Has Jesse Puljujarvi played his last game as an Edmonton Oiler?

 

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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. 

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Stanley Cup Finals Preview: the Colorado Avalanche take on the Tampa Bay Lightning

 

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By Jordan Laroche

The Stanley Cup Final is finally upon us, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche have battled all season for a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. We have two of the NHL’s elite clubs going at it and will spoil fans with some great play on the ice. But how did these teams get here? And is there a favorite as we head into the series?


The Road Less Traveled, How They Got Here


Tampa Bay


For the Tampa Bay Lightning the regular season was a wash, they knew that if they just made the playoffs they had a chance to have a deep run with a group who knows what it takes to win. This was proven by the moves the Lightning made at the trade deadline, bringing in Nick Paul, Brandon Hagel sacrificing their future to continue their Stanley Cup winning streak.
The Lightning faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, the Leafs had Tampa Bay on the brink of elimination, but back-to-back wins in game 6 and 7 advanced them to the second round. But the win came at a cost as Brayden Point went down with a lower-body injury and has yet to return in these playoffs.


The Lightning would then sweep the Florida Panthers in the Battle of Florida before facing the New York Rangers in the conference final.


Colorado Avalanche


The Colorado Avalanche have been considered a cup favorite by many for several years now, but in their first Stanley Cup Final since 2001 they still have a lot to prove. After leading the NHL for most of the season, the Avalanche were also busy at the trade deadline bringing in Josh Manson, Nico Strum, Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Cogliano adding defensive and forward depth to an already remarkable roster.


The Avalanche didn’t run into too much trouble on route to the Cup Final opening with a sweep against a Juuse Saros-less Nashville Predators.


The St. Louis Blues were the toughest opponent for the Avs so far taking them to six games, they were able to shut down the Avs top weapons at key times through the series.


The Avs would then sweep the Edmonton Oilers in the conference final as Nathan MacKinnon out dueled Connor McDavid.


Betting the Stanley Cup Final


– To win the series:


o Avalanche: -189
o Lightning: +155


– Conn Smythe Trophy Winner:


o Cale Makar: +180
o Nathan MacKinnon: +215
o Andrei Vasilevskiy: +400


– Number of games in series:


o 4 games: +540
o 5 games: +260
o 6 games: +210
o 7 games: +210


Analysis: The Avalanche being the favorite definitely jumps off the page as I personally thought the back-to-back Stanley Cup winners would be the favorite. Nevertheless, there is good value in taking the Lightning at +155, ($100 bet gets $155 + $100) it’s a high risk-high reward bet.


Picking a Conn Smythe winner should go hand-in-hand with who you think will win the series. The Avalanche players will receive lower odds as they are the favorite. MacKinnon and Makar are obvious picks for the Avalanche, but Mikko Raantanen (+1400) or Darcy Kuemper (+3900) are also good picks. If the Lightning win the series, Andrei Vasilevskiy will be the front runner for the trophy, but Victor Hedman (+2100) and Nikita Kucherov (+400) can also provide some upside.


Storylines to Watch


Brayden Point


Point was hurt in game seven of the first round against the Leafs after being tangled up against the boards. He has yet to play in a game but was a full participant at Monday’s practice. Assistant Coach Jeff Halpern told the Tampa Bay Times “I don’t know if Monday was any indication… It was a light skate.” Point had 2G 2A 4P in seven games vs the Leafs and is a key piece for the Lightning skating with Steven Stamkos and Kucherov.


Line Matchups


The Anthony Cirelli-Brandon Hagel-Alex Killorn line has been very impactful throughout the playoffs keeping 2 of the top three NHL goal scorers in check. They kept Chris Kreider to just 2 goals and Auston Matthews to 4 goals. They will have to be at their best as they will be up against the Nathan MacKinnon-Grabirel Landeskog-Valeri Nichushkin line who as a group have 44 points through 14 games.


Colorado vs Vasilevskiy


This is going to be a tall task for both the Avs and Vasilevskiy. The Avs have yet to face an elite goaltender in the playoffs, and it has shown as they lead the playoffs in goals per game with 4.6. The Colorado Avalanche are also averaging 40 shots per game in the playoffs. Not to say that the Avs have a world-class offense, but Vasilevskiy has been on another planet this year.
A 2.27 GAA and a .928 SV% are only where it starts with Vasilevskiy. His ability to steal games is second to none and he has done so in many series clinching games. A 0.77 GAA .974 SV% and six shutouts in series clinching games since 2020, Vasilevskiy has become one of, if not the most clutch player in the NHL.


