Edmonton Oilers’ forward Jesse Puljujarvi has been like a trade deadline pick up, producing five points in his last seven games since returning to the lineup after missing a month. Depending on who you ask in Oil Country, he’s either having a great campaign in his second season back in North America, or he’s still a raw player with flaws in his game that still need fine tuning.
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The Finnish forward recently reunited with captain Connor McDavid on the top line against the Arizona Coyotes after playing on the second and third lines since returning. Evander Kane plays on the opposite side of Puljujarvi, and it remains to be seen if he’ll re-sign with the club after this season. The ideal scenario is if Edmonton can bring him back on a short-term deal, yet, if this season is his only tenure with the Oilers, it has the potential to pay dividends even if he leaves. His flair for physicality and knack for scoring goals around the net has the potential to rub off on his young teammate from Finland.
The Evander Kane Experiment is Working Well
Kane is the best natural winger on the Oilers. I previously wrote an article stating the Oilers should re-sign the rugged forward, but only to a short-term deal. He’s performing tremendously well with the club, but it should still proceed with caution due to his previous off-ice issues. That said, Edmonton hasn’t seen a player like him since the days when current Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin was scoring goals and being a physical force with the blue and orange in the late 90s.
In 28 games, Kane has played mostly in the top-six with either Leon Draisaitl or McDavid as his centermen, and he’s shown the ability to play and produce with the elite duo. He missed the first half of the season, but he’s found his skating legs in the last stretch of games.
He’s on pace for 44 goals in an 82-game season. What’s remarkable is his 96 hits in 28 games, which rank fourth on the team, despite missing 39 games. He hits heavy and finishes every check he can, taking the opposition out of the play. He has 21 fighting majors in his career, but he has yet to drop the gloves with the Oilers. That’s fine, because his presence alone is a deterrent, and he’s better served on the ice and not in the penalty box (unlike his four consecutive penalties against the Arizona Coyotes). His arrival, though, has elevated the play of his teammates. His linemates seem more engaged, and he’s bringing them into the fight. An example is Kailer Yamamoto, who has been on a tear with seven goals in his last 10 games (mainly playing with Kane), and he’s also been a mini freight train the way he’s hitting and separating players from the puck.
Puljujarvi Has the Size to Emulate Kane’s Style
This brings us to the young Puljujarvi. He may only have two goals in his last 25 games, but he’s still on a 50-point pace in an 82-game season. I previously described that the Finnish winger brings so much to the game when he’s not producing points: he uses his big body to screen goalies, he wins board battles, and he dives for pucks to keep plays alive. Also, an under-appreciated ability of his is the willingness and hard work to get the puck in the captain’s hands.
Yet, there is still inconsistency and hesitation at times in his play. There are games where he shies away from finishing checks, but then there are occasions when he lowers his shoulder for a big hit and sends Rogers Place into a frenzy. He ranks 12th on the team in hits (58), behind teammate Devin Shore, who plays seven minutes a game less than Puljujarvi. That said, there’s room for improvement in the physicality department, and his play with the puck could be more consistent, as well. At times there’s panic, and he could use more poise. It seems earlier in the season he had more patience with it, as his decisions were automatic, whether it was a deke to get the goalie moving, or holding onto the puck for a fraction of a second longer to make a nice play.
There are going to be bumps in the road for any young player trying to carve their niche in the NHL, but Puljujarvi should look no further than the man on the opposite side of him on the first line to emulate his game around. Kane doesn’t hesitate to finish his checks, and his physicality is something that Puljujarvi should mimic, being a 6-foot-4 and 200-pound man that can skate. Being physical doesn’t mean the young Fin needs to fight, it simply means finishing checks at every opportunity and imposing his big frame on the opposition.
Puljujarvi should be taking notes on Kane’s ability to finish as well, because they have similar skillsets. There’s a reason Kane is on pace for 44 goals. He has a knack for the net, and knows where to be. He’s scored on tips, battles in the slot, quick shots, and subtle dekes to get the goalie moving.
Puljujarvi was bumped up to the first line with McDavid and Kane last game against the Coyotes for the first time since returning from injury. I don’t know if it was the “Kane effect”, but perhaps Puljujarvi is already taking pointers from the veteran? The Finnish winger used his size effectively, dished out four hits, including a big one that sent Coyotes defender Anton Stralman flying to the ice. He also looked more calm with the puck and finished the night with two primary assists.
Related: Oilers Should Re-Sign Evander Kane, but Only Short-Term
Both Kane and Puljujarvi need new contracts next season, and the ideal situation is if general manager Ken Holland can work magic and re-sign both. But moving forward, if Puljujarvi turns into a big physical scoring winger, Oil Country will know who it can thank for that.