For obvious reasons, Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews have been the centerpieces of any rookie of the year discussions throughout the first two months of the campaign, but a player some expected to join the 2016 first- and second-overall picks in Calder Trophy talk was Jesse Puljujarvi.
Puljujarvi, 18, was long-considered one of the top three players available in the 2016 draft before he somewhat shockingly fell to fourth overall, and into the hands of the Edmonton Oilers, in June.
There was palpable excitement from Oilers fans about landing the big, strong winger, and visions of what he could potentially do playing alongside Connor McDavid were tantalizing. However, despite the excitement surrounding Puljujarvi, he has yet to find his game in the NHL, scoring just one goal and eight points in 22 games while averaging less than 12 minutes of ice time per game.
Because of Puljujarvi’s struggles, there have been some wondering whether the rookie would be better served seeing increased ice time and greater opportunities in the AHL with the Bakersfield Condors. The same goes for possibly sending Puljujarvi to the World Junior Championship, where he could possibly find his game, and some confidence, at the two-week tournament.
But asked Tuesday if Puljujarvi could be California-bound at some time in the near future, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli simply said the team is going to continue to watch
“He’s shown that he can play at this level,” Chiarelli said. “He hasn’t played lately, but I believe there’s a chance he’ll play (Tuesday). It’s not ideal to have an 18-year-old not playing every game. He may see some time in the (AHL). We’ll see how it goes, (but) he won’t be joining Finland for the World Junior Championship.”
Chiarelli said one of the biggest difficulties in sending Puljujarvi down right now, though, is that he’s still trying to adjust to being in North America, learning not just the game, but also the language. And while Chiarelli acknowledged that it would be “ideal” if Puljujarvi was playing every game, the coaching staff and GM are on the same page when it comes to his development.
“Every time he’s played he’s made three or four plays,” Chiarelli said. “The fact that he’s in position to make plays is a huge step. Ideally, you’d like him to make those plays over a longer period of time each game, but those are the circumstances.”
The fluctuations in Puljujarvi’s ice time when he is in the lineup have been significant, too. He has played more than 13 minutes in seven games, but 10 minutes or less in another six. The others have seen him skate around 12 minutes.
If Puljujarvi were to get back into the lineup Tuesday, as Chiarelli suggested, it would mark just his third game in two weeks. He last dressed for Edmonton’s Dec. 8 game against the Philadelphia Flyers but skated a mere 7:51.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.