Jesse Puljujarvi

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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.

How should Oilers approach Puljujarvi situation?

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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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Oilers’ Jesse Puljujarvi bouncing back strong from AHL demotion

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It wasn’t the easiest start to a career, but Jesse Puljujarvi of the Edmonton Oilers has used an AHL demotion to take hold of a regular NHL spot this season.

The No. 4 overall pick from the 2016 draft played 28 games last season in Edmonton before being sent down to Bakersfield for the rest of the year. It was the right move by general manager Peter Chiarelli, even though it should have happened earlier than it did, especially when you look at just how much his ice time had been declining.

Fast forward to training camp this past September and the 19-year-old Puljujarvi still needed some more seasoning in the AHL. Head coach Todd McLellan said at the time they expected him to be one of their nine-best forwards and weren’t willing to keep him up with the big club to be stuck on the fourth line.

“We didn’t feel like he won that position and therefore we wanted to get him to Bakersfield and have him start the season there and get him working on his game,” McLellan said after camp.

Puljujarvi got a second chance in November when injuries forced an opening on the Oilers’ right side. “He’s not going to be our savior,” McLellan said. “Everybody else has to contribute and help him feel comfortable.”

Had it not been for injuries, it was anyone’s guess when Puljujarvi would have received another shot. He wasn’t exactly lighting it up in the AHL with a goal and five points in 10 games. The call up was basically a test. We need a body on the right wing. Show us what you got. The answer so far has been a passing grade: nine goals and 14 points in 30 games.

Using his size — 6’4, 211 lbs. — Puljujarvi has positioned himself in and around the net more compared to last season and it’s reflected in where most of his 80 shots have come from, as HockeyViz.com shows. He’s also shooting more and is currently second in the league in shots per 60 at even strength (11.77), per Natural Stat Trick, up from 7.27 a season ago.

The production has resulted in more ice time, which is up three minutes from last season. As a young player, it’s common for the points to dry up and have that drought affect your play, but that hasn’t been the case for Puljujarvi, something the coaching staff has noticed.

“He’s played well. He’s played confident,” said McLellan earlier this week. “The big test for him is that he went dry for five, six, seven, eight games without anything. Was he going to regress and lose his confidence? I thought he looked very confident the other day so that tells me he’s continuing his growth and he’s able to fight off those negative demons, if you will. As a result, he gets a little bit more time on the power play and we’re trying to position him where he can use his shot somewhat. He’s really starting to understand the systematic part of it and he’s been fun to be around the last little bit because he’s believing in himself and everyone else is believing in him.”

On and off the ice, Puljujarvi has shown an infectious personality as he works on his English. The hanging tongue when he skates? “That’s my thing, I don’t know why I do it.” Videobombing Connor McDavid while eating pizza? “That’s one time!”

Then there was the one afternoon during Edmonton’s bye week where Puljujarvi hit up a local outdoor rink and ended up playing some shinny with a couple of stunned young fans, leaving them with some photos, a signed stick and plenty of memories.

“I just wanted to go outside and do something. It’s always fun to skate,” he said.

One thing to take out of an Oilers season that hasn’t had a lot of positives is Puljujarvi’s emergence. He took advantage of an opportunity and it appears as if his days in Bakersfield are behind him for good.

“The sky is as tall as he wants it to be,” said Connor McDavid. “He’s big, skates well, is confident, has a great shot. But I think it all goes back to his size. He’s 6-4, still young, trying to (grow) into his body. He’ll be that solid-on-his feet, good puck-battle guy. Good in front of the net. The sky’s the limit for him.”

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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.