Hip surgery ends miserable season for Oilers’ Puljujärvi

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It’s been a day of tough news for prominent Edmonton Oilers draft picks – one former, and one many believe will inevitably leave, too.

While the Devils haven’t outright said that Taylor Hall‘s season is over thanks to knee surgery, the Oilers confirmed that Jesse Puljujärvi’s season is finished as he readies for hip surgery.

Here’s more from the Oilers and assistant/interim GM Keith Gretzky:

Assistant GM Keith Gretzky says the injury has been bothering Jesse for some time now, and after careful consideration with the player, his agent, and the team’s medical staff, the best decision was to have the surgery and miss the remainder of the season.

The team believes that Puljujärvi will be healthy by training camp for the 2019-20 season.

This is the latest dramatic development in what’s been an increasingly uncomfortable situation between the player and team, as he’s bounced in and out of the lineup, and up to the NHL and down to the AHL over these bumpy first three years since being selected fourth overall in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Puljujärvi and his agent Markus Lehto were not in favor of a recent push to demote him to the AHL, and also made some eyebrow-raising comments about ending his time with the Oilers in general.

Ultimately, this boils down to struggles for both the Oilers and Puljujärvi.

At some point, you have to start producing some offense, so Puljujärvi’s nine points in 46 games this season is troubling, especially after making baby steps in the right direction last season (12 goals and 20 points in 65 games). Those numbers make you worried if the Finnish winger will ever truly catch on. Could he be another Nail Yakupov?

Yet – stop if you’ve heard this before – the Edmonton Oilers made questionable calls when it came to his development.

Puljujärvi’s spent portions of each of his first three seasons in the AHL, sometimes bouncing up and down.

He also tends to bounce around the lineup, and is only averaging 11:57 TOI per game in 2018-19. Even last season’s career-high of 13:22 TOI per game isn’t exactly a true “sink or swim” opportunity. Looking at his teammate numbers at Natural Stat Trick, his linemates have been a true hodgepodge when Puljujärvi manages to crack the lineup.

It becomes something of a tug-of-war situation. Even Puljujärvi’s most passionate defenders would probably admit that he could be doing more to earn better opportunities, yet his critics should also understand that the Oilers haven’t really committed to giving him many chances to shine.

Considering the Oilers’ unfortunate recent history with struggling prospects, it feels like this story won’t have a happy ending. The foreshadowing looks grim.

There is one happy scenario, whether it’s realistic or not.

Puljujärvi’s rookie contract is about to expire. That could be a blessing in disguise for the Oilers, as former GM Peter Chiarelli’s forced the team into a lot of salary cap corners with poor value judgments and other gaffes. Picture this, then:

  • The Oilers sign Puljujärvi to a cheap deal with some term.
  • Edmonton makes real changes to the front office, replacing “the old boys’ club” with fresh thinkers.
  • Those fresh thinkers bring in an innovative coach, who also gives Puljujärvi a clean slate and a greater role with the team.
  • Puljujärvi gets his career on track, and the Oilers enjoy some sorely needed cap savings on a quality young player.

If the last three years haven’t already totally burned that bridge, maybe things might actually work out?

A “change of scenery” may end up being more likely, and possibly an amicable way to end this difficult relationship. Of course, there’s a lot of recent history to argue that such a move could blow up in Edmonton’s face.

For all that’s gone wrong, at least the Oilers have a chance to salvage this situation, whether that chance is remote or not.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.