While it seems inevitable that Jesse Puljujarvi won’t continue his career with the Edmonton Oilers, general manager Ken Holland has remained strong on his desire to not give away the former fourth-overall draft pick away for nothing.
Puljujarvi, who currently sits without a contract in the NHL as a restricted free agent, spent the entirety of the 2019-20 season playing in his native country of Finland. After spending three seasons struggling with North American play, bouncing between the NHL and the AHL, Puljujarvi had an excellent year for Oulun Kärpät, leading the team with 24 goals and 53 points in 54 games.
It’s easy to forget that Puljujarvi is only 22 years of age. It feels like ages ago that he made his NHL debut as an 18-year-old for the Oilers back in 2016 when the team played its first-ever game at Rogers Place. To put his age into perspective, this year would have been only his second season eligible to play in the AHL had Puljujarvi been a North American skater coming up through the Major Junior ranks.
Looking around the rest of the 2016 draft class, plenty of other highly-touted players have struggled to find their footing in the NHL. Fellow countryman Olli Juolevi, drafted by the Canucks with the fifth-overall pick, hasn’t played a game in the NHL yet. William Nylander, Logan Brown, and Michael McLeod, other forwards drafted in the Top-15, also haven’t established themselves as regulars.
So, while he’s certainly been a disappointment as a fourth-overall pick, Puljujarvi is far from a bust, and Holland is correct in hanging on rather than throwing him away for nothing.
One avenue Holland could explore is dealing Puljujarvi away for another struggling top prospect in a change-of-scenery deal. Two names who have popped up in the past week as possible fits for such a deal are Florida’s Henrik Borgstrom and the New York Rangers’ Lias Andersson.
Borgstrom was another Finn drafted in the 2016 draft, taken with the 23rd pick by Florida. He came over to North America in his post-draft season and scored an impressive 43 points in 37 games for the University of Denver. He turned pro in 2018-19 and has been going up and down between the Panthers and their AHL affiliate for two seasons.
After an ugly 2019-20 season in which he posted just 23 points in 49 AHL games and only saw four games with the Panthers, rumours have come out that Borgstrom is considering returning to Finland to play for Jokerit in the KHL next year.
There’ve been some reports that Florida’s 2016 first-rounder, Henrik Borgstrom, will be going to Europe instead of staying in North America. Here is the response from Borgstrom’s agent, Markus Lehto: “Naturally, there are numerous top teams in all the best Euro leagues that definitely would like to have him. The NHL season may still continue and if that happens, Henrik is looking forward to helping the Panthers to win games. That is obviously if he is given the permission to play after his March injury. He is training hard in Helsinki with few other NHLers. Too early to discuss next season. Obviously the NHL is top priority.” – Elliotte Friedman, 31 Thoughts
Borgstrom is a restricted free agent at the end of the season and while his agent (the same agent who represents Puljujarvi) is explicitly saying that his client is going to bolt to Europe, but this is from the same playbook he used with Puljujarvi last year. Much like with Puljujarvi, Lehto seems to be using Europe as a leverage point to force a more favourable situation for Borgstrom.
A Borgstrom for Puljujarvi change of scenery swap makes some sense. Lehto gets a two birds, one stone situation as two struggling clients get a change of scenery. The Oilers get a different prospect in exchange for a player who doesn’t want to return to Edmonton. That prospect, a big, skilled, two-way centre, also plays a position of need and could slot in as the third centre.
For what it’s worth, I would expect Florida to throw in a sweetener in a Borgstrom for Puljujarvi deal, but those two would be the main parts involved.
Another name that’s come up is New York Rangers prospect, Lias Andersson. Drafted with the seventh-overall pick in the 2017 draft, Andersson has struggled mightily since coming over to North America. This year, after putting up one point in 17 games with the Rangers and five points in 13 games with their AHL affiliate, Andersson packed up and returned to Sweden to play for HV71. He put up 12 points in 15 SHL games.
Back in January, it was reported that Andersson had requested a trade from the Rangers. On Sunday, Kurt Leavins at the Cult of Hockey mentioned that he had heard the Rangers were exploring an Andersson for Puljujarvi change of scenery swap, but that the Oilers would need a sweetener, like a first-round pick, in the deal.
Like with Borgstrom, swapping Puljujarvi for Andersson makes sense from a positional standpoint, as Andersson is a centre with a strong defensive game who could immediately come in and fill an area of need for the team.
What say you, Nation? Are Borgstrom or Andersson worthwhile returns for Puljujarvi? Should Holland aim higher? Or is a change of scenery deal the most sensible option?