Maple Leafs Need to Trade for Puljujarvi

Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi has informed the Oilers that he will not be playing in Edmonton next season. If he is not traded, Puljujarvi will return to Europe to play next season.

With the Oilers potentially moving him, the Toronto Maple Leafs should make an effort to get the young winger.

The Potential Deal

Puljujarvi is a pending restricted free agent, meaning if Toronto were to acquire him they would need to give him a contract extension. Luckily for them, he should come fairly cheap. His career high was 20 points in 2017-18, which would likely see him sign a cheap deal worth around $1 million per season.

The Maple Leafs are in a cap crunch. They still need to extend Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson and they need to trade Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev. Once those tasks are completed, Toronto’s cap situation will be much clearer. A cheap piece such as Puljujarvi could help if they are able to include a player like Connor Brown in the deal.

Connor Brown Maple Leafs
Connor Brown, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dec. 12, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Brown’s name has been floating around in trade rumours since the trade deadline. He has one more year on his contract at a $2.1 million cap hit before he is an RFA next offseason. Brown is a solid player that is outranked on a deep Maple Leafs team.

Brown was rewarded after a 20-goal rookie season with his current contract but has been unable to reach that level of production since. The emergence of Kapanen and Johnsson as top wingers has shackled Brown to the bottom-six in the Maple Leafs lineup. He could greatly benefit from being on a team with less offensive depth.

A Brown for Puljujarvi trade would benefit all parties involved. Toronto will receive some cap relief by moving Brown’s contract, while the Oilers will have received a winger who can potentially play in Edmonton’s top-six. Brown will be able to play in a more prominent role and Puljujarvi will get the fresh start he is looking for.

Puljujarvi’s Time in Edmonton

Puljujarvi was taken with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Since then he has split time between the Oilers and the team’s AHL affiliate Bakersfield Condors. His career thus far has been rife with management errors and it has greatly affected his development.

SportsNet’s Mark Spector gave a detailed list of mistakes that the Oilers management made in regards to Puljujarvi’s development. Included were not helping him enough with learning English, rushing him over to North America and not allowing him to develop in the AHL.

Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Oilers have shown an inability to develop players in recent history. Their top players were all drafted high in their respective classes, most notably, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who were both drafted first overall, and Leon Draisaitl, who was drafted third overall. While Puljujarvi was drafted fourth overall, he did not show the promise of these other players.

The Oilers player development has failed to develop their late round picks into credible NHL players. Puljujarvi is a prime example of the team botching a players development. If he is going to excel in the NHL he needs to be given a chance to play for a team that can develop him properly.

Puljujarvi’s Potential Greater in Toronto

In stark contrast to the failings of Edmonton, one of the keys to the Maple Leafs success has been their ability to develop players. On their current roster, Zach Hyman, Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen were all developed by Toronto’s system before becoming top six players.

Puljujarvi’s potential in Toronto would be significantly higher given the opportunity to develop within the Leafs system. The Maple Leafs’ track record has shown that they are very capable of taking young players and turning them into NHL players.

Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Even if he was playing on the Maple Leafs’ third line, Puljujarvi would likely be playing winger to Nazem Kadri. The positives of being on Toronto’s third line are that with Auston Matthews and John Tavares playing on the first two, the third line should be able to pick up the scraps. If Puljujarvi is able to improve and contribute consistently on a line like that, he could easily find himself playing on the Maple Leafs’ top two lines from time to time.

Any improvement will ultimately need to come from a combination of effort from management and Puljujarvi himself. He was failed by the Oilers management system and his trade demand shows that he knows that. For a trade to truly benefit him, he will need to put in the effort on his new team. If it is the Maple Leafs there is much to benefit for all involved.