The interesting case of Jesse Puljujärvi

The Oilers' fourth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft appears to want out of Edmonton

Brayton Wilson
February 22, 2019 - 5:10 pm

Photo: Perry Nelson - USA TODAY Sports

Jesse Puljujärvi's NHL career has been an enigma up to this point.

The Edmonton Oilers took the young Finn with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, but like many other assets in Edmonton, his mismanagement has led to uncertainty about his long-term future. After just three seasons in Edmonton, many are beginning to wonder if he will be on the move before Monday's NHL Trade Deadline.

Puljujärvi first came onto the scene as a 16-year-old playing at the 2015 IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championship in Canada. While the youngster went pointless in five games played for Finland, it was just an impressive feat for a 16-year-old to make the Finnish team when he did. He played very well up to his competition in the tournament, was always wanting the puck on his stick, and showed the offensive instinct that made him such a hot commodity heading into his draft year. He led the Finns through the tournament with 26 shots on goal.

Puljujärvi also started to make waves in his first season in the Finnish Liiga, where he scored four goals and put up 11 points in 21 games played with Kärpät. For a kid of just 16 to adjust to the top division and excel the way he did in limited action was another promising sign of his future in hockey.

In his draft year, Puljujärvi continued to show well as he made the Kärpät squad from Day 1. During the regular season, Puljujärvi became one of their top forwards and ended up scoring 15 goals and registering 28 points in 50 games. He played with a ton of confidence in Finland's top professional league, which led to a lot of his success in the offensive zone. He saw the ice very well, used his speed to blow by the opposition on the open ice, and was used his offensive flair to make some creative plays with the puck on his stick.

At the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, Puljujärvi was the most dynamic offensive player in the tournament while on a line with fellow draft prospect Patrik Laine and Kärpät teammate Sebastian Aho. The 17-year-old, at the time, ended the tournament with five goals, and led the event in assists (12) and points (17). Puljujärvi was a huge part of the team's success that led them to a gold medal win over the Russians on home soil.

At the start of the season, Puljujärvi was projected as a top-three pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, with his odds being likely to go second overall behind Auston Matthews. As the season went on, his stock remained relatively the same, with the exception of Laine, who jumped past him by the end of the season as the projected second overall pick.

In the playoffs, Kärpät's season ended with a seven-game series in the Liiga semifinal round at the hands of Laine and his Tappara squad that ended up winning the Kanada-malja trophy as league champions. In 10 games during the playoffs, Puljujärvi scored four goals and chipped in five assists after missing the first three games.

Following his early exit in the Liiga playoffs, Puljujärvi traveled to Grand Forks, North Dakota to take part in the IIHF World Under-18 Championship. In four games with Finland, he scored five goals and registered seven points to help the Finns to gold over Sweden.

If there were any questions about his game heading into the NHL Draft, it would have been his play in the defensive zone, which faltered as Kärpät headed into the playoffs in 2016. Other than that, Puljujärvi was touted as one of the best playmakers in his draft class, as well as a mature, NHL ready prospect.

Edmonton lucked out on Puljujärvi falling to them at fourth overall after the Columbus Blue Jackets elected to take Pierre-Luc Dubois with the third overall pick. The Blue Jackets wanted a prospect who had the potential to become a top-line center down the road, where Puljujärvi was best suited to be a top playmaking winger.

Puljujärvi made the Oilers' opening night roster for the 2016-17 season, and ended up scoring his first NHL goal in his first NHL game against the Calgary Flames. However, he went on to play 28 games as a rookie, scoring a goal and seven assists before finishing the season with the Bakersfield Condors in the American Hockey League. However, in 39 games with the Condors, Puljujärvi went on to score 12 goals and 28 points.

After starting the 2017-18 season with the Condors and playing in 10 games, Puljujärvi was called up for the rest of the season and went on to score 12 goals and add eight assists in 65 games. During that time, Puljujärvi got the chance to play on a line with Connor McDavid and was able to reap the benefits.

This season has been a down year for Puljujärvi with just four goals and five assists in 46 games. He has not been utilized by his coaches as much as he probably should be, which is a sign that the Oilers' staff is starting to lose some confidence in the 20-year-old. To make matters worse, Puljujärvi has recently been battling a lower-body injury and is likely going to get a second opinion on the injury.

After the firing of general manager Peter Chiarelli, Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson stated how important it was to develop some players by letting them stew in the AHL instead of jumping the gun too soon and rushing a prospect to the NHL.

Some reports of Puljujärvi's injury indicated that he could be shut down for the rest of the season, but others are unsure of the severity of what his injury truly is. However, even if he is healthy enough to play again this season, it's a possibility that he misses the deadline to be sent back to the AHL to be able to compete for a playoff run with the Condors.

With the recent injury and his playing status so much in question, it seems like Puljujärvi's confidence has reached a point in which it may be best for both him and the Oilers to move on. TSN's Ryan Rishaug reported last week Friday that the Oilers have had discussions with his agent, Markus Lehto, and a trade of Puljujärvi in the future may not be out of the question just yet.

It seems like quite the mess with Puljujärvi's situation with the Oilers at the time being, but he is certainly not a lost cause. He has shown that he has the capabilities of being a dynamic offensive threat with his speed and skill, but his defensive play and physicality comes to question at the NHL level. Also have to remember that he is a 20-year-old kid, and he has already been thrown into the fire and back on multiple occasions with the Edmonton Oilers.

Even though his injury and his blown confidence could be a cause for concern, Puljujärvi still has some good value if the Oilers were to seriously consider moving on from their 2016 first round pick. However, another factor in a potential trade is that Puljujärvi's entry-level contract is set to expire at the end of the season. That means he will be a restricted free agent on July 1.

It's hard to believe that the Oilers have royally screwed up another situation with a top pick they've obtained in the NHL Draft, but Puljujärvi is probably best fit to move from his situation in Edmonton. However, what kind of market will be interested in Puljujärvi, and what would it cost for another team to acquire the youngster, who won't turn 21 until May?

The interest in Puljujärvi should be high for teams wanting to take a shot on a young skilled forward who hasn't worked out to this point yet. Many teams could use a talent of Puljujärvi's, but at what cost? That would likely be the issue for numerous teams around the NHL as the Oilers would probably like to get a nice return for their former first round pick.

Then again, they do like the one-for-one deals that, often times, don't pan out in their favor.

If the Buffalo Sabres were to find a way to swing a deal to acquire the Finnish winger, he could be a nice top-six forward for the near future. No telling what the Sabres may have to give up in a deal with Edmonton, but the payoff may be huge if he can find a niche with either Jack Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt.

We'll have complete coverage of the NHL Trade Deadline on WGR from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday.

Coverage on the NHL Trade Deadline on WGR is presented by The Ideal You Weight Loss Center.

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