We’re a little over 24 hours from the 2019 NHL Draft and trade chatter around the league is starting to pick up. One name that popped up again as being available is Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi. The 2016 fourth overall pick hasn’t worked out with the Oilers and his agent believes it’s time for a change of scenery.
There have been rumors since early in this past season about the Finnish winger’s availability in a trade. The possibility of him being moved at the trade deadline ended when he underwent hip surgery in the middle of February. He ended up missing the remainder of the season.
Now, his name is back in the rumor mill again. His agent said today that a trade would be the best for both sides.
The Buffalo Sabres are one of the teams that are in the market for a right-wing that could play on their second or third line. At only 21-years-old, he may be worth the risk as a buy-low option.
There’s a lot to unpack with Puljujarvi’s game. Let’s start by going back to his draft year in Finland. Throughout the year he was thought of as the third pick behind Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. The Columbus Blue Jackets threw a curveball on draft night and selected Pierre-Luc Dubois third overall. So far, that has worked out pretty well for them.
Looking back at the forward’s draft season playing for Karpat in the Finnish pro-league, Liiga, he scored 13 goals and 28 points in 50 games. Not bad for an 18-year-old playing against men. Having said that, when you look at the production of other recent first-round Finnish players over the last few years from their draft year in Liiga, his numbers don’t jump out. Here are a few recent players from Finland that were picked early and their draft year production in Liiga:
- Aleksander Barkov: 53 GP | 21 G | 27 A | 48 PTS
- Kaapo Kakko: 45 GP | 22 G | 16 A | 38 PTS
- Mikko Rantanen: 56 GP | 9 G | 19 A | 28 PTS
- Kasperi Kapanen: 47 GP | 7 G | 7 A | 14 PTS
- Teuvo Teravainen: 40 GP | 11 G | 7 A | 17 PTS
- Joel Armia: 48 GP | 18 G | 11 A | 29 PTS
When looking at the numbers of these six players, Puljajarvi comes in with similar numbers to Rantanen and Armia. Of course, this doesn’t determine if a player is going to be successful or not in the NHL. What it does is give you an idea of how NHL-ready a player is coming out as an 18-year-old.
Barkov had immediate success as a rookie and the same is likely to occur for Kakko next season with the New York Rangers. The other names on the list, with similar production to Puljujavi, took at least a few years before they made their impact. The Oilers may have been wise to take the patient approach with Puljujarvi instead of rushing him into the league as a rookie. Now, they won’t have the opportunity to potentially be the beneficiary of him hitting his stride a few years into his pro career.
Although he hasn’t found a lot of success in the NHL as of yet, Puljajarvi has decent AHL numbers with the Bakersfield Condors. He has 15 goals and 37 points in 53 career AHL games, which comes out to 0.70 points per game. If you’re looking for a comparison that’s a higher point per game rate in the AHL than Alex Nylander.
So far, the numbers haven’t transferred to the NHL for the big Finn. There are a few conclusions that you can draw that will tell you why. Some fall on the shoulders of the Oilers and some of it is on Puljujarvi.
Edmonton hasn’t put him in the best situations when he’s been in the NHL. According to Evolving Hockey his most common linemates this season were Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jujhar Khaira , and Milan Lucic. Nugent-Hopkins is clearly the best player on that list, but the other two are not great for a player with Puljujarvi’s skillset.
The Oilers also decided to not give him a big opportunity on the power play. He only played 20 minutes on the man advantage this season, which works out to 26 seconds of power play time per game.
The underlying numbers are not in favor of the 21-year-old. According to Moneypuck, his on-ice expected goals percentage was the worst of any forward and the same can be said for his relative expected goals percentage. In other words, his expected goals percentage at 5 on 5 was 4.9% worse than the relative percentage of his teammates.
Evolving Hockey’s RAPM model also grades him out poorly. Puljujarvi had the fourth-worst expected goals plus-minus of any forward on that team at even strength. His even strength on-ice xGF/60 (1.96) was the third-worst among any forward on the Oilers to play at least 500 minutes last season.
Another area that concerns me about Puljujarvi is where he generates his shots. He’s a volume shooter that takes his shots from low-quality scoring spots on the ice. Players like Patrik Laine can get away with that with an elite-level shot. Unfortunately for Puljujarvi, he doesn’t possess a shot of that quality. Unless he’s going to use his size and start to go to the high-quality scoring areas, I have concerns that he’ll ever be able to produce at a decent scoring rate in the NHL.
Depending on the price it could be worth taking a risk on a player with a high ceiling. Ryan Rishaug of TSN tweeted that the Oilers are looking for a third-line forward in exchange for the former top-five pick. It’s not by any means an unreasonable price to take a flyer on.
Couple of Oiler quick hitters as we touch down in Van -— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) June 19, 2019
-Broberg a very good possibility at 8
-If Puljujarvi deal can land a 3line F, they do it, if not they may stand pat
-Benning likely in play - create space for young D
-Connolly should be a prime UFA target for them.
There’s a chance that Puljujarvi can turn his game around in a new situation. Admittedly there are a lot of red flags that are telling you that it’s unlikely. The team that acquires him will have to bank on his talent and potential blossoming in their system.