Oilers Leaders Need to Stand Up for Puljujarvi

Back when Jesse Puljujarvi was drafted fourth overall in 2016, he was viewed as an incredible talent who was sure to put up massive numbers in future years alongside now-Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid. Fast forward to where we are now and that has turned out to be far from the case.

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While Puljujarvi has shown spurts of his potential, he has never been able to consistently put offense on the board, despite the fact he has indeed spent plenty of time with McDavid. Unfortunately, that lack of production, paired with the heavy expectations he came into the NHL with, have resulted in him receiving a ton of scrutiny from both fans and media alike.

Jesse Puljujarvi Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

That scrutiny and outside noise facing Puljujarvi has hit a whole different level in the past six months, as it was reported early into the offseason that he would be open to a change of scenery to help turn around his career. At the same time that was reported, there were also suggestions from Oilers insiders that the now 24-year-old didn’t necessarily fit in with his teammates.

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Whether true or not, it is impossible to suggest the young Finn has anything but an extraordinary attitude. He has never once complained about his struggles thus far and continues to display nothing, but kindness to the media despite receiving plenty of flack from them. On top of that, he has always seemed to keep a positive attitude, as he seems to be grinning ear to ear every time he is on camera. That is, until recently.

Puljujarvi’s Confidence at a New Low

Through the first 27 games of the season, Puljujarvi has struggled immensely, scoring just a single goal and six points. Those totals would be poor in any setting but have been magnified even more due to the fact that several of his teammates have also struggled to find the back of the net.

To Puljujarvi’s credit, he has been trying to do other things to keep himself effective. His forechecking continues to be a solid attribute, while he has also really picked things up physically, as his 60 hits lead all Oilers skaters. That said, he is a player this team is counting on to produce, and he hasn’t done so yet, which appears to really be weighing on him given comments he made on Tuesday (Dec. 6) to Finnish journalist Tommi Seppala of YLE news agency.

“Twenty games in and I have one goal. It’s sad,” said a dejected Puljujarvi. “I’ve been thinking a lot how to do things differently. Right now, I just don’t have an answer.”

Jesse Puljujarvi Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While those comments make it clear he is fighting it right now, they don’t seem to differ too far from what any NHL player would say in the midst of a slump. What was far more alarming, however, was what he had to say about his current status as an NHL player.

“Of course I’d like to be a productive top-line player,” Puljujarvi said. “But right now, it looks like I can’t do that in the NHL. Maybe some other league.”

That certainly isn’t something you want to hear if you are either Ken Holland or Jay Woodcroft. It would likely be preferred by them that Puljujarvi hadn’t gone public with comments like this, but in the same breath, you can certainly sympathize with him.

As mentioned, this is a player who has seemingly been criticized for several years now, mainly due to the lofty expectations he entered his career with. By no means did he ask to have those expectations placed on his shoulders. And, it is important to keep in mind what a fantastic attitude he has been able to keep through it all. This isn’t a Nail Yakupov situation. Unlike Yakupov, who was too defiant and unwilling to change the way he played the game, Puljujarvi is quite the opposite. He has always accepted feedback from his coaches over the years and has continuously tried different things to make himself effective. These comments, however, seem to suggest he is nearing a breaking point in terms of his NHL career, and if anyone can help change that, it is those who sit in the same locker room as him.

Oilers Teammates Need to Help Puljujarvi Out

If there were ever a time for a player like McDavid to show just how good of a leader he can be, that time is now. Granted, we don’t know what the dynamic of this group is like behind closed doors, and it is much more likely than not that Puljujarvi’s teammates, McDavid included, have offered words of support during this tough stretch.

That said, there hasn’t been anything in the public eye, and that may need to happen after these latest comments from Puljujarvi. It is clear that this is a player who simply feels helpless right now, and is in a tough state mentally. And, while the media has their job to do, seeing articles on a daily basis calling out your play only makes things worse.

Jesse Puljujarvi Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What Puljujarvi could really use right now is a teammate, whether it be a McDavid, Draisaitl, or anyone else in that locker room, to speak up for him and defend both his play as well as his character. While criticism certainly comes with the territory of being a professional athlete, it really does feel as though he has become the team’s whipping boy as of late. Hopefully, he is able to get his game back on track in order to help change the current narrative.

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