With Eberle gone, Puljujarvi could fill key scoring role

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This post is part of Oilers Day on PHT…

Jesse Puljujarvi‘s first year with the Edmonton Oilers started with promise, but quickly turned to frustration.

Selected fourth overall last year, the talented Finnish winger scored in his NHL debut — and then went 27 games after that without a goal before he was sent down to the minors.

When the Oilers were in the playoffs, the now 19-year-old Puljujarvi was loaned to Finland’s entry at the World Hockey Championship.

“He’s a kid from northern Finland and was frustrated because he wasn’t scoring,” said Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli told the Edmonton Sun. “When he was here, he started well and lost confidence so we sent him down (to the AHL affiliate in Bakersfield). I saw him play a few times and saw a lot of his video and he actually had a pretty good year with 29 points in 39 games in the American League.

“He had a period of apprenticeship, maybe something he didn’t think he’d have. I’m not unhappy with his development. Every time he touches the puck in the American League, there’s a pretty good scoring chance.”

Puljujarvi wouldn’t be the first young and highly touted Oilers prospect to get sent down mid-season.

Leon Draisaitl, taken third overall in 2014, played 37 games in Edmonton during the 2014-15 season with only two goals and nine points to show for. He ended up getting sent back to junior to finish the year with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. Back in the NHL the following season, his point totals have rocketed upwards. He recorded 77 points in 82 games last season while spending time on a line with Connor McDavid.

Draisaitl recently cashed in on an eight-year, $68 million deal. Will Puljujarvi experience the same sudden uptick in production next season? Or a big contract at the end of his entry-level deal? Maybe. Maybe not. But there is no sense panicking just because his first year in Edmonton included its share of struggles and, eventually, time in the AHL. He did, after all, turn 19 in May.

“Maybe right now it’s not the right time for him up here,” Draisaitl told the Oilers website in January, when Puljujarvi was sent to the AHL.

“He needs to understand that that’s probably the right thing to do right now. I didn’t want to understand it at that point when I got sent down but after you go down there for a couple weeks and come back up, you start to realize it’s probably a good thing. It gave me more ice time, I played on the power play, and it’s going to be the same with him.”

Despite what transpired over his first year, there could be an opportunity for Puljujarvi to earn a bigger role with the Oilers — certainly a full-time role with the NHL club — this season following the summer trade of Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders.

That move takes a scoring right winger out of the lineup, and while the Oilers have other players at that forward position — Ryan Strome and Zack Kassian — it’s reasonable to think that when training camp opens next month, Puljujarvi should be in line for a substantial look to try to fill that void.

If he’s successful, all the frustration from last season will quickly be forgotten.