It seems incredibly odd to say that a player would be more valuable to their team if he’s not getting goals, but such might be the case for Jesse Puljujarvi who is having a solid season despite not actually scoring all that much. In fact, if he rarely scores again this season, but keeps doing what he’s doing on the ice, he might provide more value to the Oilers long-term.
Considering Edmonton will be tight to keep everyone while juggling their salary cap next season, what Puljujarvi brings in other ways is key to this argument, and if he happens to wait until next season to pick up his goal-scoring touch, it could provide a huge benefit to the team.
Puljujarvi Rarely Scoring Is Not the Same as Never Scoring
When I argue that Puljujarvi not scoring is good for the Oilers, I’m not suggesting it would be just fine if he never scores. On the contrary, what I’m suggesting is that what he brings in other facets of the game means he doesn’t need to go on an insane goal-scoring run to be of great value. In fact, should he get hot, the short-term benefit would create a problematic scenario for the team beyond this season.
Puljujarvi is on a pace of about 23 goals over 82 games this season. What he’s offered more than points is his ability to create opportunities for his teammates to get them. Of all regular Oilers players, he has some of the team’s better Corsi and Fenwick statistics — which measure shot and shot attempt differentials when a player is on the ice. He might not be lighting the lamp as often as others, but he’s one of the reasons so many of his teammates are having success.
In other words, his contributions are underappreciated, but that works in favor of the organization when it comes to getting someone like him inked to a new deal.
Underlying Stats Are Easy To Qualify, But Not Value
Where this helps the Oilers is that the NHL is still a league in which players who provide quality underlying numbers don’t get paid as well as players who score and put up points. In other words, flash equals cash. That could be key for GM Ken Holland who needs to get a new deal signed with Puljujarvi this summer but has to do so at the best possible yearly rate he can.
If Puljujarvi continues to rank high and play as well as he has under head coach Jay Woodcroft — a 71% expected goal share, and a 73% high danger chance share — he’s of great value to the team. As @NHLSid of Oilers Nation put it on Twitter, the Oilers “outscore the opposition 15/1 (94 GF%) with him on-ice.” This is not something that should be ignored when it comes to valuing what he’s worth.
At the same time, this is not something the team should advertise when it comes time to negotiate his new deal. Let him know he’s of value, tell him you’re hoping he’s able to up his goal totals and that you see great potential in that part of his game, but also to keep doing exactly what he’s doing. Let the agent try to sell the idea that these underlying stats are worth some extra money and Holland can work off of NHL comparables.
Long-Term Thinking Is Key
There’s a lot of chatter this week when it comes to the potential Edmonton could lose one of Kailer Yamamoto, Evander Kane or Puljujarvi this summer. Any one of these players departing would leave a sour taste in the mouths of many fans. To help solve this issue, the Oilers can get creative with their contracts and move someone like Zack Kassian or Tyson Barrie, but it would help if Puljujarvi doesn’t explode and put up 8-10 goals in the final 12 games of the season. Should he, and then continue to stay hot in the playoffs, it could become costly. Moreover, the second he becomes a “20-goal guy”, his value shoots straight up.
Again, I completely understand how strange it is to argue someone like Puljujarvi not scoring is a good thing, but it might actually be if he effectively continues to do all of the other things he does so well. Once the new contract is done, score away. Having Puljujarvi on a team-friendly extension would be one of the big wins of the offseason. The easiest way to get there is for him to do everything at an elite level except light the lamp.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”