Jesse Puljujarvi becoming a hidden gem for Oilers

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators. Oilers-Senators stream coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Looking at his production alone (a modest eight goals and 14 points) through 38 games, people might insist on labelling Jesse Puljujarvi a “bust.”

Yet, as Justin Bourne argued a few weeks ago at Sportsnet, Puljujarvi passes the “eye test” with flying colors.

It’s impossible to watch him play and not think there’s more to come. He seems to be coming to grips with his size, he’s got pop in his step, and those things combined make for a pretty desirable combo.

You might need to squint, but it’s possible Puljujarvi will put those assets on display during Tuesday’s Oilers – Senators game. Even if he doesn’t end up with much in the box score.

While the goals and assists won’t impress casual fans, the “fancy stats” line up with those sensory details. Just about every metric advances the argument that Jesse Puljujarvi is a highly positive force for the Oilers; he’s just not getting the bounces that will raise more casual eyebrows.

Consider, for instance, his impressive RAPM chart for 2020-21, via Evolving Hockey.

Jesse Puljujarvi Oilers 2020-21 RAPM chart Evolving Hockey
via Evolving Hockey

That’s really good stuff, even if Puljujarvi clearly hasn’t fully mastered the whole “scoring thing.”

[OILERS-SENATORS COVERAGE BEGINS AT 4:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Interestingly enough, even that “not scoring a lot” part of Puljujarvi’s game could eventually make him more of a gem for the Oilers.

We’ll get to that in a moment, but first, let’s bask in just how delightful it’s been to watch Puljujarvi find his game.

A light at the end of the tunnel following bumpy development road

To put things mildly, Jesse Puljujarvi’s been through some challenges in trying to become a fixture for the Oilers.

As you may have heard, it was quite a surprise when the Blue Jackets chose Pierre-Luc Dubois instead of Puljujarvi at the third overall in the 2016 NHL Draft. But you probably also heard that Jarmo Kekalainen ended up looking really smart.

While Dubois and Patrik Laine looked like quick studies in the NHL, Puljujarvi struggled.

From 2016-17 to 2018-19, Puljujarvi bounced between the Oilers and the AHL. A season ended meekly with hip surgery. Puljujarvi found his future in doubt when Ken Holland took over as Oilers GM, and the winger spent 2019-20 (and a portion of 2020-21) in Finland.

Naturally, the pandemic and contract quirks explain some of what was happening. But Puljujarvi needed to find his game, and it looks like he did.

Jussi Jokinen, a former NHL player and Karpat teammate of Puljujarvi, provided some interesting insight on the young forward’s development.

“I think being a high pick and the other high picks making a name for themselves, and then him going to the minors and not really getting the chance, that was really hard for him,” Jokinen said of Puljujarvi, via NHL.com’s Tim Campbell. “Lots of young players have those growing pains, and that was just Jesse’s time to go through those growing pains and find his way.

“I don’t think anybody was happy. The Oilers weren’t happy, and I don’t think Jesse was happy. For me, personally, I think he left (Finland) too early. I don’t think he was ready to go, especially mentally. The time he spent with us, a year and a half, it was great for him. He got kind of mentally reloaded and I think he grew up a lot in that year and a half he was here.”

Could Puljujarvi be the bargain the Oilers badly need?

In an odd and circuitous way, the Oilers might extract a ton of value from Puljujarvi because of his late-blooming status, and tepid production in 2020-21.

With limited options, Puljujarvi accepted the Oilers offer of a two-year deal that carries a budget $1.175 million AAV. Getting a top-six (or top-nine) forward who can drive play is already a nice find, especially for a cap-strapped franchise like Edmonton.

Some argue that, with heady play like this:

Puljujarvi’s giving the Oilers something akin to “$6M” on-ice value.

Yet, as savvy as people are getting to advanced stats, counting numbers like goals and assists tend to carry the day in contract negotiations. Especially for forwards.

And that might be where things get interesting.

