Oilers’ Puljujarvi Has Been Good Despite Insider’s Comments

Jesse Puljujarvi injured himself in a game on Feb. 17 against the Anaheim Ducks, and it’s anticipated he’ll be out of the lineup for another three weeks. On Feb. 22, Edmonton Oilers colour commentator Bob Stauffer and Sportsnet hockey insider Mark Spector spoke about the Finnish winger on the “Oilers Now” radio show.

“Puljujarvi hasn’t been very good, let’s call a spade a spade here,” Spector said on the show. “He doesn’t make the players around him any better either. So he’s going to get better, he’s a good young prospect. We’ve heard it all before, but don’t tell me missing Puljujarvi is a big deal.” 

It’s a strong statement to say that Puljujarvi hasn’t been “very good”. In fact, I’d beg to differ. The former fourth overall draft pick might not be able to drive his own line, but he excels in a supporting role. He’s high on the list in most advanced analytic categories for the Oilers and he’s on pace for 50 points in 82 games while only making $1,175,000.00 this season.

Puljujarvi Has Good Advanced Analytics

Stauffer defended the Finnish winger and mentioned he has surprisingly good analytics, although he wished he finished better and hit more. Let’s take a look at some numbers. According to Natural Stat Trick, Puljujarvi ranks fifth on the team in iCF (any shot attempt by the player), fourth in iSCF (any scoring chance by a player), and third with a 56.60% iHDCF (any high danger scoring chance by a player), even beating out former Hart Trophy Winner Leon Draisaitl in the category. Also, he’s only 14th in the team in giveaways, and his Corsi is 59% this year, well above his career average of 52%. He’s also fifth on the team in 5-on-5 scoring and shots on goal.

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

He had a hot start to the season, scoring five goals in the first 10 games and he looked confident and poised with the puck in the process. But over his next 36 games, he lost his mojo, and he only scored seven goals and had a stretch going scoreless in 15 games. However, even in his goal-less drought, I wrote how his contributions were showing up off of the scoresheet. He uses his big body well to protect the puck, battles hard in the corners, and he’s the only person on the team that dives on the ice to keep plays alive. He also does a good job of screening goaltenders on the first unit power play. An example of his off-the-scoreboard contributions was on Jan. 22, when he factored in on three goals against the Calgary Flames, but didn’t register a point and helped the Oilers get off a seven-game winless streak.

In regard to his gameplay, he’s not a graceful skater, and he’ll never be mistaken for the finesse players in the NHL. Yet he’s still growing into his body, and once he hits full flight, he’s going to become a force. He hasn’t finished plays lately, but I think that it’s a confidence issue. Earlier in the season when he was scoring in bunches, he was making subtle dekes to get the goalie moving. Lately, he’s blindly shooting the puck once it touches his stick and treating it like a hot potato. The puck should be finding the back of the net more once he re-discovers his scoring touch. 

Puljujarvi Is Overdelivering on His Contract

Puljujarvi is currently on a 50-point pace and making $1.175 million this season. I believe the narrative shouldn’t be “Puljujarvi hasn’t been that good”, but it should be that the big Fin is producing exceptionally well on a bargain contract. Putting intangibles aside, let’s compare him to two players that are perennial 50-point wingers, Jaden Schwartz and Reilly Smith. They’re both on pace for about five more points than Puljujarvi this season, but they come with a price tag of $5 million a season. For only five fewer points, the Oilers are saving $3.825 million.

Puljujarvi will need a new contract next season. The fact that he isn’t a point-per-game player this year can be a good thing from a cap-space perspective, especially with teammate Darnell Nurse’s $9.25 million AAV contract kicking in next season. Had he been lights out this season, he’ command a price tag between $6 -7 million a season. The fact that he’s contributing positively in areas other than the scoresheet, if the Oilers can sign him long-term in the range of $3 – $4 million a season, it will be a steal in the coming years.

Related: Oilers Should Not Trade Yamamoto to Address Goaltending Needs

Puljujarvi is still young, and maybe his career trajectory is more of a support player than a line driver. Sure, that’s not what you expect out of a fourth overall pick. Yet, I think the Oilers and fans are smiling if they have a 6-foot-4, defensively good, 50-point winger for the next 10 years. 

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