Jesse Puljujarvi

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Oilers’ Puljujarvi, Stars’ Honka won’t play in NHL this season

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With Sunday’s RFA deadline having passed, neither Dallas Stars defenseman Julius Honka nor Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi will play for any NHL team during the 2019-20 season.

Both Finnish players are plying their trade in Finland’s Liiga this season. Puljujarvi’s play has been particularly tantalizing, as the big winger has 24 points in 25 games so far for Karpat. (Honka has six points in 15 games for JyP HT Jyvaskyla.)

Of course, things feel more fraught with Puljujarvi because of the stakes. The 21-year-old was the fourth pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, and it was a surprise to most that he didn’t go third overall. While Pierre-Luc Dubois has been a find for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pulujuarvi’s development has been bumpy with the Oilers, skewing more toward the Nail Yakupov route than that of, say, Leon Draisaitl.

Time will tell if Puljujarvi can prove that he actually isn’t a bust, but either way, it at least feels like he won’t suit up with the Oilers again. That said, Ken Holland has pointed to instances during his time as GM of the Detroit Red Wings where players seemed like they wouldn’t suit up again for Detroit, only for them to return — at least sometimes. (Jiri Hudler’s a decent example.)

It’s difficult to tell what Puljujarvi’s ceiling or floor really is, but it feels like he should at least be able to help an NHL team, so it feels like a waste. There are certain signs that he could at least be someone who brings something to the table, such as his Hockey Viz heat chart via Micah Blake McCurdy:

Solid enough. One could picture Puljujarvi giving the Oilers a much-needed boost beyond Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, if only new Oilers management could find a way to earn a clean slate (or maybe Holland would’ve needed to pony up some more money?).

To a less dramatic extent, Honka has been one of those players whose underlying stats make you think that he should be helpful … if nothing else, at least as a bottom-pairing defenseman, as the bar isn’t especially high at that level:

Alas, neither one could really stick in lineups, whether they weren’t quite ready for the NHL, found their way into coaches’ doghouses, or some combination of factors.

Both situations seem wasteful, even if each player might only be capable of fairly average results. Oh well, maybe we’ll see them in the NHL next year — wherever they might play?

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.

Five players that could be on the move

We don’t typically see a lot of trade activity early on in the regular season, but with parity at an all-time high across the NHL teams may be tempted to make a splash earlier than normal. The St. Louis Blues, for example, have already done so by acquiring Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes. So, who’s the next one to be moved?

Nobody’s completely out of the playoff race yet, but some general managers have to know that there’s a good chance they won’t be playing meaningful hockey in April. At the same time, there are some good teams that are outside the playoff picture right now, so they may be looking to shake up their roster a little bit.

Let’s take a look at five players that can possibly be on the move in the next little while.

• Jesse Puljujarvi – RW – Edmonton Oilers:

Puljujarvi isn’t playing for the Oilers right now because he wasn’t in love with the contract offer they made him this summer. The 21-year-old had just four goals and nine points in 45 games, but he has a nice combination of size and skill that most teams would kill to have at their disposal. The former fourth overall pick in 2016 has opened the season with Karpat of the Finnish league where he has 11 goals and 18 points in 17 games. Sure, the Finnish League competition isn’t like the NHL, but that’s still an impressive start. The Oilers need some forward depth pretty badly, so they could be tempted to pull the trigger if another team is willing to give them that in return for Puljujarvi’s services.

• Julius Honka – D – Dallas Stars:

Alright, let’s get the Finnish hold outs out of the way. Like Puljujarvi, Honka didn’t sign with the Stars this summer. The 23-year-old is currently playing for Jyp HT Jyvaskyla in Finland. There, he’s accumulated a goal and three assists in six games. The former first-rounder hasn’t played a full season in the NHL yet, but he has two goals and 13 points in 83 games across three seasons. Honka is still a bit of project, but he could be a useful asset for a team looking for a puck-mover.

Eric Staal – C – Minnesota Wild: 

This one might be out of left field, but the Wild are old and they aren’t very good. Staal is now 35 years old, he’s picked up a respectable nine points in 13 games and he has this year and next year remaining on his affordable contract that comes with a $3.25 million cap hit. Staal doesn’t have any trade protection, so there’s a chance he could be on the move. Finding a big center that can score roughly 50 points in a season isn’t easy no matter how old they are. If the Wild make him available, teams would come calling.

Chris Kreider – LW – New York Rangers: 

The Rangers’ rebuild is probably right where it should be right now, but will it continue to include a 28-year-old pending unrestricted free agent? Probably not. Whenever Kreider plays at 75 games in a season, he scores 20-plus goals. He’s big and has pretty good wheels for a player of his size, so you know other teams will be interested in his services. What will it take to get him? That remains to be seen, but rather than losing him for nothing on July 1st, the Rangers might as well just get something for him. Kreider has two goals and four assists in 10 games this season.

Paul Byron – LW – Montreal Canadiens

Byron is off to a difficult start this season, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a useful player anymore. The speedy winger has scored 22, 20 and 15 (in just 56 games) goals over his last three years. When healthy, he’s an excellent penalty killer that’s capable of playing up and down in a good team’s lineup. The tricky part, is that he’s in year one of a four-year deal that will pay him $3.4 million per season. The 30-year-old has spent most of his time on the Canadiens’ bottom-two lines this year and he has just two assists in 13 games. Byron is an important leader on his team, which may mean that he doesn’t get moved at all, but the Habs are deep and need to get bigger.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Puljujarvi excelling in Finland as NHL future remains uncertain

The clock is ticking for Jesse Puljujarvi and the Edmonton Oilers.

