Debate whether Jesse Puljujarvi and his agent Markus Lehto’s decision to request a trade, go public with that request and play overseas in Finland when that request has not been granted, is the right decision, but Puljujarvi’s holding up his end of the bargain.
Jesse Puljujärvi scored today. Game is still on. pic.twitter.com/SLSD9f9Lao
— Juha Rapanen (@jrabane) October 19, 2019
Puljujarvi has 13 points in 13 games for Kärpät in the SM-Liiga, which is near the top of the league. Sure, you seem some guys like Justin Danforth and Tyler Morley scoring a point per game who didn’t have much American Hockey League success, let alone National Hockey league success. But they’re 26 and 27-years old respectively. Puljujarvi’s 21-years old. Tyler Benson, who many consider to be a top prospect for the Oilers, is a couple months older than Puljujarvi. Had the Oilers slowplayed Puljujarvi’s development like Bensons, fans might be similarly excited for Puljujarvi as they as for Benson.
There’s legitimate concerns about league quality, but comparisons to Beer League hockey is just hyperbole. NHL equivalency (NHLe), which estimates a player’s production based on historical statistics of players who transitioned from one league to the NHL, shows the SM-Liiga above the AHL with a 38-point pace per 82 games for a player who scores one point per game, compared to a 34-point pace from a point-per-game player in the AHL. Puljujarvi isn’t dancing around Mark Giordano and Vikcor Hedman and scoring on John Gibson and Carey Price with Kärpät, but he’s still scoring in a legitimate league.
Another season starting in the AHL would have been appropriate, but Puljujarvi requires waivers and almost assuredly would get claimed if the Oilers put him on waivers, which they would never do. A year in a league similar to the AHL isn’t the worst scenario.
It’s not ideal having Puljujarvi playing on larger rinks with less control over his development, but little has been ideal with the Oilers and Puljujarvi.
Puljujarvi could have come to camp and tried his hand with a new head coach and general manager, but he didn’t. He and his agent made the choice to not play for the Oilers again and considering how they handled Puljujarvi since drafting him fourth-overall in 2016, it’s not entirely surprising he wants a fresh start elsewhere. Only five forwards are playing more than 14 minutes a night: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, James Neal, and Zack Kassian. Would Puljujarvi had that same opportunity? Coaches have been reluctant to pair Puljujarvi with McDavid. Could he play left wing beside Nugent-Hopkins and Neal? Otherwise, he’d be playing third-line minutes with Riley Sheahan or fourth-line minutes with Gaetan Haas or Markus Granlund. Another year playing 12 minutes a game in and out of the lineup would have killed any value the fourth-overall pick in 2016 had.
Puljujarvi’s producing and that’s all he can do. His play in Finland warrants another look in the NHL, although his draft position probably would have given him that regardless, but at the very least he hasn’t hurt his trade value and at most, he’s sustained or improved his value around the league. Expectations for Puljujarvi are lower. He’s no longer compared to Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, but there’s still probably a player there.
The Oilers still have a month and a bit to find Puljujarvi a new club in the NHL. Puljujarvi’s contract with Kärpät contains an NHL-out clause by December 1st, the date which players need to sign or else they’re ineligible to play that season. With the Oilers’ hot start, maybe Ken Holland is more open to moving Puljujarvi for help at forward.
Puljujarvi’s trade request was always going to invite criticism. He wants a fresh start. Holland’s been patient and in the meantime Puljujarvi keeps scoring in Finland. That’s all he can do.