The Edmonton Oilers have had a very monotonous history with winger Jesse Puljujarvi. The team drafted Puljujarvi fourth overall in the 2016 NHL Draft and brought him to the NHL immediately after. But despite the rush to the league, the Oilers were clearly hesitant to use him much in the 2016-17 season. He only appeared in a total of 28 games during his rookie season — only playing one game of over-16 minutes — before being sent to the AHL in January. In total, he averaged a mere 11:15 in ice time throughout the whole year.
And just like that, Puljujarvi’s rookie season was unceremoniously complete. He only recorded eight points, playing very little ice time. While he did appear in more games over the next two years — 65 and 46 games respectively — the sentiment didn’t change. Puljujarvi was underused and his talents were disrespected, even in the face of some strong production.
Puljujarvi was rightfully fed up with the lack of use. And so, when his entry-level contract expired after the 2018-19 season, the winger refused to re-sign with the team without a promise of more respect. That didn’t come, though. With negotiations officially stalled, Jesse Puljujarvi moved to Finland’s top league, the SM-Liiga, for the 2019-20 season. He’s since absolutely lit up Finnish hockey. New Oilers general manager Ken Holland has reportedly tried his hand at convincing Puljujarvi to return to Edmonton. Some rumours saying he just might, but where it stands right now, Puljujarvi remains the winger that Edmonton has left behind.
Jesse Puljujarvi Has Been Left Behind by the Oilers
Placing all of the blame for the Puljujarvi-drama on Edmonton is misguided. Puljujarvi himself acted like a primadonna during negotiations, at least in the eyes of many, and put Edmonton in a sticky situation. Many fans continue this argument on why his departure was out of Edmonton’s hands, saying that the Oilers simply shouldn’t have fought so much. Puljujarvi only has 37 points in 139 career games, including a mere 17 goals. So in the eyes of many, the winger wasn’t worth the fuss that he was giving the team.
But that is so incredibly far from the truth. In fact, Puljujarvi’s on-ice performance made his theatrics plenty justified. But, thanks to his complete lack of respectable ice time, his point-totals never reflected that. Still, Puljujarvi was an offensive terror.
The Advanced Argument
His sample size is hard to break down, though. His 2016-17 season was shrouded by minimal ice time but high-duty roles. Per PuckIQ, Puljujarvi faced about as “average” as a role as can be; facing defined “elite” competition and bottom-end competition at nearly the same rate. His role was nearly identical to Zack Kassian‘s from the same year and miles harder than any other fourth-line mainstays, like Anton Slepyshev. For a rookie, this is a bit of a peculiar deployment and Puljujarvi’s numbers were hurt because of it.
The same can be said about the 46 games he played in 2018-19. Despite not even averaging 12 minutes of ice time a game, Puljujarvi faced the seventh-hardest deployment of any Edmonton forwards, by PuckIQ’s numbers. Needless to say, when Puljujarvi did get to play, he was up a creek without a paddle. The Oilers used him more like a fourth-line grinder — more like Kassian — than a great goal-scoring, star prospect.
The only year that Puljujarvi received both respectable deployment and ice time was 2017-18; coincidentally the year he played most. Finally in a role that he was clearly more comfortable in, Puljujarvi thrived. He set a 2.79 xGF/60 (expected-goals-for per-60), ranking him 41st among all NHL forwards who played in at least 700 minutes of ice time.
Even more impressive was Puljujarvi’s ixG/60 (isolated-expected-goals per-60). Strictly looking at the contributions made by his shots, Puljujarvi recorded a 0.88 ixG/60, second on the Oilers and 34th among all NHL forwards. That’s a terrific stat and speaks very highly to what Puljujarvi does best: shoot. While he didn’t tally a jaw-dropping number of shot totals, Puljujarvi’s shooting decisions were always perfectly chosen. They were quality, high-danger scoring chances. By all accounts, the fact that Puljujarvi was held to only 12 goals that season is a travesty.
Of course, there still were issues. Jesse Puljujarvi’s defensive metrics paint a below-average light and his possession numbers could’ve improved. But, simply put, he wasn’t drafted to be a defensive-wizard. Jesse Puljujarvi was drafted as a dangerous goal-scorer and an elite shooter. His ixG/60 ranking in the league’s 89th percentile proves that, even in the NHL, he did exactly that. He was an elite scoring threat that didn’t get his chance to shine.
The Glaring Issue
But what adds to this — as if it needed any more weight behind it — is the fact that Puljujarvi only recorded 48.12 minutes of power-play ice time during the 2017-18 season. That’s a negligible amount per many sites and was less than Milan Lucic, Mike Cammalleri, and Drake Caggiula totaled, to name a few. This is a disappointing trio to say the least, yet they all played significantly more on the power-play than Edmonton’s second-best shooter, per ixG. Had Puljujarvi received respectable power-play minutes, like any elite offensive ability should, he would’ve undoubtedly seen a serious increase in his point totals.
This is all to say that Jesse Puljujarvi is a truly special offensive talent. When used correctly, he has the potential to be a true terror in the offensive end. He’s flat-out proven this in Finland. During the 2019-20 season, Puljujarvi led his team, and ranked fourth in the entire league, with 53 points in 56 games. This included 24 goals, also the best on his team.
But that wasn’t enough for Puljujarvi. In a continued effort to prove he has what it takes to be an NHL phenom, he has outperformed everyone in the 2020-21 pre-season. In 11 games, Puljujarvi has 23 points; split between 10 goals and 13 assists. To boot, he’s managed 10 of these points thanks to two different five-point performances. If he matches this pace for a 60-game regular season, he’ll total 125 points. That’d be 32 points more than anyone has ever scored through the entire history of the SM-Liiga.
Of course, he’s not going to match that pace. His scoring is completely unsustainable. But scaling it to a full season’s length helps show just how amazing his performance has been so far. Puljujarvi has unquestionably been Finland’s best player since moving over last season and is shaping up to lead the league in multiple categories in the coming season.
What Needs Done
There’s simply no questioning it anymore. Jesse Puljujarvi has put all doubt aside, proving the sentiment that his advanced stats have screamed for years: he is an elite offensive talent. He is well worth the top-five pick that was spent on him. He has the potential to terrorize the league with his shot and finesse.
Coincidentally, the Oilers are in desperate need of a top-six shooter, and really more players to spread scoring among, after James Neal‘s addition didn’t really pan out. That’s the exact thing that Puljujarvi brings to the table; as shown above. If GM Holland had any sense, he’d do absolutely everything he could to bring Puljujarvi back to the NHL. Many reports say he’s doing just that, with Puljujarvi’s new deal in Finland even containing an NHL opt-out clause. But the proof is in the pudding and fans should press the matter until Puljujarvi’s return is guaranteed.
Of course, there are plenty of other teams that could use the young, high-end potential that Puljujarvi showcases. Past rumours have made it clear that Edmonton’s asking price for the winger is very high. With the new GM in place and Puljujarvi’s theatrics in Finland, that price has surely only increased. But it’s a price that teams may want to look into. While Puljujarvi does have some worries defensively and his fate in the NHL has yet to be emphatically proven, he could be worth the risk. He’s established himself as an elite shooter throughout his career and proven his offensive potency in Finland.
In the End
It’s risky trading for Puljujarvi but the payoff could be exponential. And if he’s not dealt, the Finnish winger could do a lot of damage alongside Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. Either way, Puljujarvi’s future in the NHL is bright, even if it’s not guaranteed. He’s an elite offensive talent whose off-ice theatrics clouded many’s perception of him. But in an appropriate NHL role, his numbers argue that he’s a top-end goal scoring talent.