No Pressure on Puljujarvi to Explode for Oilers in 2021-22

The Edmonton Oilers are hoping Jesse Puljujarvi is a big part of their offense this season. That said, expectations and hope is not necessarily the same thing as ‘pressure to perform’. While some players turn on the jets in a contract year, other players can buckle under the need to play at their highest level. In other words, some players excel when they have to, while others can’t get the job done when it could mean a big payday versus a smaller one. Whatever the outcome of the 2021-22 campaign for Puljujarvi, it won’t change an awful lot and all signs point to this not being an issue for the young winger.

Puljujarvi is one of the few players on this Oilers roster that will have an expiring deal but also the freedom to simply ‘play a little hockey.’ He’s not going to feel the weight of the world on his shoulders, he won’t have to hit a certain level to maintain his spot on the roster, and the Oilers aren’t likely to change their opinion of him too drastically if he simply comes in and takes the next expected and logical step in his development.

Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic wrote at the end of July:

He quickly earned a spot on Connor McDavid’s right wing in 2021 and recorded 15 goals and 25 points in 55 games. After missing the 2019-20 season to play in Finland, the Oilers want to see what Puljujarvi can do for an encore before deciding on their next contract offer.

source – ‘Can the Oilers add another goaltender? A new deal for Darnell Nurse? What I’m hearing about the Oilers offseason, 4.0’ – Daniel Nugent-Bowman – The Athletic – 07/30/2021

Knowing the Oilers will wait to see how he does this year, one might think Puljujarvi is under immense pressure to explode offensively. He’s not.

Puljujarvi Has Already Made a Good Impression

A player who needed to hit the reset button with this organization, Puljujarvi came back to the team last season and did exactly that. His coaching staff loved his energy — as did his teammates — and the Finn started to figure out the NHL game at a level he hadn’t prior. This is an organization that is happy to have the player back and they see him as a big part of the roster moving forward.

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

Puljujarvi is doing exactly what the coaching staff could have hoped for. He’s working hard, starting to use his frame, being versatile and doing the dirty work that comes with being a player of his size and speed. Players like Connor McDavid appreciate it too. McDavid has said he’s loves Puljujarvi’s energy and said back in January, “He’s a huge part of our team. If he can make strides like he looks like he has, it’s big for our team.”

Puljujarvi Has Matured, Doesn’t Seem Bothered

When the player left the Oilers the first time he was unhappy with how he played, but was also given some poor advice. The consensus seemed to be that Puljujarvi felt a sense of entitlement; something that has all but left him in his second run with the team. Head coach Dave Tippet said suggested Puljujarvi wasn’t put in the best situation to succeed early on and noted, “He put it on himself, that he didn’t handle it very well and his expectations were higher than they probably should have been. He’s matured as a young man and as a player.”

You could see things changed last season when stuff just seemed to roll off of Puljuarvi without much worry. He was up and down as a scorer and early on in the year was snake bitten. It didn’t stop him from doing what was creating chances and eventually the goals started coming. That sort of approach will suit him well this coming year.

His Contract Is What It Is

Because Puljujarvi is an RFA, he doesn’t hold much leverage in negotiations with the Oilers at the end of this season. He is arbitration eligble, but he’d have to have an insanely good run of 82 games to be able to ask for the moon and get it. All a bad season will do is open the window for a bridge deal that costs the Oilers a little less than it would if he had a big year. What a breakout season for Puljujarvi does is give the Oilers a bit more confidence to talk about a long-term deal, should they want to.

Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland
Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Even a 25-goal season isn’t going to make Puljujarvi rich coming off this upcoming campaign. The Oilers simply aren’t in a position to have to pay a lot and the player isn’t in a position to demand it. That comes down the road when he’s looking at UFA years. This is good news for the player and the team because it allows Puljujarvi to use another season and just ‘do his thing’. All he has to do is listen to the coaching staff, try to improve and see if you can build on the chemistry that was developed with McDavid last season.

Admittedly, if Puljujarvi has a dreadful year, that could change things. That said, it’s unlikely to happen. He’s got the potential to be a 17-25 goal player this year and if he remains in the Oilers top-six, it’s reasonable to think he hits that marker. If he explodes and hits 30, it’s simply a bonus.

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