The Edmonton Oilers are off to their best start in recent memory thanks to a 5-1-0 record to start the year. The team is rewarding Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli for some key moves in the off-season, and things are finally looking up in Edmonton. Everything is clicking, but one Oiler who is struggling is 18-year-old rookie Jesse Puljujarvi.
The Oilers fourth overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft had just one assist in four games and was a recent healthy scratch before dressing in the Heritage Classic against Winnipeg. On the plus side, Puljujarvi did see his most minutes of the season, playing 12:59 TOI, and had four shots on goal through 16 shifts. But it’s been a mixed bag of results for a player that won’t be getting a whole lot more playing time in the top-six.
So if the Oilers plan on keeping Puljujarvi as a third-line winger, sparingly playing powerplay minutes and showing glaring developmental issues, wouldn’t it be more beneficial to have him sent down to play with the AHL Bakersfield Condors?
There Are Obvious Growing Spurts in Puljujarvi’s Game
Statistically speaking, it hasn’t been an overly productive four games for Puljujarvi who has been scratched twice this season already. If you look at his usage he’s being used (usually) as the Oilers’ ninth forward during total time-on-ice (TOI). Powerplay-wise, only Zack Kassian, Tyler Pitlick, Anton Lander and Mark Letestu are averaging less time than Puljujarvi with the man advantage.
To really put things into perspective here are Puljujarvi’s game-by-game statistics through four NHL games with the Oilers this season, per NHL.com:
The boxscores aren’t great, and despite getting average minutes for a third-line forward, Puljujarvi hasn’t been able to do much. Fans won’t be able to use the Nail Yakupov argument — that the former-Oiler didn’t have offensively proficient players to play with. Puljujarvi has been playing with either Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, two very skilled forwards who (don’t forget) played at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
David Staples (Edmonton Journal) might have said it best in analysis of Puljujarvi’s overall game so far:
Puljujarvi needs to play a more confident, sharper game, one where he handles the puck with more certainty, finishes his checks and takes shorter shifts. He’s obviously got the size and skill to be an NHLer but he lacks experience and maturity in his game.
– David Staples (Edmonton Journal)
It’s Time for Edmonton to Learn from Past Mistakes with Prospects
Since the Oilers officially started their rebuilding process in June 2010, they’ve forced top picks and high-end prospects into prominent roles and forced them to carry the load. It’s been a recipe for disaster, and it’s shown time and time again in the standings and player development. The results aren’t there, development stalls and then Edmonton ends up with a declining asset that they have to sell cheap.
It happened with Magnus Paajarvi, Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov, to paint a picture. Sure, each player had their struggles, but you can say that Edmonton forcing them to play in roles above their abilities at the time didn’t help. Just because a player has a top line, top-six, top-pairing or top-four potential doesn’t mean they’ll automatically be that when they waltz into the league. There is a natural development curve, and the Oilers have ignored that time and time again.
As per Hockey’s Future, once again the Oilers have a player with high-end, possibly elite-level potential. Here is his talent analysis:
Puljujarvi is a big, playmaking forward who uses his size to advantage and is constantly looking to create scoring chances. A talented stickhandler and passer who is extremely mobile for a player his size, he is remarkably consistent and competes in all three zones of the ice.
– Hockey’s Future
For European prospects there is that natural adaptation to the North American style — it’s even more prominent for an 18-year-old. The smaller ice surface offers limited space for creativity, something that is a big part of Puljujarvi’s game. Another factor is the sheer size of the defenders Puljujarvi now has to deal with on a nightly basis.
Sure he’s not getting the top-pairing assignments from the opposition, but even playing against third-pairing NHL defenders has caused some concern in Puljujarvi’s game.
There are several Oilers out with injuries, and once they’re back they’ll challenge for bottom-six minutes, and if Puljujarvi isn’t producing one of them will take a spot over him in the lineup.
Puljujarvi Will Get a Prominent Role in AHL
The AHL season is just underway, and the Condors are 1-2-0, losing back-to-back games. Offensively this isn’t a great team — they have average production through three games and need a boost. Puljujarvi will get a prominent role with the Condors and likely play top-six minutes with other Oiler hopefuls like Jujhar Khaira, Taylor Beck, and Ryan Hamilton.
There is a prime example for the Oilers who don’t have to look far back for another European prospect who spent a majority of his rookie season in the AHL. Colorado Avalanche prospect Mikko Rantanen was a 10th overall pick in 2015 and played the year out with the San Antonio Rampage. Like Puljujarvi he was a highly-rated prospect with significant offensive upside and will factor into the Avalanche’s future.
Rantanen went on to score 24 goals and 60 points in just 52 games. It was well over a point-per-game and Rantanen was named AHL Rookie of the Year and even led the Rampage in scoring.
Puljujarvi has that ability, and the Oilers should finally learn from past failures and take a slow and cautious approach with a top prospects’ development.