It is the middle of June, and the Pittsburgh Penguins have gone radio silent. General manager Ron Hextall has become known for keeping things pretty quiet inside the organization and only speaking to the media when absolutely necessary. However, with several players becoming free agents next month, including Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, it is likely that they are working feverishly behind the scenes to lock up some contracts. It will also be interesting to see what they do in the trade market during this offseason. On that note, one player to keep a close eye on is Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi.
Puljujarvi Could Be On His Way Out of Edmonton
The Edmonton Oilers selected Jesse Puljujarvi with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. At the time, they no doubt had big plans for him, however, things have not worked out exactly the way they thought. At age 18 he made his pro-hockey debut, and after only scoring one goal in 28 games he went to the American Hockey League (AHL). He continued to struggle to become that breakout player the Oilers had hoped he would be, and this season was no different, as he ended the year with 14 goals and 36 points in 65 games. He had the best season of his career thus far, but was it enough for the Oilers to bring him back?
The biggest issue with Puljujarvi’s game at the moment seems to be his puck skills, as he does not make great decisions in the offensive zone and oftentimes ends up turning the puck over. His overall hockey sense including game management and zone awareness is not great. However, he is a strong skater and is currently a decent third-line player.
At 24 years old, Puljujarvi has some maturing to do and can improve the areas of his game that are currently lacking. He is entering restricted free agency this offseason, and after GM Ken Holland’s recent comments about his performance, it seems the Oilers may be ready to deal him out of Edmonton. They still hold his rights, and he needs to be qualified at $1.41 million.
Should the Penguins Consider Puljujarvi?
One area the Penguins will be looking to strengthen over the offseason is their bottom six. Players such as Brock McGinn, Jeff Carter and Evan Rodrigues were important depth players this season. However, with the future of Rodrigues still unclear, and the utter disappointment that was Kasperi Kapanen’s season, they seriously need to consider adding to their depth. At 6-foot-4, 201 pounds, Puljujarvi, who is good on the forecheck, would bring some much-needed physicality to their lineup. His size combined with his skating ability would also complement goal scorers like Carter or Rodrigues.
It definitely seems like Holland is ready to listen if a trade offer was made for Puljujarvi. Should the Penguins consider trading Kapanen and possibly a draft pick to bring him to Pittsburgh? Financially it would make sense, and when comparing Kapanen’s 32 points in 79 games to Puljujarvi’s 36 points in 65 games, it seems like a no-brainer. He may also make a good Rickard Rakell replacement, as it seems doubtful at this point that he will return to Pittsburgh next season.
Big Decisions for the Penguins
The Penguins are currently in contract negotiations with players such as Malkin and Letang, who definitely should take priority. However, once those negotiations are concluded, they must make moves to strengthen their bottom six. Rodrigues should definitely be a part of that conversation and perhaps Puljujarvi should as well. There are areas of his game that need work, but he has proved himself to be a hard worker and with the right coaching, he can still turn into a special player. It may just be that all he needs is a change of scenery, and the city of Pittsburgh could be the perfect backdrop for a reset.