So Jesse Puljujarvi wasn’t bluffing.
After spending the summer telling the Edmonton Oilers, “Trade me or I’m signing in Europe,” they didn’t trade him so he signed in Europe. That contract includes an out clause, which allows him to return to the NHL on a deal signed before Dec. 1, after which point he wouldn’t be eligible to sign in the NHL anyway.
It appears, then, this is the end of the road for the Oilers and Puljujarvi, because he’s done with wanting to play for them. It’s difficult to blame the player for wanting out, and it’s difficult to blame the new front office for wanting to hang onto him, but sometimes you’re at an impasse and that’s that.
The obvious problem with Puljujarvi’s development, or lack thereof, in Edmonton is that he was never given the kind of chance you’d think a No. 4 overall pick would get. Have a handful of bad games? Get sent to Bakersfield. Have a good game in Bakersfield? Get called up again. Since the middle of his rookie year, he’s been sent down and called up again three separate times, only to have injuries, poor linemates and basically Edmonton’s “whole thing” hamper him when he was with the big club.
That’s not to say none of this is on him, because it’s up to players to develop their talents, especially over the summer. That’s part of the reason some in the Edmonton media are parroting the team-friendly line that Puljujarvi should have signed a prove-it deal with the organization rather than ask out, even if he (perhaps rightly) believes the Oilers held him back so much and for so long.
Especially this past year, when Puljujarvi’s three most common linemates at 5-on-5 were Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (good), Jujhar Khaira (not so much), and Milan Lucic (yikes), it seems like there was no consideration at all given to putting him in a position to succeed. That, of course, should be an easy decision for a coach or organization, especially when you’re a mile out of the playoffs.
Granted, Puljujarvi missed the last 25 games or so of the season with a hip injury, and maybe he would have gotten more of a runout in March and April once the Oilers were well and truly out of it, but I tend to doubt it. They weren’t a definitive playoff elimination away from partnering him with Draisaitl and McDavid. These were the kinds of roles they had reserved for guys who don’t have a chance to develop much more or wouldn’t be in the Oilers’ long-term plans. Which is its own problem, and why Peter Chiarelli got the axe.
Remember, this was a team that seemed to vacillate wildly on its view of the player in question, and he wasn’t the first high-end prospect to get this treatment in Edmonton. Again, every time there was an organizational feeling of, “We really need to let prospects percolate in the minors,” a given prospect would have a run of dominant play at that level and they’d lose all patience because the big club itself was only separated from being a glorified AHL team by four or five players.
So Ken Holland could have said all the right things, but it’s tough to see how or why Puljujarvi or his representatives would ever in a million years believe, “Y’know what, this is an organization that can get me on the right track.” By signing in Finland, he’s planting his flag and saying, “I’ll take my chances elsewhere.” And if that’s “not in the NHL” this season, I can’t fault him for taking an “anywhere but Edmonton” approach here.
The thing is, maybe Puljujarvi will never be a legit top-six NHL player. But he’s 21 years old and he hasn’t been put in a position to succeed, at least this past season. And when he has, whether people want to accept this or not, he’s been perfectly fine. Check out Connor McDavid’s career 5-on-5 WOWYs with and without Puljujarvi and convince me that partnership didn’t deserve more of a look than the 66ish minutes it got last season.
Maybe you want more out of a No. 4 pick than “perfectly fine,” especially if he’s playing with McDavid. I think that’s fair. But the idea that a bunch of teams now seem to be interested in getting him for a low-end prospect and a mid-round pick should not be surprising: They have to feel anyone could get more out of a smooth-skating 6-foot-4 forward who’s filled the net at every level but the NHL.
It’s time for Holland to let someone else take a crack at it.
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