It is approaching the time of the NHL season when every general manager (GM) starts to really evaluate where their team is at and what can be done that season. For the Edmonton Oilers, the best course of action is trading winger Jesse Puljujarvi, in order to help themselves upgrade for a playoff run. For the Anaheim Ducks, it’s sell, sell, sell.
These two teams have been linked because of the Ducks players who could help Edmonton and make the roster better. The Ducks are looking to the future and have the cap space to accommodate a cap-strapped Oilers team. Seeing as the Ducks and Oilers are heading in opposite directions, a trade between division rivals is likely to happen.
Related: Breaking Down 4 Oilers’ Potential Trades With Canadiens
Ducks GM Pat Verbeek has been scouting the Oilers in a few recent games and was seen talking with Oilers GM Ken Holland. We don’t know how much more in-depth conversations the two have had over the phone as well. However, given that Anaheim has a young team with tons of cap space, Puljujarvi seems destined for a fresh start there.
Pat Verbeek alert: yes the Anaheim GM is watching Oilers for a second straight night. Just walked into media room in Nashville— Jim Matheson (@jimmathesonnhl) December 14, 2022
Verbeek has been at more than one of the Oilers’ recent games, which means he might be scouting more than just Puljujarvi. Puljujarvi has seen some time on the top line recently, which could be to showcase his abilities. But the winger has also played a physical and solid few games on the third line.
Less Pressure for Puljujarvi in Anaheim
Puljujarvi has shown a great deal more confidence while playing on the third line with Dylan Holloway and James Hamblin than he has in the top six. It could be because he’s playing with two rookies and feels he has to play a bigger role. He is also matched up against weaker opponents when he’s playing lower in the lineup and can hold onto the puck longer and make plays, something he hasn’t been able to do with the big guns.
It’s completely different than when Puljujarvi plays with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, or both since the Oilers’ stars like to hold onto the puck, make plays, and set things up themselves. On their wing, Puljujarvi has to get into the dirty areas or to the front of the net. This style of play doesn’t provide him with confidence since he’s failed to produce offensively.
Puljujarvi spoke of the experience and pressure of playing with McDavid and Draisaitl, saying, “you have to win battles and make plays at the same time. It’s a high-quality game, and it takes a good player.” He’s logged more than 100 minutes at five-on-five with McDavid, the league’s leading scorer. That ranks third among all forwards, but Puljujarvi has just one goal and six points in 31 games this season.
Puljujarvi also mentioned that “if you play with Connor, you have to score. Maybe I just don’t have it.” He still holds himself to a high standard due to his draft position (fourth overall in 2016) and thinks he should be playing in the top six, but he has to deserve it. He said, “Of course, I’d like to be a productive top-line player, but right now, it looks like I can’t do that in the NHL. Maybe some other league.”
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I think since he’s young (24 years old), he won’t be heading overseas just yet. Puljujarvi has only ever played on the Oilers when the lineup is dominated by McDavid and Draisaitl. Another team could spark something that he can’t seem to find in Edmonton. He has noticed his struggles and also what he has done well, but has clearly indicated where he stands with the Oilers: “I’m trying to find out who I am as a player since it looks like I don’t fit anywhere here (in Edmonton). I’ve started checking a lot and lead the team in hits. At least that’s some positive.”
The Ducks could be a perfect place for him to start over.
Who Are the Oilers Looking at from the Ducks Roster?
The Oilers’ interest in the Ducks likely has something to do with two defenders that are on the Oilers’ radar – John Klingberg and Dmitry Kulikov.
Klingberg is the bigger target, and the Oilers have been rumoured to have an interest in the defenceman due to his contract status. He is on a one-year deal worth $7 million and would likely be seen as a rental. Hardly any teams had room to sign him this past offseason, so he settled for a one-year deal with the Ducks, likely expecting to be moved at the deadline to a contender. Klingberg is looking for a long-term deal after this season, so it’s likely the Oilers would see him as a rental only, but they could look to extend him if pieces are moved.
Klingberg would bring offence, which the Oilers don’t desperately need from their defenders with Darnell Nurse, Tyson Barrie, and Evan Bouchard on the roster. He isn’t great at defence, isn’t very physical, and hasn’t produced much offence this season, but being on a team ranked 30th in goals for and 32nd in goals against doesn’t help. Considering he doesn’t exactly fit what the Oilers need and will cost them, he might not be worth the investment.
The better option would be Kulikov since he’s very effective in his own end and is not a liability. Plus, he’s the type of defender the Oilers need to fix what’s wrong defensively. He makes significantly less than Klingberg and even less than Puljujarvi, which could really help with the team’s cap problem. Kulikov is on a far worse team than last season when he played for the Minnesota Wild, but he is on pace for better numbers in some key defensive categories, including blocked shots, hits, and takeaways.
For $2.25 million annual average value as a rental or even less, if Anaheim retains some salary, the Oilers would kill a few birds with one stone. Puljujarvi would finally be moved, and some cap space freed up this season and for the future, and a new defenceman would enter the mix who can contribute defensively. I’m all for the trade between the Oilers and Ducks if it’s done right. The Oilers can’t just go for the biggest fish, and Holland probably knows that.