It was a little less than three years ago that the Oilers seemingly had a gift fall right into their laps, but landing Jesse Puljujarvi with the fourth-overall pick at the 2016 draft hasn’t turned out quite the way Edmonton expected and his time with the organization may already be close to coming to an end.
Earlier this week, after in-season chatter about his unhappiness with his situation in Edmonton, there were rumors that the 21-year-old was on his way to the KHL. And though those were shot down – rather quickly, too – another report has cropped up, this time from TSN’s Bob McKenzie. Speaking on Vancouver’s TSN 1040, McKenzie said that while Puljujarvi wishes to remain in the NHL, “his preference is also to be traded out of Edmonton.”
Few will be altogether shocked to hear that Puljujarvi wants out, and, frankly, it could have been seen coming. Since arriving in Edmonton ahead of 2016-17, Puljujarvi has yo-yoed between the NHL and AHL, getting sent down to the minor league in each of his three seasons in North America. It should be said, however, that the demotions weren’t without reason, as Puljujarvi hasn’t produced to the projected level in any of his shots with the big club. In 139 games with the Oilers, he has scored 17 goals and 37 points, which is far from what most were expecting and puts him 13th in scoring – and the ninth-highest scoring forward – among those from his draft class.
But if he has asked out of Edmonton, where does Puljujarvi play next season? Here are several potential destinations for the once-coveted prospect:
There are a few reasons this makes sense for the Coyotes. First and foremost, Arizona needs scoring. Puljujarvi can offer that, particularly if he can deliver and fulfill his potential. Taking a flyer on Puljujarvi could prove very worthwhile if all he really needs is the opportunity, too, because few teams can provide that quite like Arizona. As it stands, the Coyotes have 10 forwards under contract for next season – and no prospects who are clear-cut candidates to fight for full-time work next season – which means Arizona might be one of the few teams who can provide an 82-game NHL opportunity to Puljujarvi, who couldn’t be demoted without first clearing waivers. Add in the Coyotes’ dearth of offensive talent – they were among the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL last season – and a Puljujarvi acquisition would fall under the calculated-risks banner.
There is, however, that small matter of working out a trade. What, conceivably, can the Coyotes offer the Oilers? A pick or two might be of interest to Edmonton, and maybe Arizona sweetens the pot with a similarly sized and aged prospect such as Lawson Crouse. The 11th-overall pick in 2015 has 17 goals and 38 points in 164 games.
The Ducks will begin injecting youth into their roster next season. You can bank on that. Troy Terry, who spent nearly half a campaign with the big club last season, seems certain to be a full-timer in 2019-20, and Sam Steel, who played 22 games in Anaheim this season, is sure to follow. After that, though, the Ducks will need to find other ways to inject some youth into a rapidly aging forward corps that had only one forward under the age of 28, Rickard Rakell, score at least 40 points last season. That’s where Puljujarvi comes in.
In order to acquire the winger, though, Anaheim isn’t going to want to part with any of its top up-and-comers and it’s doubtful that Edmonton is going to be all that interested in a mid-20s talent in exchange for Puljujarvi. So, what’s the best method for both sides to get a deal done? It might be packaging a prospect with upside – say Max Jones, who was ranked 92nd overall in Future Watch 2019 – with a pick and prying the Oilers winger out of Edmonton that way.
One idea that has been floated is the potential for the Sabres to flip one struggling prospect for another in what would essentially be a re-write of two of the top-10 picks in the 2016 draft. Four picks after the Oilers took Puljujarvi, the Sabres nabbed Alex Nylander, the brother of Toronto Maple Leafs scorer William Nylander, and the expectation was that he would be starting to show signs that he could be an impact player in Buffalo by now. That has not happened. All told, Nylander has played 19 games for the Sabres and contributed three goals and six points. A dozen of those contests came last season.
What the trade might offer the Sabres is a triggerman winger who has top-six potential, while the Oilers would get a speedier – though smaller – winger with plenty of puck skill. Maybe one side or the other has to sweeten the pot to get the deal done, or maybe there’s an exchange of picks attached, but there’s reason the deal could work. Plus, Nylander has two seasons left on his entry-level deal. That gives Edmonton at least one more season to let him develop in the minors, if they so choose. That’s not a luxury they currently have with Puljujarvi.
The Hurricanes already have a couple of talented Finns on their roster in Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho, so doesn’t it just seem to make sense that Puljujarvi would be a fit in Carolina? It’s been posited that part of what has been difficult for the 21-year-old since he arrived in North America is the language barrier, and if that’s the case, being surrounded by a couple compatriots – who could also potentially be his linemates – might ease the transition for or offer a level of comfortability to Puljujarvi.
The first thought might be that the Hurricanes’ wealth of blueliners might be the answer to facilitating a trade, but though the Oilers need better blueliners, there’s a financial logjam on the back end in Edmonton right now with eight defenders under contract next season at a cap hit of $1 million or more, four of which will carry cap hits of at least $4 million. So, acquiring Puljujarvi as part of a package that sends Calvin de Haan or Dougie Hamilton the other way doesn’t exactly work. But maybe packaging a pick with a prospect – perhaps Julien Gauthier, who has been passed by others in Carolina’s system? – might be enough to land Puljujarvi, who likely doesn’t have one-for-one trade value if it’s a full-time NHLer going the other way.
The Blackhawks have shown time and again that they’re not afraid of attempting a reclamation project, and Chicago had success undertaking such an effort just last season when Dylan Strome, acquired from the Coyotes after failing to find his fit in Arizona, went out and posted 17 goals and 51 points in 58 games. Could a similar move to the Windy City benefit Puljujarvi? It’s not out of the question, and it makes sense that the Blackhawks, who are lacking size up front, would at least kick the tires on landing the winger.
Edmonton probably won’t be all that interested in taking on any of the prospects with which Chicago would be willing to part, however, and the Blackhawks don’t exactly have a wealth of picks. Maybe there’s a bigger deal to be made, one that includes NHL regulars and some salaries changing hands. Don’t discount that possibility.
Facts are facts, and the fact is this: the Oilers own his rights. If he wants to play in the NHL next season, Edmonton has the opportunity to say that it’s with the Oilers or with no one, essentially refusing to trade the winger. Will it get to that point or would Edmonton take that approach? Unlikely, but the front office might not have to. Significant changes have been made to the Oilers’ staff, both in the front office and behind the bench, and the additions of GM Ken Holland, coach Dave Tippett and new assistants – Glen Gulutzan appears to be sticking around, but Tippett has yet to add the rest of his staff – might persuade Puljujarvi that things can be different for him in Edmonton.
If he’s put in the right situation by Tippett, who has a decent track record with young players, there’s still potential for Puljujarvi to develop into a useful-or-better scorer at the NHL level. It’s not fair to label him a bust yet, and there’s still a chance the Oilers can be the ones to get his development back on track. If they can convince Puljujarvi of that, or at least get him to give the organization one more shot, there’s no reason he can’t start next season as an Oiler.
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