San Jose Sharks Should Take a Chance on Puljujarvi

The San Jose Sharks are reaching a turning point where they need to start building for the next era of Bay Area hockey. The days of Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, and even Marc-Edouard Vlasic are nearing their end and it’s time to start developing young players who can replace them effectively. While the Sharks have plenty of young prospects who are starting to fill the farm system, they’ve only played a single rookie this season so far. It appears they want to let those prospects develop slowly and make the move when they’re ready, which is certainly the right approach. Adding a young roster player to the mix would allow them to start a youth movement while not disturbing the prospects’ development. The first name that comes to mind will be a bit of a project, but Jesse Puljujarvi could benefit from a low-pressure environment and San Jose offers exactly that at the moment.

Puljujarvi’s History

Puljujarvi has had a rocky start to his NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers and it seems like the relationship has reached a point where both parties would benefit from a change of scenery. The fourth overall pick in an NHL Draft that had Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, the Finnish forward immediately had a chip on his shoulder after the Columbus Blue Jackets passed on him despite being viewed as the unrivaled third-best prospect at the time. Considering the Oilers had recently added Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid in previous years, it seemed like Puljujarvi had a remarkable future set up for him. He immediately signed with the Oilers after being drafted and made his NHL debut during the 2016-17 season. He ended up struggling a bit and spent the majority of the season in the American Hockey League with the Bakersfield Condors where he performed well considering his age.

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

It seemed like Puljujarvi found his stride at the NHL level during the 2017-18 season as he spent the majority of his time with the Oilers and recorded decent point totals; however, his production took a major hit in 2018-19. It was such an intense struggle that he spent the next season and a half back in Finland with his Liiga team Karpat. Once he returned to Edmonton, he had two solid, but not outstanding, seasons in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

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This season, however, he’s taken a step back and has reportedly reached the point where he’s questioning if he has the ability to make it at this level. Considering the Oilers are in their window to compete for a Stanley Cup, they’re not going to want to keep underperforming players on their roster for long. As a result, it seems like it’s time for this relationship to end and for Puljujarvi to embrace a new city.

Why the Sharks Make Sense

The Oilers and Sharks may be in the same division, but other than that they’re in completely different situations. One has the best player in the world at the moment and is expected to be a Stanley Cup contender, but is currently in a major battle for a playoff spot. The other is sitting very close to the bottom of the league with an aging roster that could generally use some youth to take into the future. It’s pretty clear that the Oilers have a lot more pressure surrounding them at the moment, and the Canadian media is notoriously tough on players at times. As a result, it can make it difficult to get out of a bad slump.

Edmonton Oilers Celebrate
Jesse Puljujarvi #13 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Vancouver Canucks with teammates Darnell Nurse #25, Connor McDavid #97, Leon Draisaitl #29 and Tyson Barrie #22 (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Puljujarvi could benefit from playing in a non-traditional hockey market where there aren’t as many eyes on him at all times. It allows him to deal with his struggles internally and bounce back on his own schedule rather than constantly hearing his name on the radio and national television. Of course, there will be arguments that if he can’t perform with players like McDavid and Draisaitl, then he won’t be able to cut it in the NHL at all. While that is a logical argument, sometimes it’s not a physical slump, but rather a mental one. When that’s the case, it may not matter who his linemates are. A change of scenery can benefit almost any player at a certain point in their career, regardless of which team they’re on at the time. Although Edmonton seems like a perfect fit on paper, hockey isn’t played on paper. What happens on the ice is what matters and it simply hasn’t worked out to this point.

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One benefit that Puljujarvi would have in San Jose compared to some other rebuilding teams would be the veteran leadership of the Sharks. He’d immediately be able to play with Couture or Tomas Hertl, players who have been in the league for over a decade and learned from great leaders like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. There doesn’t seem to be another organization out there that would give him a better chance to find his game. Although the Sharks would have to clear some cap to make room for his $3 million cap hit, Puljujarvi is also a restricted free agent at the end of the season, giving them further flexibility with him.

Related: Oilers & Erik Karlsson Being Linked by TSN Insider

Although Puljujarvi has struggled quite a bit in his young NHL career, the Sharks could be a perfect opportunity for him to get a fresh start. Even though they will have to part with some assets to acquire him, it’s essentially a low-risk high-reward situation for them. The best-case scenario is that he finds his game and develops into the star that he was expected to be. The worst-case scenario would be that they bring in a young, fairly cheap middle-six winger who has solid defensive capabilities and can occasionally contribute offensively. Either way, the organization gets a useful player and Puljujarvi gets the change that he so desperately needs.