If the Oilers are smart, they might be able to sign Puljujarvi to a team-friendly extension this summer. Depending upon the money and term, the Oilers would be able to lock down some cost certainty with a forward who’s still just 22 years old. Considering the turbulence Puljujarvi encountered already in his career, he might pounce on the opportunity to gain some long-term stability. Even if it means possibly leaving money on the table.

Even if Puljujarvi is always a bit limited at finishing, he might still start to put up bigger numbers. If you recall the way the Oilers overpaid Zack Kassian, it’s clear that anyone who can stick with Connor McDavid — even for just portions of a season — can put together explosive stretches.

Theoretically, the Oilers could extend Puljujarvi before he truly breaks through.

Changing value from those high picks in 2016?

So, it’s possible that the Oilers could turn Puljujarvi into a very nice bargain. At minimum, he’s exactly that for this season, and through 2021-22.

It presents a fascinating juxtaposition between Puljujarvi, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Patrik Laine.

Honestly, it’s tough to tell if Patrik Laine’s existential crises should derail his value. Yet, as recently as March 25, the Athletic’s Aaron Portzline guessed (sub required) that Laine might make $9M per season.

When the trade first happened, people rightly pointed out the short-term bargain the Jets were getting, being that Pierre-Luc Dubois’ cap hit is set at $5M through 2021-22. But being that Dubois is a young, high-scoring center, he’s almost certain to become expensive, and soon.

While Dubois and Laine seem set to make big money, Puljujarvi’s next contract is more of a mystery for the Oilers.

Ultimately, that makes the situation almost as intriguing to watch as the big winger’s actual on-ice development. It would be quite the happy ending if this initially tragic tale ended up working out for Puljujarvi and the Oilers.

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.

Scroll Down For:

    Mitch Marner extends Maple Leafs-record points streak to 21 games

    Mitch Marner
    USA Today
    0 Comments

    TORONTO — Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record points streak to 21 games with a second-period goal and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 on Thursday night.

    Marner gave Toronto a 4-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season, scoring on a slap shot after a Los Angeles turnover inside its blue line.

    Marner became the 10th player in the past 35 years to string together a streak of 21 or more games. He has 10 goals and 16 assists during the run.

    Auston Matthews, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout with the Maple Leafs and the seventh of his career.

    Toronto has won seven of eight to improve to 17-5-6.

    Los Angeles dropped to 14-11-4 with its seventh loss in 10 games. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to practice 10 days after stroke

    Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice with his teammates just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as “day to day.”

    Letang said he felt “pretty good” after being greeted by stick taps from his teammates when he skated onto the ice at the team’s practice facility. Still, the married father of two called the experience “scary,” particularly for his family.

    “My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” he said. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

    Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke, which was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. The condition also led to the second stroke, which Letang suffered on Nov. 28 after dealing with a series of debilitating headaches.

    This time, the symptoms have resolved themselves much more quickly, according to team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who described this stroke as “smaller” than the one Letang endured in 2014.

    Letang began skating on his own just two days after the diagnosis and was cleared to return to practice on Thursday though both Letang and Vyas stressed they are in no rush for him to play in games.

    “We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play and when that time comes we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

    Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it was a “relief” to see Letang back at work.

    “It’s a great visual that he’s making progress,” Sullivan said. “Our medical team that has monitored him extremely closely feels comfortable with some of the progress that he’s making and the steps he’s taken. Everyone was excited for him to join the group.”

    Letang signed a six-year contract extension over the summer that will carry him into his 40s if he decides to play that long. Vyas said the data around strokes is “evolving” though it is unclear if Letang is now more susceptible to having additional strokes now that he’s had a second one.

    The six-time All-Star is cautious but optimistic.

    “We’ve been through this,” Letang said. “Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

    The Penguins are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and have won three straight heading into a home-and-home series with the Sabres. They’re also eager to have Letang’s familiar No. 58 back in the lineup, but only when he’s ready.

    “He’s been here for a long time and his experience and everything that he brings on and off the ice, the way he competes (is important),” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But I think in the (locker) room, (he has) poise and (he’s) somebody who’s been around a long time and whose experience you feel when he’s around.”

    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

    buffalo sabres
    Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

    washington capitals
    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.