Oilers Need to Teach Tough Love to Puljujarvi Before Trading Him

Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft was absolutely on point playing forward Jesse Puljujarvi on the fourth line Friday night in the Oilers’ win over the Minnesota Wild. There are plenty of fans arguing that this is no way to boost the confidence of a player who is clearly fragile and feeling less-than-stellar about his game, but that’s not the first concern Woodcroft, Puljuajrvi’s teammates, or the fans should have. No, Puljujarvi is well past the point where he needs a bit of a confidence boost. He’s broken and there are only two ways to fix him.

The Oilers Could Trade Puljujarvi

The first option would be to send him elsewhere. If he gets a fresh start on a new team, his production could improve in a totally different environment. That happens often with pro athletes. If the current surroundings have a player feeling down or concerned about their overall game, a new coach, new linemates, and a new city might be the motivator that boosts that player’s performance.

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

A trade is something that the Oilers are likely thinking about. Previous reports were that the team already tried to move the winger, but the return wasn’t there. Jeff Marek noted during a conversation with his podcast and Sportsnet partner Elliotte Friedman that GM Ken Holland wanted a second-round pick in exchange. It’s unlikely Holland gets that after what Puljujarvi said to a Finnish news outlet — that he wasn’t sure he was good enough to even be in the NHL.

Friedman added, “But I think now you’re at a point where you’re seeing those quotes and you’re just saying if you’re Edmonton, we have to do this. You know, Edmonton’s window is while [Connor] McDavid and [Leon] Draisaitl are on these contracts. So you have to win right now.” He added, “If you’re taking a little bit less on Puljujarvi to create room to go do something else.”

Tough Love For Puljujarvi

The second option is to send Puljujarvi a wake-up call. Assuming the Oilers can’t or are unwilling to trade the big Finn for pennies on the dollar, Woodcroft needs to demonstrate, and rather quickly, that Puljujarvi is responsible for getting himself out of his own mess. This is a player who was drafted fourth overall and has scored in the NHL before. It’s time he starts acting like he’s good enough to be in this league and there will be no handouts until he responds accordingly.

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This means forcing Puljujarvi to a) put in the work to get himself out of his funk, or b) change his game and find a new way to be effective. That starts on the fourth line and with fewer minutes.

The idea here is that Puljujarvi has to grind. He has to find alternate ways to be a meaningful part of the team and pay his dues to get new opportunities and looks at gravy minutes with the best players in the world. Those opportunities won’t be handed to him to spark his offense. No, he has to earn it.

Teach Puljujarvi To Fish, Feed Him For a Lifetime

The old saying goes, you can give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. This is where Puljujarvi is now. He’s backed himself into a corner with his comments and he’s made himself look foolish, his teammates look awkward, and his GM uncertain about what to do next. It’s now up to the coach to teach Puljujarvi that he’s going to need to relearn the basics about what’s going to work for him in the NHL.

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Hit, forecheck, skate, grind, bang, and crash and make the most of his size and skill in a league where the freebies have now been taken away. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and the Oilers and Puljujarvi may go their separate ways at the end of the season. For all anyone knows, he’s already got his mind made up that he’s leaving the NHL. In the meantime, teach Puljujarvi by making him learn opportunities aren’t given, they’re earned. Send him out the door with a valuable life lesson learned — you don’t sulk your way out of problems, you work your way out of them.

If he responds, pop him on the second-unit power play as a reward. If he has a strong game, give him a look at a top-six role for a shift or two. And, if he keeps it up, then trade him. It seems that’s what he wants and to get what he wants, he’s got to put the work in.