There are so many decisions that Oilers fans would like to mold into a physical object, make it as blunt as possible, and then use it to beat the recently-departed Peter Chiarelli over the head. The Lucic signing, the Hall trade, the lack of any d-men that truly matter, or the lack of wingers that matter even less, and we could keep going. Stalin wishes he could have scorched the Earth quite like this. But one that goes under the radar a bit, because of his age and hope, is that #4 pick on Jesse Puljujarvi.
It’s always easy to play this game, because everyone misses on someone pretty much every year. And really, the only player that Oilers fans can lament that was there instead of Puljujarvi is Matthew Tkachuk, which stings even more as he’s four hours down the road in Calgary driving everyone nuts (in a good way). Still, it’s almost certainly a different landscape for the Oilers if Tkachuk is running alongside Run CMD and leaving either Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Leon Draisaitl, or both, to play center. So we’ll leave that there. There’s also the idea of what the Oilers might have gotten for that pick in a trade, given that they were already lousy with young, pedigreed picks. Perhaps that winger or d-man they’ve been looking for for a decade or more?
Oilers fans could excuse that pick if they thought Puljujarvi was handled right. You won’t find one that thinks that, though. Puljujarvi was tossed into the NHL right from draft day at 18, and most agreed at the time that was a leap. The Oilers were still on a seemingly-endless playoff-less streak then, they would make it that year, and were adding talent wherever they could find it for what they knew to be a serious push with a fully healthy McDavid. Figuring Puljujarvi could just ride shotgun at some point might not have been ludicrous, but it was hopeful at best.
And it’s not like every top-five pick goes straight to the NHL. In the past five drafts, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, Michael Del Colle, Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner, Olli Juolevi, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, Elias Pettersson, and Barrett Hayton this year have all taken at least a “gap year.” For some, it’s worked a trick like Marner, Heiskanen, Pettersson. Others are still hoping to prove it was worth the bother, including Strome here in town. There is no hard and fast rule on these things.
Still, those who didn’t come to the NHL right away pretty much made a real impact as soon as they did, and if they haven’t there’s some doubt if they will, like with Strome and Del Colle. Those like Puljujarvi who came straight to the NHL have been impact players from jump street, with names like Kotkaniemi, the dreaded Laramie Tkachuk, Svechnikov, Dahlin, Matthews, Eichel, and the like.
Every player is different obviously, but the thinking is starting to get to be if Puljujarvi were going to be anything, you’d know it by now. 17 goals in 134 games at the top level, and being yo-yoed from the AHL to the NHL is not anything, at least not yet.
When left alone in the AHL his rookie year, Puljujarvi did produce, 28 points in 39 games. Not eye-popping, but the AHL is weird and that’s enough to notice. And that really should have been a platform for him to go on from there. And he hasn’t. And Oilers fans will tell you he still needed more time in the AHL. But these days, impact young players are ready to go pretty damn quickly, or they don’t get there. Maybe they get a year in the AHL, but that’s about it. Look around to most teams and if they have a key piece under 25, chances are they got there pretty swiftly.
On the plus side for the Oilers, Puljujarvi’s lack of sparkle means he won’t make anything coming out of his entry-level deal this summer, and the Oilers need all the cap space they can find. If they can lock him up for even two years on a prove-it deal and he does, that’s production over the investment they’ll be making, which is the exact opposite of everything they’ve been doing. And if he doesn’t, they won’t be out much financially but they’ll be out the opportunity of what they might have had with that #4 pick. And they’ll have to find a way to plug that hole he was supposed to be filling, which could be expensive. Which is how they got into this mess.
Game #54 Preview Suite