A fan favourite may not be a team’s top point producer, but for various reasons, they’re admired and are very popular with the fanbase. The Edmonton Oilers have had many fan favourites throughout their history— from Ryan Smyth grinding away while sporting a mullet to Georges Laraque as a feared enforcer and his contributions to the community.
With having scored 15 goals last year in the shortened season, and finding himself a spot on the first line, It’s apparent that Jesse Puljujarvi is becoming very popular among Oilers’ fans. Add in his size, speed and great shot, and he has all the tools to leave his mark on the league.
Yet, there are features about the right winger that make you want to cheer for him, aside from his tremendous hockey skills and talent. Over his career, he has done several things out of the norm of an NHL player that have become very popular with the fanbase and raised his stock to become an Oilers’ fan favourite.
Playing Shinny With Local Children
In a hockey-crazy market like Edmonton, Oiler players get recognized anywhere they go; at the same time, it seems like Puljujarvi doesn’t recognize his own fame. In 2018, he was spotted playing shinny with two boys at a local outdoor hockey rink, during the Oilers’ bye week. He spent 45 minutes playing two-on-one with the boys. The children were in awe sharing the ice with an NHL player, saying, “I recognized his face, and I was kind of shy at the start, but I got into it and it was really fun.”
Instead of taking a vacation to a sunny destination during the NHL bye week, Puljujarvi decided to stay in Edmonton and created an unforgettable day for a pair of youngsters— playing shinny, posing for pictures and signing autographs.
He Asked a Fan For a Ride Home
That same year, a fan spotted him at a crosswalk by Rogers Place after the Oilers’ season had ended. The 6-foot-4 Puljujarvi was easy to spot, walking with his sticks and Oilers hockey bag in hand. As the fan described it, he took Puljujarvi’s picture, the Oilers player noticed, and without hesitation, No. 13 asked the fan for a ride home.
They took a video together, and the Finnish forward was seen in an upbeat mood saying, “take a right, here.” No flashy cars or even an Uber ride home for the NHL player, just a casual hitchhike. The video went viral over social media and increased fans’ adoration for him.
Puljujarvi & Pizza
In his rookie season, he played in 28 games with the Oilers and split the rest of the time in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Bakersfield Condors. On Nov 6, 2016, the Oilers had won their game over the Detroit Red Wings. While Puljujarvi didn’t suit up in the game, he made an appearance in Connor McDavid’s post-game interview.
He was seen casually chowing down on a slice of pizza, while his captain answered the tough questions in front of reporters. He became an internet sensation amongst the fanbase and it kickstarted the legend of Puljujarvi and the pizza connection.
Puljujarvi is Always Smiling
When you look down the Oilers’ bench you can’t help but notice Puljujarvi’s idiosyncrasies and a big smile. Being 6-foot-4 and 201 lbs., his jovial facial expressions aren’t hard to spot. His smile has a ripple effect not only amongst fans, but his team as well, “he’s got the biggest smile, he’s such a happy guy playing hockey,” said McDavid. “I think his smile is infectious, he’s smiling all the time and enjoying himself,” said head coach Dave Tippett.
Over his tenure with the Oilers, time and again we’ve seen Puljujarvi’s on-ice mannerisms, whether it’d be on the bench or his interactions with fans. In the last preseason game in Vancouver, Puljujarvi spotted a young Oilers’ fan with a Finnish flag.
No. 13 grabbed an extra stick, skated over, and gave it to the young fan. Not only that, but it was Puljujarvi that initiated a photo op, flashing his big grin and posing with the fan in between the plexiglass.
Puljujarvi Has a Good Sense of Humour
When Puljujarvi first arrived in Edmonton, he struggled with the English language and the communication barrier could have contributed to his early struggles with the team. When he went back to Finland in 2019, not only did he work on his game, but he strived to improve his English as well.
The Oulun Karpat coaches sat him between two Canadian players in the locker room— “the coaches sat him here between me and Cody Kunyk, the other Canadian on our team, and we overloaded him with as much English as he could understand,” said former teammate, Shaun Keshka.
With the Finnish forward’s improved English ability, we’re starting to understand his humorous side in his interviews.
Most recently, he was walking in Elk Island National Park— located 35 kilometers east of Edmonton — and known for its conversation of bison. Puljujarvi posted a picture of the animal on his social media, which prompted reporters to ask him about his experience, “bison was kind. Nice bison,” said the Oilers’ winger in a joking manner, followed by a room full of laughter.
When Puljujarvi opted to take his talents back to Finland in 2019, many fans were disappointed, not only for his potential to become a very good NHL player, but also because they’d miss the unconventional, yet wholesome things that he does. With a nice comeback season under his belt, he appears ready to follow it up with a big year — grinning from ear to ear — with the fans pulling for him every step of the way.
First ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – CBC Radio Oilers’ Fan Panel Analyst – Freelance Writer. Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.