Most fans and observers of the Edmonton Oilers expect that the Jesse Puljujarvi saga will end with a trade out of Edmonton. After all, Puljujarvi did request a trade out of town, and last off-season said he wouldn’t play in Edmonton again. In fact, when a trade could not be worked out, he elected to return home to Finland to play the 2019-20 season.
Puljujarvi put together a strong season for Karpat of the SM-liiga. He scored 53 points (24-29-53) in 56 games, good for first on the team. Overall, Puljujarvi finished tied for fourth in the league in points. For a player that looked done at times in North America, he put together a strong season in a good European league. Maybe more importantly, Puljujarvi got his swagger back while playing back home.
According to a recent report out of Finland, Puljujarvi’s stance on a return to Edmonton appears to have softened. No longer is the 4th overall pick in the 2016 Entry Draft completely ruling out a return. Now, it’s a line that echos Kevin Lowe’s famous “Expect the unexpected” line.
Puljujarvi last played in North America during the 2018-19 season with the Oilers. He played in 46 NHL games, collecting nine points (4-5-9) and a -14 rating under coaches Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock. He also appeared in four games for the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors. There, Puljujarvi was an impact player that scored at a point-per-game pace (four points, 2-2-4).
However, Puljujarvi’s season was cut short due to injury, and the relationship with GM Peter Chiarelli and the management team had soured to a point where Puljujarvi no longer trusted the organization. Chiarelli, along with McLellan and his entire coaching staff, are no longer affiliated with the Oilers.
Now, Ken Holland and Dave Tippett run the show in Edmonton. Many thought that would breathe new life into the relationship last summer, but Puljujarvi and agent Markus Lehto did not budge. That appears to be changing now. Perhaps it is the uncertainty of the world around us in 2020. Perhaps Puljujarvi and Lehto see that this regime is significantly different than the last.
After all, Tippett has a history of getting the best out of players and finding the right roles for them. Holland, meanwhile, has a long and successful history working with European players from his time in Detroit. The relative success of Gaetan Haas and Joakim Nygard with the Oilers potentially helps as well.
This kind of situation isn’t foreign to Holland, either. Following the 2008-09 season, the relationship between the Red Wings and European sniper Jiri Hudler appeared broken. Hudler bolted to the KHL, where he played the entire 2009-10 season. Holland was able to repair the relationship, and Hudler was back in Detroit for the start of the 2010-11 season. He played two more seasons there before a move to the Calgary Flames.
Is a Return In The Cards?:
I still think, at the end of the day, a trade will be the end to this saga. While Puljujarvi could be genuinely interested in returning to Edmonton, it could also be a negotiating tactic. Perhaps teams aren’t offering the Oilers what they want right now. Puljujarvi makes it seem like he’s willing to return so the Oilers don’t appear in a position of weakness, thus kick starting the market on him a little bit.
If Puljujarvi is actually softening his stance, however, it is in the club’s best interest to bring him back. The Oilers have a strong top-six, but they still need help on the third and fourth lines. Puljujarvi, although not the player many hoped he would be, is still quite valuable. He does have a good shot, and enough offensive instincts where 30-40 points a season should not be a major ask.
In addition, Puljujarvi has always been a smart player with strong two-way ability. His resume suggests that he should be a strong two-way winger that can help a team on the third line. The Oilers absolutely could use a third line winger that is smart and can pop in goals here and there.
Puljujarvi could fill that hole, and could do it at a pretty price point as well. That would save the Oilers the trouble of scouring the free agent market this fall and overpaying someone.