Ken Holland

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

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.

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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: The Oilers have a new GM (Ken Holland) and a new head coach (Dave Tippett), but as far as personnel changes go, this was a very quiet offseason.

Considering some of the blunders of the Peter Chiarelli era, there might be a feeling of “no news is good news,” although try telling that to Connor McDavid, who didn’t get much of a bright side to look on beyond hoping that Mike Smith channels his solid playoff production, rather than Smith’s more troubling body of work.

The Oilers are almost the same team as last year, although James Neal could be a nice upgrade over Milan Lucic.

Strengths: McDavid! OK, thanks for coming!

Alright, the Oilers also have Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and maybe some help coming – eventually – with prospects such as Evan Bouchard.

And, hey, having the best player in the world is a pretty big strength.

Weaknesses: … And squandering McDavid’s talents almost takes talent in itself.

You know you’re weak on the wings when people are hoping that James Neal is a solution, and crossing their fingers that Alex Chiasson can approach last season’s numbers.

This team is weak on the wings, and that’s far from their only issue. Their defense doesn’t play the sort of modern game that you’d want to propel McDavid in transition, and lacks elite skill overall. Maybe Tippett can scheme this group to competence, but it’s unclear how much potential has been untapped after Ken Hitchcock and Todd McLellan tried their hands at the same.

Oh yeah, their goaltending duo of Smith and Mikko Koskinen is a bowl of “meh,” too.

[More: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Consider this: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is about to enter his ninth season in the NHL, and Tippett will be his ninth head coach.

The Oilers have been the definition of dysfunctional for a distressingly long period of time, and while there’s the feeling that McDavid and others are far beyond the point of being tired of losing, it’s time for some stability. That’s what Tippett represents: a steadying presence, something that must appeal to the deliberate approach Holland also seems to prefer.

That said, Edmonton’s also subject to about-faces, as that seems to be their M.O. Let’s put Tippett at a three.

Three Most Fascinating Players: McDavid, Koskinen, Darnell Nurse

Number 97 would be a pick every year based on his captivating speed and skill alone. Maybe eyes are fixed on him a bit more now, though, as he’s shown signs of frustration, occasionally actually letting that be known in vague media comments. If the Oilers unravel again, will McDavid vent in an even bigger way?

Re-signing Koskinen tied a baffling bow around the Chiarelli era. Along with Smith, it’s tough to know what exactly we should expect from Koskinen. If Tippett’s system dumbs games down and makes it all a slog, that might actually set the stage for some redemption. (James Neal is another fascinating redemption story.)

The Oilers have precious few defensemen of merit, so it’s crucial for them to see Nurse take additional steps forward. Then again, he’s entering a contract year, so they also probably don’t want to break the bank for the RFA. That should make Nurse intriguing to watch.

Playoffs or Lottery: It’s tough to pick against McDavid, especially since Draisaitl and RNH give him some support. One can imagine a decent formula of McDavid + stingy defense and goaltending = grinding out wins.

Hockey teaches us time and time again that one superstar rarely is enough to mask a ton of blemishes, though. While a weak Pacific gives some hope for Edmonton sneaking in, I’d lean closer to the lottery than the playoffs with Edmonton.

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

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.

Check out the Oilers’ new alternate jersey

Edmonton Oilers
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The Edmonton Oilers underwent a lot of change over the summer with the hiring of a new general manager (Ken Holland), a new head coach (Dave Tippett), and a handful of new players (most notably, James Neal and Mike Smith).

There is also going to be a small change in their look.

The team unveiled their new alternate uniforms on Thursday, a look they will sport for all Friday home games during the 2019-20 season.

Check it out.

The Oilers point out that the uniform “emboldens the iconic Oilers logo, removing all white accents to bring the crest alive on the ice.”

What do you think, hockey fans?

Is it a good look or not?

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.

Oilers add Riley Sheahan on one-year deal

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In his first year as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, Ken Holland has had the difficult task of trying to build up the depth around superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Given how little the Oilers had around them on the roster and how little salary cap space they had to work with, it has forced Holland to try and find bargains on the free agent market.

He continued that process on Thursday by signing veteran center Riley Sheahan to a one-year deal. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it is reportedly worth $900,000 for the season according to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug. Holland has some history with Sheahan, having drafted him in the first-round of the 2010 NHL draft when he was still the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings.

In 447 career games he has scored 58 goals and 149 total points, including 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) a year ago with the Penguins and Panthers.

The hope for the Oilers is that he can settle into a third-line center role and help give the team some useful minutes. The Oilers have two outstanding centers (McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) but very little depth down the middle behind them. It has been a massive problem for them and resulted in the team getting crushed when neither of the top two are on the ice. Whether or not Sheahan can help enough to make an impact in such a role remains to be seen, but it is a small price to pay to find out.

Along with Sheahan, the Oilers have also added Markus Granlund and Josh Archibald this summer, while also trading Milan Lucic for James Neal.

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.