By the time the calendar turns to Dec. 1, 2019, the Finnish forward will know his fate for the remainder of this season. Come that Sunday Puljujarvi will either be with the Oilers, on a new NHL team, or knowing that he will be playing with Liiga’s Karpat through the end of the 2019-20 campaign.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement states that Puljujarvi, a Group 2 free agent, has until Dec. 1 to sign a contract or he will be ineligible to play this season. An unsigned restricted free agent, the 21-year-old has excelled since signing a one-year deal — which features an NHL opt-out clause — with Karpat while waiting to see how his future unfolded.

In 17 games Puljujarvi has 11 goals and 18 points and doing everything the Oilers hoped he would. Those that watch him play on a regular basis say his game has improved, according to Sportsnet’s Mark Spector. His play has also earned him a call up to the Finnish national team for the upcoming Karjala Cup, which general manager Ken Holland will be attending.

Now come the questions for Holland: Do you bring him back over? Do you look to make a trade if a return to Edmonton isn’t in the cards? Or do you let him build his confidence for a season at home and re-visit the situation in the off-season?

Holland has the leverage in this situation with Puljujarvi’s RFA status, and given the player’s struggles in his first three NHL seasons, between injury and finding it difficult to carve out a regular spot in the Oilers’ lineup, option No. 3 is probably the best for all parties. Let him stay in Finland to continue improving his game and figure out a plan in the summer. If he still wants to move on then a strong season with Karpat would encourage other NHL teams to make their interest known. If he’s open to re-signing, then the Oilers would certainly welcome him back considering their need for depth scoring up front.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Puljujarvi heads to Finland on one-year deal with NHL opt-out

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Jesse Puljujarvi wanted out from Edmonton and on Tuesday he returned home to Finland after signing a one-year deal with Liiga’s Oulun Karpat.

While the 21-year-old forward will begin the season in Finland, his contract does include an NHL opt-out clause which expires on Dec. 1, the deadline for restricted free agents to sign and be eligible to play in the 2019-20 season.

Puljujarvi came up through the Karpat system before he was drafted No. 4 overall in 2016.

The relationship between Puljujarvi and the Oilers deteriorated over this past season which saw him play only 46 games and spend plenty of time down in AHL Bakersfield. After the season his agent reiterated to new Edmonton general manager Ken Holland that his client did not have a desire to remain with the team and wanted to be traded.

“What Jesse has been saying to (Oilers GM Holland) Kenny and everybody else, and what I’ve been saying, is we just don’t think it’s going to work out any more,” Puljujarvi’s agent, Markus Lehto, told Sportsnet 650 in June. “He could definitely benefit from a fresh start. I think he deserves a fresh start. I think he has done everything that Edmonton coaches, management, they had a plan. He went down three times to the American League. Every time he played excellent and he was brought back up, right?”

Over three seasons and 139 games in Edmonton Puljujarvi scored 17 goals and record 39 points. He was unable to find a consistent top-six role in the Oilers lineup and saw his ice time drop from 13:22 in 2017-18 to 11:57 last season.

This is a move that will probably end up being best for both sides. The Oilers retain Puljujarvi’s rights and can allow him to develop with more minutes and if there’s progress maybe a deal can be made. Holland could have sought out a trade partner now, but considering the team owns his rights as an RFA, he might as well see if his value rises rather than selling low.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blue Jackets’ Pierre-Luc Dubois on verge of huge season

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Columbus Blue Jackets raised some eyebrows at the top of the 2016 draft when they used the No. 3 overall pick to select Pierre-Luc Dubois, passing on winger Jesse Puljujarvi. It was a bit of a surprise because Puljujarvi was viewed as the consensus pick at that spot and was one of the big three in that class alongside Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine (even if the other two were a notch ahead of him).

So far, it is looking as if the Blue Jackets were correct in their assessment to select Dubois.

While Puljujarvi has been mishandled by the Edmonton Oilers and not yet established himself as an NHL regular, Dubois has quickly started to emerge as one of the top players on the Blue Jackets and a significant part of the team’s long-term core.

In his first two years in the NHL he has played in every single game while showing consistent improvement across the board offensively, already producing at a top-line level.

Based on what he has already produced there is reason to believe he could be on the verge of a monster season in 2019-20 for the Blue Jackets. How high is the ceiling for him this season? Let’s try to take a look.

[More: 2018-19 In Review | Under Pressure | Three Questions]

The table below looks at recent players with a similar start to their NHL careers and what they produced in year three. The criteria: Forwards since the start of the 2007-08 season that played their first two years in the NHL at ages 19 and 20, while also averaging at least 0.25 goals per game, 0.65 points per game, and a 51 percent Corsi percentage — all marks that Dubois has hit so far in his career.

It is a promising list of comparable players if you are Dubois and the Blue Jackets.

A couple things to consider here.

First is that the previous players in this group scored, on average, at a 31-goal, 81-point pace over 82 games, while only one player (Nylander) failed to scored at least 26 goals. Those are huge numbers.

If you wanted to look for a reason to lower you expectations for Dubois it might be that his per-game averages over the first two years are at the low-end of this group. While that is true, his year two performance was right in line with everyone else (0.33 goals per game, 0.74 points per game). The player whose path he most closely resembles is probably Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk whose career and development skyrocketed this past season for the Flames.

Obviously there are no guarantees in professional sports, so Dubois still has to actually do it. But recent history suggests that players that have performed at the level he has demonstrated at this stage of his developmemt go on to become All-Star level players. If you are good enough to perform like that in your first two seasons, it is usually a strong sign that you are going to be good enough to keep getting better.

Given how much offense the Blue Jackets have lost this offseason they are going to need this sort of step from their best young forward.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.