Oilers general manager Ken Holland has been on the job for less than two months, but he already has a major fire to put out. What will Holland do about Jesse Puljujarvi saying he doesn’t want to be an Oiler anymore? This should be fascinating to watch.
On Wednesday, Puljujarvi’s agent, Markus Lehto, told Sportsnet that his client isn’t interested in playing another game for the Oilers. To make matters worse for Edmonton, Lehto went on to say that the 21-year-old forward would continue his playing career in Europe if the Oilers decided not to trade him to another NHL team.
It’s fair to say that the Oilers have mishandled Puljujarvi’s career to this point. It’s not Holland’s fault that the previous regime kept the young Finn in the NHL and AHL as an 18-year-old, but he’s here picking up the pieces of this mess. The former fourth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft had just eight points in 28 games with the Oilers in his first year. He also suited up in 39 games in the minors (he had 28 points).
Clearly, Puljujarvi wasn’t ready for what the Oilers threw his way at that time. The organization didn’t do a good job of assessing whether or not he was ready for North American hockey and the North American lifestyle. Allowing him to continue developing in Finland would’ve been the wise choice. Instead, they’ve allowed him to bounce between the NHL and the AHL over the last three years. Last season, he put up just nine points in 45 games.
So what can they do to salvage this situation? Holland knows that the other 30 general managers in the league can sniff out a desperate situation when they see one. But it doesn’t sound like the veteran GM will panic or allow anyone to force him into making a bad deal.
“At the end of the day, if you can do a deal that makes sense for the Edmonton Oilers, you do it,” said Holland. “If you can’t, you go over (to Europe) and watch him play, and hopefully he scores a lot of goals over there.”
Obviously Holland doesn’t want to see an important asset head over to Finland, but he has to say the things he said so that he doesn’t paint himself into a corner. Let’s be realistic though, Puljujarvi is still young and his upside is still sky-high, but he isn’t as valuable as he was when he was 18 years old. Even if he won’t admit it, Holland knows that. Nobody would give up a top five pick to acquire him. That’s reality.
So Holland has to make sure that he gets an intriguing asset(s) back that could help the Oilers immediately or in the very near future. Yes, Holland is just starting this new gig, but Oilers fans are fed up of being patient. They’ll be looking for some positive results as soon as next season. And if you’re Holland, you probably want to make Connor McDavid happy as quickly as possible. Turning Puljujarvi into an asset that can help you soon enough would be a good start. On the flip side, he’s definitely worth more than an average prospect or a middle-round pick. There’s a balance that interested teams will have to find if they’re going to make a deal with the Oilers.
Nobody wins if a talented youngster leaves the NHL to return to Finland. The Oilers would be missing out on a decent return for him and another team would be missing out on possibly adding a 6-foot-4 winger with offensive upside. All sides should find a way to make this work in North America.
So if you’re Holland, the plan should be simple. If you get a respectable offer from another team, you pull the trigger on a trade and you accommodate a young man who has been mishandled by a previous regime. If you don’t, let Puljujarvi go back to Europe. Maybe he’ll go there and have a change of heart at some point, but that should be the last resort.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.