Prediction


As nice as it would be to see someone else win the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Lightning have the experience and the team to do it all again.


Tampa Bay 4-2.

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Will the Colorado Avalanche Francouz or Kuemper start the Stanley Cup Finals opener?

 

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By Neil Becker

The Colorado Avalanche have a tough decision to make.

Days away from playing the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals, it’s not a guarantee that number one goalie Darcy Kuemper will get the start.

Kuemper, who on July 28, 2021 was traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the Avalanche, is coming off a solid regular season which saw him go 37-12-4 with 4 shutouts and a 2.54 GAA.

During this current playoff run Kuemper suffered some bad luck starting in Colorado’s best of seven first round series which the Avs went on to sweep against the Nashville Predators.

In Game 3 of that series, Kuemper suffered during second period action a stick in the eye which sidelined him for the rest of that game along with Game 4.

Avs backup goalie Pavel Francouz came in to relieve and made a strong statement with his solid play.

 Francouz came off the bench cold and saved 18 out of 20 shots in a 7-3 Avalanche win. Two days later, with Colorado going for the four- game sweep, this 32- year-old who in March signed a two-year extension, proved once again to be clutch as he saved 28 of 31 shots in leading Colorado to a 5-3 series sweeping win.

Showing to be a quick healer, Kuemper came back and played well in the Western Conference semi-finals against the St. Louis Blues. In the Game 6 clincher, he made 18 saves in what was a 3-2 Colorado series win which punched their ticket to the Western Conference finals.

Once again Kuemper had trouble staying healthy as he had suffered an upper body injury in the second period of the Western Conference opener against the Edmonton Oilers.  

When Kuemper was replaced by Francouz, Colorado was holding a 6-3 lead. Once again Francouz was clutch as he stopped 18 of 21 shots in an 8-6 Avs win.

Embracing the spotlight, Francouz continued to shine as his finest moment came two days later when he made 24 saves during a 4-0 shutout win which left the Avs only two wins shy of going to the Stanley Cup finals.

This Czechoslovakian goalie remained undefeated this spring as he backstopped Colorado to a 4-2 Game 3 win followed by a 30 save performance in a 6-5 series sweeping win against the Oilers.

 Entering the Stanley Cup Finals, Francouz is a perfect 6-0-0 with a 2.86 GAA while Kuemper has also been impressive with a 6-2-0 record and a 2.44 GAA.

Kuemper was the back up for Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, and has declared himself to be healthy.  

In retrospect the Avalanche coaching staff have quite the luxury of either going back to Kuemper who is 6-2-0 in nine games with a 2.44 GAA or staying with Francouz who is a perfect 6-0-0 with a 2.86 GAA.

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Will UFA Johnny Gaudreau re-sign with the Calgary Flames?

 

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 By Neil Becker

Heading towards free agency, the million-dollar question in Calgary is whether Unrestricted Free Agent star forward Johnny Gaudreau will return to the Flames.

This left-winger is affectionately known around the league as “Johnny Hockey,” is coming off a career season that saw the 28- year-old score 40 goals while eclipsing the 100- point mark for the first time with 115. However, perhaps his most impressive stat was finishing first this season in plus/minus with a remarkable +64 mark.

Gaudreau, who was selected by the Flames 104th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, has over his eight full seasons become a fan favorite in Calgary. In his career, this offensive gifted player has posted some impressive numbers which include 210 career goals and 609 career points in 602 games.

Obviously, this Salem New Jersey native has played a major role in the Flames strong season which saw them finish first in the Pacific Division with 111 points and emerge as Stanley Cup contenders.

Meanwhile, all Flames fans can do right now is wait with their fingers crossed as team General Manager Brad Treliving does everything in the organization’s power to sign him before July 13th when he would hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent.

The Flames playoff drive saw Gaudreau score the Game 7 overtime series-winning goal in round one against the Dallas Stars before falling short 4 games to 1 in the Western Conference semi-finals against the Edmonton Oilers. In 12 playoff goals this spring “Johnny Hockey” produced 3 goals along with 14 points.

No matter where Gaudreau ends up next fall, he will be making a lot more than the $6.75 million dollars he made over the previous six campaigns.

