The Edmonton Oilers are less than a month away from the start of their regular season, and it remains to be seen if their current roster will be the same on opening night on Oct. 12. TSN reporter Ryan Rishaug tweeted that the team is still pursuing all trade options for forward Jesse Puljujarvi and highlighted that he’s “the most obvious” move to clear out cap space.
Puljujarvi was all over the headlines this summer when it was rumoured the team and him were parting ways. The speculation seemed to be put to rest when he signed a one-year contract with the Oilers on July 26. Yes, the club needs to clear out cap space to have enough room to make moves throughout the season, but Puljujarvi isn’t the most obvious player that should be sacrificed to free up space. The most obvious choice is Warren Foegele.
Foegele’s Mediocre First Season in Edmonton
Foegele was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes for Ethan Bear before the 2021-22 season. The scouting report said he was a big 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward and an excellent skater who is hard on the forecheck and defensively responsible — all the elements the team needed to solidify their third line.
The left-winger impressed four games into the season when he did his best Connor McDavid-lite impression, turning an Arizona Coyotes defender inside and out for a highlight-reel goal. But, overall, he had an up-and-down campaign in his first season playing in Alberta’s capital. He tallied 26 points in 82 games, playing primarily in a bottom-six role. Additionally, he finished tied for the team worst at minus-9 and was a healthy scratch for three playoff games.
If the Oilers had more cap space, this conversation wouldn’t even be had. But this is life in the flat cap NHL era. Foegele is an adequate third-liner, but his $2.75 million cap hit is a luxury Edmonton can’t afford, and he’s the most logical choice to be moved.
Oilers Have More Depth on Left-Wing
The Oilers have more depth on the left-wing than on the right side. As it stands, they have Foegele, Zach Hyman (when he plays his off-wing), Evander Kane, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (depending on how he’s deployed), Mattias Janmark, Dylan Holloway, and Devin Shore.
Kane, Hyman, and Nugent-Hopkins will rotate in the top six, but there could be a log jam in the bottom six between Foegele, Janmark, Shore, and Holloway. General manager (GM) Ken Holland stated in the offseason that his intention is to have the young Holloway fighting for a roster spot on opening night. If all goes according to plan, the best fit for the former 14th-overall draft pick would be playing on the third-line left-wing — a spot that Foegele occupied most of last season. If Edmonton traded Foegele, the veteran Janmark can start on the third line, which would give Holloway a chance to get experience on the fourth line with room to move up the lineup if his play is deserving.
Moreover, when the Oilers traded right-winger Zack Kassian to the Coyotes, it was an essential move to free up much-needed cap space, but that created a gap on the right side, and they’ve yet to replace him with another right-handed shot. If they traded Puljujarvi for draft picks, they’d lose yet another right-handed shot from the roster — another reason why it makes more sense to move the left-shot Foegele.
Puljujarvi Has More Upside Than Foegele
Puljujarvi and Foegele are similar in some ways. Their cap hits are close (Puljujarvi at $3 million and Foegele at $2.75 million), and their style of play is alike – both are tenacious on the puck and generally in good positioning. That said, both can be frustrating because of their lack of finish around the net. However, at 26 years of age, Foegele’s career trajectory projects to top out as a bottom-six checker. Puljujarvi, on the other hand, is two years younger, and it’s believed the former fourth-overall draft pick might have more to give.
There are hockey pundits that believe Puljuarvi could be the next Valeri Nichushkin — a former high draft pick that didn’t pan out with the team that drafted him. Three seasons later, he has found success with the Colorado Avalanche (from ‘It’s Hard to Find Comparables for Jesse Puljujarvi, but Here’s One,” Edmonton Journal, 4/22/22). Nichushkin was a pivotal player in the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup win last spring and earned himself a $49 million contract this offseason.
That’s the risk of trading Puljujarvi. If they trade him now for a draft pick, he could follow the career trajectory of Nichushkin and reach his potential as a big-bodied, strong two-way forward who can put the puck in the net. Additionally, they’d be selling low right now. Oilers’ colour commentator Bob Stauffer has mentioned on his show “Oilers Now” that many fans believe Puljujarvi’s return should be a first-round draft pick, but at this point, a late second-round pick might be the truest reflection of his value. If that’s the case, Edmonton is better off keeping the big, defensively sound right-winger who posted 0.55 points-per-game average last season.
The Oilers are better off seeing how the season plays out with Puljujarvi. He’s a right-handed shot with more upside. Unfortunately, Foegele’s $2.75 million cap hit is too rich for the club, and he appears to be the odd-man out. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and it will be interesting to see what the Oilers’ lineup will look like come opening night.
He’s the first ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – He’s been featured on CBC Radio providing hockey analysis for the Edmonton Oilers – He’s a freelance writer and Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.