Allan Mitchell of The Athletic is making the case that, eventually, the Edmonton Oilers will really need to take a test drive with Jesse Puljujarvi. Whether it be one game or multiple games, Mitchell writes (subscription required) that the Oilers need to know what they have in the player before they sign him to a massive extension.
Puljujarvi has played extremely well to start the 2020-21 season. He’s coming off a 2020-21 campaign where he took a big step forward and while many thought he’d take another natural step, few expected him to take the giant leap he’s taking at this point in the season. With seven points in four games, he looks like he could be an impact player.
Just look at the play below and how subtle but effective Puljujarvi was in opening the ice for McDavid and taking out two Coyotes players.
The problem the Oilers face is that he’s getting these points with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. To be honest, it’s not really a problem as much as it becomes a question about how good Puljujarvi can actually be away from the two best scorers in the NHL. Is Puljujarvi purely an accent player and complementary piece who has better numbers with two elite centers? Or, can he produce away from them?
It might be important for general manager Ken Holland to know this before he inks Puljujarvi to a massive long-term extension. Holland will need to know this prior to the end of the season as the winger is a restricted free agent after this year.
Holland’s challenge? Signing a man who seems to have taken a major step forward and is arriving as a top-quality difference-maker. Puljujarvi will be a restricted free agent after this season, due (if early days of the season are any indication) a big raise over his current $1.175 million average annual value.
It’s not as though the Oilers plan to sign Puljujarvi and keep him away from the best players in the game over the course of a lengthy new deal. Ideally, if everyone stays healthy, these players will play together for years to come. Still, to find the true value of what Puljujarvi is worth, the Oilers will need to know if he can drive his own line and create his own chances in the NHL.
If the Oilers are going to commit big money over the course of seven or eight seasons, finding out what Puljujarvi truly is becomes increasingly important over the course of the season. The balance will be talking to head coach Dave Tippett and finding opportunities to do so without jeopardizing team chemistry and costing the team points.
What Might the Plan Be?
There are going to be opportunities throughout the year to test the player. Those will come in games like Thursday’s contest against the Arizona Coyotes when the contest was out of reach in the third period. It took a little longer than the Oilers might have liked to put the game away for good, but in that game, Puljujarvi could have played with someone like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to close down the third period.
The other option might be against might come as the Oilers continue to rack up points. Perhaps there isn’t a point in the season where Edmonton ever feels comfortable enough not to ice their best line combinations. But, with a 4-0 start, what kind of cushion allows Tippett the freedom to try different line combinations?
Is there a point in the season where he runs with lines like the ones Mitchell suggests in his article? He throws out the following:
Hyman — McDavid — Kassian
Warren Foegele — Draisaitl — Yamamoto
Brendan Perlini — Nugent-Hopkins — Puljujarvi
Based on the way the Oilers have played, especially the team’s third line, it’s not an ideal setup. That said, it does offer some balance on all three lines without sacrificing too much, especially if Puljujarvi can move the needle as the Oilers are hoping.
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