The emotion was clear on the face of Jesse Puljujarvi when he located the rebound of a Kris Russell shot and lifted it over Jacob Markstrom to tie Saturday night’s game 1-1 in the second period. It was a big goal for the Finn, and helped kick start Edmonton’s offense in a key 3-2 victory over the Flames.
When Puljujarvi was last in the NHL, that goal likely doesn’t happen. After a terrific year in Finland, Puljujarvi is a more confident player, better able to use his shot and much more willing to use his size. Fans have noticed it, and Head Coach Dave Tippett has noticed it too.
“I think he’s getting more and more used to the North American game,” Tippett said on Sunday. “He’s probably our most consistent guy at getting to the front of the net and creating battles in front of the net. He played on the big ice last year. You get back here and things happen a lot quicker. There’s less space and you got to battle for space more. He’s gone through the process of just figuring out where the space on the ice is. He’s willing to battle for space, which is a big factor in him coming in and playing well for us.”
In his last North American season, 2018-19, Puljujarvi scored just nine points (4 g, 5 a) in 46 games. This year, in only 25 games, he has ten points (7 g, 3 a). He’s a more effective player. He’s a more confident player.
“Played a lot of games, almost every day,” Puljujarvi said when asked about his progress this season. “Of course, it’s up and down sometimes. But I just think I’ve been working hard to make some plays and try to be hard at the net.”
He’s been doing those things, mostly, on the wing with Connor McDavid. That changed on Saturday, when Tippett elected to blend the lines up. McDavid was lined up with Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto, while Puljujarvi shifted to the wing with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Dominik Kahun.
Based on Sunday’s practice, Puljujarvi could start tonight’s game against the Senators with Nugent-Hopkins as his center. It’s an arrangement he is more than okay with.
“I have played with Nuge many games before,” Puljujarvi commented. “I really like to play with him even when he’s in the middle as centre. He’s a skilled guy so I think I do my stuff, be strong with the puck and make some plays. I think we’re going to be good.”
Puljujarvi has been good against the Senators this season. In four games against Ottawa, he has two goals. Perhaps the change of linemates comes at the right time for Puljujarvi, as the matchup appears to be a favorable one.