The Edmonton Oilers finally got Evander Kane back after missing 31 games with a wrist injury, and they were lucky enough to hold off on a very tough decision about Kailer Yamamoto, who landed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). Before Kane was injured, there were few available roster spots, forcing Klim Kostin and Mattias Janmark to start the season in the American Hockey League (AHL). That’s no longer an option due to their solid production. General manager Ken Holland now has to decide whether he should trade one of three other forwards – Jesse Puljujarvi, Warren Foegele, and Derek Ryan.
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All three have been made a healthy scratch in the last two weeks as the Oilers have run with 11 forwards and seven defencemen (from ‘The Oilers scratching Jesse Puljujarvi shows it’s time for them to part ways,’ The Athletic, Jan. 18, 2023). Now the team has a couple of extra weeks to gather up information, see who can get the best return, and also judge which move(s) will help them in the short and long run. Management not only has to think about their cap situation but also create room before the trade deadline if they want to add pieces.
Puljujarvi Most Likely Trade Candidate
Edmonton has a good reason to trade each of the three forwards, but also reasons not to. Frank Seravalli spoke on the latest surrounding the Oilers saying, “The Oilers were out there last week gauging. Specifically, their options to waive were Derek Ryan, Foegele, or Jesse Puljujarvi. None of those three names are really going to shock you. They were gauging the trade market on Foegele and Puljujarvi specifically.” If the Oilers can’t make a trade, they will have to waive at least one of the three to allow Yamamoto to return after the All-Star break.
Earlier in the season, the market dried up for Puljujarvi, and it seemed that the Oilers would have to attach an asset to be able to move him and his $3 million salary. But as a former fourth-overall pick, who has regularly shown the ability to get chances, a new opportunity and maybe a different system might suit him well, as it did for Kostin this season. Kostin wasn’t going anywhere with the St. Louis Blues but is now tied for the team lead in goals over the past nine games with seven.
The good news for the organization is that Seravalli also mentioned that “a handful of teams have reached out to the Oilers to engage them in discussion on Puljujarvi. I think a lot of people were wondering if the Oilers would have to attach an asset in order to entice a team to take on Puljujarvi, but there seems to be a healthy amount of interest from teams around the league that think they might be able to jumpstart Puljujarvi.”
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Puljujarvi showed his potential two seasons ago by playing his way up the Oilers’ lineup after returning from Finland. At the beginning of last season, he was scoring over a point per game, including goals, on the top line. That kind of production may be too much to expect, but the minimal offence he has produced over the last 82 games is too little to expect. Teams that are interested will know he has middle-six potential and is a great forechecker. But he needs to find his confidence, and that’s not going to happen on the fourth line or as a healthy scratch in Edmonton.
Reasons For & Against Trading the 3 Forwards
We’ve covered why the Oilers should trade Puljujarvi, and why he is their leading candidate, but haven’t gotten into why they would keep him around, at least for the time being. A lot can change in the next couple of weeks. A serious injury can occur at any time as proven by Kane’s injury in November. If that is the case by the All-Star break, Puljujarvi’s services may be needed. Even if no one is injured, he might suddenly find his scoring touch and be of more use to Edmonton ahead of a playoff push.
There could also be better offers coming the Oilers’ way within the next couple of weeks, so Holland will likely bide his time until a move is absolutely necessary.
Both Foegele and Ryan stepped up against the Seattle Kraken in the Oilers’ previous win and scored goals. Foegele was all around the net, getting great chances (from ‘Player grades: Balanced Edmonton Oilers attack leads to 5-2 win over Seattle Kraken,’ Edmonton Journal, Jan. 18, 2023). Recently, he has proven to be the most valuable of the three potential trade candidates but there hasn’t been as much interest in him as there has been in Puljujarvi. Foegele has a slightly lower cap hit of $2.75 million AAV, but his contract runs through next season. He also isn’t as high a draft pick as Puljujarvi was and hasn’t had a similar outburst of offence.
Ryan, on the other hand, wouldn’t help a whole lot cap-wise if he were traded. He earns just $1.25 million until the end of the season. In general, he has been the most productive and reliable of the three forwards this season, scoring the most goals (six) and is tied with the most points (10). He also averages two fewer minutes than Puljujarvi and Foegele, while being capable of playing centre or on the wing. His versatility has benefited the team this season, but he is a veteran presence that a playoff team might want to have on their fourth line.
Puljujarvi has altered his game to contribute more physically this season, but the Oilers would benefit the most from moving his contract off the books. He has garnered the most interest and would clear the most cap space. The Oilers have also been winning without him or with him playing at the bottom of the lineup. The Puljujarvi saga has gone on long enough, and he should be looking forward to a change of scenery. The choice appears to be made.