By Neil Becker
Jesse Puljujarvi’s time with the Edmonton Oilers may be coming to an end.
This hulking right winger, who stands at 6 foot 4 inches and 201 pounds became an Oiler when he was drafted 4th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Since then, he’s had a polarizing tenure with the Oilers which has consisted of some great play along with bouts of inconsistency.
Puljujarvi, who scored 14 goals and a career high 36 points in 65 games this year, started the season extremely well as he produced six goals in the first 11 games. He averaged about a point per game in the first 15 games and was becoming extremely popular until suddenly the wheels fell off. Unexpectantly, he endured some long scoring slumps which had him moving to different lines. Over the final 54 games of the season, he scored only eight goals and this past spring only two in 16 playoff games.
“Certainly, he played really good the first quarter of the season and then he kind of came off it, and I think it was a struggle for him, I think the last half,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said. “I think he lost his confidence. Then he lost his confidence, he obviously was in the top-six and he worked his way into the bottom-six.”
Back in 2016, when Puljujarvi was drafted, Oilers fans and management were extremely optimistic and excited about the future. In fact, approximately a month after the draft, he inked a three-year entry level contract and Oilers nation welcomed him with open arms.
That fall, looking to make a mark as a teenaged rookie, Puljujarvi badly struggled as he scored only 1 goal and 8 points in 28 games before getting sent down to the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors where in 39 games he tallied a respectable 12 goals along with 28 points.
In his sophomore season, Puljujarvi’s stats showed a slight improvement as he played 65 games with the Oilers and produced 12 goals and 20 points. Once again, he saw some time in the AHL as he dressed for 10 games with Bakersfield where he scored 1 goal and 5 points.
Puljujarvi’s development took a major hit in his third season which saw him play only 46 games in the 2018-2019 campaign where he scored only 4 goals and 9 points. He also played four games in Bakersfield and totaled 2 goals along with 4 points.
At this time, fans and media alike were starting to get a little impatient with Puljujarvi’s lack of production and inconsistent play.
Having lost confidence and frustrated with his lack of playing time, it looked like his days as an Oiler had come to an end when Puljujarvi decided to hold out and spent the 2019-2020 season playing for Oulun Karpat in the Finish Elite League League.
Looking at the time for the Oilers to trade him, both sides eventually made peace and on October 7, 2020, they agreed to a two-year $2.35 million dollar deal with the Oilers.
Whether it be maturity or a new found confidence, Puljujarvi showed some modest improvement starting in the 2020-21 season where he played in 55 games and scored career highs of 15 goals and 25 points.
That as already mentioned was followed by this past season where Puljujarvi again showed slight improvement but was prone to long frustrating goal scoring droughts.
During his time with the Oilers, Puljujarvi has shown glimpses of his strong potential. An example of this was on January 20, 2018, when against the Vancouver Canucks, he scored a goal and for the first time in his career had three points. He also experienced another NHL first, being named the game’s first star.
Still, it’s not a certainty that this restricted free agent who has a nickname “The Bison King” will be wearing Oilers colors next fall.
In Holland’s post-season media release, he stated at one point,
“I’ve got to sort out Jesse.” When asked if he was part of the equation for an Oilers team looking to get better and compete, Holland said, “That’s what I’ve got to find out.”
In his career Puljujarvi has played 259 games where he has scored 46 goals and 98 points.
The Oilers, who were swept in the Western Conference Finals by the Colorado Avalanche, have some tough decisions to make this summer.