The Columbus Blue Jackets 2016 draft will focus around their third overall pick. For some fans, this seemed like a small consolation prize for the disaster that was the second straight season (and 13th out of 15 seasons since the team’s formation in 2000) of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While the Columbus faithful were hoping for some luck to come their way in the form of a first overall pick, “Matthews Mania” just wasn’t meant to be. Regardless of how the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets use their first and second overall selections to take the presumptive top two players available in the forms of Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine, those in Columbus should be excited knowing that they will get a NHL-ready player in Finland’s Jesse Puljujärvi.
Columbus Blue Jackets 2016 Draft: Why Jesse Puljujärvi Will Be the Third Overall Pick
Why is there so much buzz about the 18-year old currently with Karpat in the SM-Liiga, the top Finnish professional league? For starters, Finland’s gold medal finish in this year’s World Junior Championship was largely due to the work of Puljujärvi. The 6’3” 203-pound right wing led players in the tournament with five goals and 12 assists in only seven games. This is the second-highest finish ever by an under-18 player at the tournament, tying totals set previously by Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros. The highest? Jaromir Jagr back in 1990. Puljujärvi was subsequently named the best forward and MVP of the tournament.
The SM-Liiga, being regarded as one of the top European leagues, is comprised of players with much more experienced than the young Puljujärvi. In the 2015-2016 season, he posted 28 points (13 goals/15 assists) in 50 regular season games and had seven points (three goals/four assists) in nine postseason games. Putting up numbers like these as a teenager is impressive and speaks to his natural abilities.
One of Puljujärvi’s most exciting skills is how mobile and patient he is with and around the puck. When he isn’t happy with how a play is progressing, Puljujärvi has the ability to use his skill and size to create a play, not waiting for someone else to provide the set up. His shots are strong and accurate and his legs are strong enough to give him amazing speed while also grounding him enough to fight through the opposition’s defense. Goran Stubb, NHL Director of Eurpoean Scouting, describes him as “big, mobile, skilled, an all-around winger who can score and pass.” More exciting for Jackets fans is that he also is building a reputation of being determined, confident, and possessing everything needed to be a star in this league, even drawing comparisons to the Dallas Stars’ Jamie Benn and has been called potentially the best 3rd overall pick since Jonathan Toews was selected by the Blackhawks in 2006. Perhaps the Columbus Blue Jackets’ top selection in 2016 will yield the success Toews has brought to Chicago.
It is no secret that among the many needs of the organization on the back-end, the depth down the right wing leaves much to be desired. If the season were to start today and one were to use the players in their natural positions, the depth chart looks to include Cam Atkinson, Rene Bourque, David Clarkson, and Jared Boll. While the Jackets have two promising right wing prospects in Oliver Bjorkstrand and Josh Anderson, Puljujärvi looks to be able to make the leap right into the lineup, potentially allowing general manager Jarmo Kekalainen the flexibility to allow Bourque’s contract to expire this summer and find a way to be rid of either Clarkson or Boll.
Regardless of what happens with the depth currently within this position, the front office will make room Puljujärvi next season. He will be a welcome addition to the talented prospects already within the organization, most of whom are one win away from securing a Calder Cup Finals berth with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters.