, then maybe he’s worth it, but they have to be 100% certain that’s the case.
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Advanced stats from Corsica Hockey, except where noted