On the strength of his career season which will see him get strong consideration for the Hart Trophy, Gaudreau could make up to $10.5 million on his new contract.

Prior to hitting the open market, Calgary can in fact offer him an eight-year contract. According to CapFriendly.com Treliving has $26.9 million in cap space. Along with desperately trying to sign Gaudreau, they also have to worry about forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane who are coming off career seasons and are restricted free agents. They also have to spend on the back end where they have only four defencemen locked up for next year.

During the end of the playoffs press conference, Gaudreau was saying how Calgary has a special place in his heart. He also strongly praises Flames fans and everyone living in the city.

“I do have a big decision and we’ll see what happens in the next few weeks, but I love it here,” Gaudreau said. “I love the fans. I love the city. But I never really had that moment where I was like, ‘This is it for me.”
Obviously, the Flames will do everything they can to sign ‘Johnny Hockey’ to a long-term contract. Only time will tell what his decision will be. Until then, he will have the entire city of Calgary waiting anxiously and hoping he will continue to wear Flames colors. 
 

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The New York Rangers Kid Line coming of age

 

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By Neil Becker
 
These playoffs have been a real coming out party for the New York Rangers ‘Kid Line.’
 
Playing a major role in the Rangers post-season success has been the team’s third line consisting of three former first round draft choices in 22 year-old Filip Chytil, 20 year-old Alexis Lafreniere and 21 year-old Kaapo Kakko.
 
This line, which was put together late in the regular season has given Rangers fans plenty to get excited about in regards to not only the present playoff run, but also for years to come.
Showing absolutely no intimidation or nervousness in playing the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning in the best of seven Eastern Conference Finals, this line continues to produce offence while getting rave reviews from Rangers coach Gerrard Gallant. 
 
On Wednesday, June 1st. in front of a packed Madison Square Garden, this line simply dominated as they combined for five points in helping the Rangers win the Eastern Conference finals series opener by a  6-2 score against the Lightning.
 
The Rangers, who needed seven full games to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening playoff round followed in round two by another seven games in beating the Carolina Hurricanes, had never held a series lead until now.
 
Chytil, who centers the Kid Line, scored two goals including the eventual game winner while Lafreniere registered two assists and Kakko who had several great chances drew an assist.
During the season Chytil had an ordinary campaign which saw him produce 8 goals and 22 points in 67 games. So far in the playoffs, this 2017 21st overall Rangers selection has scored 7 goals and two assist for 9 points thus far in 16 playoff games.
 
Lafreniere, who was selected by the Rangers 1st overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is coming off a breakthrough sophomore campaign which saw him score 19 goals and 31 points along with 37 penalty minutes in 79 games played. 
 
In post-season this left winger has shown the willingness to play physical and block shots while scoring 2 goals and 9 points in 16 games. This projected superstar like his line-mates just keep on getting better and better each game.
 
Kakko, who the Rangers drafted 2nd overall in the 2019 draft, battled injuries  as he played only 43 games where he scored 7 goals and 18 points along with an impressive +/- of a +9.
So far this spring Kakko has scored 2 goals and 5 assist in 16 games while like his line-mates playing some strong defence.
 
Continuing to spark the Rangers, the Kid Line were also dominant in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Kakko got Madison Square Garden loud when in the first period he scored his second goal of the playoffs which put New York ahead to stay at 2-1 of what ended up to be a 3-2 Rangers win.
 
Not only can this line provide offence but they also bring size and physicality. Lafreniere stands at 6 foot 2 inches and weighs 193 pounds while Kakko is 6 foot 3 inches and 199 pounds followed by Chytil who stands at 6 foot 3 inches and 210 pounds.
 
Obviously this line has picked the right time of year to play its best hockey. This is also good news for the Rangers chances because it makes them more of a well rounded team and takes pressure off the big guns such as Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and defenceman Adam Fox. 
 
All those players have been producing as the Rangers who have had exceptional goaltending from Igor Shesterkin are only two wins away from a berth in the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals.
Looking back to the Kids Line five point output in the Eastern Conference Finals series opener, don’t forget they produced offence against one of the best goaltenders in 2019 Vezina Trophy winner and two time Stanley Cup winner Andrei Vasilevskiy.
 
This is a special time for Rangers fans who are embracing these youngsters and with elite goaltending and a balanced lineup have a great chance to accomplish something they haven’t done since 1994 which is win the Stanley Cup. 
 
 

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