Hear me out for a quick second. I have a theory on how to build a successful NHL roster and it includes playing skilled players with other skilled players. For example, when you have a skilled player like Jesse Puljujarvi you should try to put him in a position to succeed with other skilled players, such as Connor McDavid.
For some odd reason, this seems to be a foreign idea to most prominent media members in Edmonton. Rather than do that, they would prefer to stick Puljujarvi with considerably less skilled players in the bottom six. The main motivating factor behind this reasoning is the notion that the Finnish forward has to “earn” his spot in the top six rather than have it “handed” to him.
At face value, it doesn’t seem like an awful idea. Logic would dictate that rookie players should slowly build their way the roster before being featured in a prominent role. Yet, there is a critical flaw in this logic, it's outdated. The NHL has transitioned to a young man’s league where skill trumps the traditional notion of “grinding” physical players. It doesn’t make sense in today’s game to prioritize those outdated qualities over skill.
So, if we are willing to accept that the above is true, why are we not applying this same logic to the case of Jesse Puljujarvi? Well, to get a better idea of this, lets take a quick look at Puljujarvi’s season in Finland this past season.
In a total of 56 games with Kärpät Puljujarvi was able to put up 24 goals and 53 points. This lead his team and landed him fourth in the league in points. It is also notable to point out that he was youngest player among the top 10 scorers in the SM-Liiga this past season.
This is no small feat and, contrary to what some Edmonton reporters will have you believe, the SM-Liiga is a very good European league that has churned out its fair share of NHL stars. Here is a good look at how the league compares to other professional leagues around the world (courtesy of @HockeyAbstract)
Here are the translation factors in the format that you know and love.— Hockey Abstract (@HockeyAbstract) April 11, 2018
Just multiply by the translation factor.
It's based on data back to 2005-06, but it is tuned to 2017-18 league scoring levels. pic.twitter.com/RPeYrNjs9G
If we go by this chart, then we can properly translate Puljujarvi’s 53 points to about 24 points at the NHL level over the course of an 82 game schedule. Keep in mind that the SM-Liiga was cut short by four games so that number could be a tiny bit higher. Nonetheless, those 24 points would have put him ahead of Alex Chiasson and Josh Archibald, both of which have spent considerable time with McDavid at some point in time.
Given that we now have a bit of a hold on the bare minimum we can expect from Puljujarvi at the NHL and that he is a much more skilled player than either Archibald and Chiasson are how can we still profusely insist that Puljujarvi should not even get a sniff of that right-wing spot along McDavid? Are there any better options that we could put their instead? The short answer is simply no.
McDavid’s right-wing has been a carousel of unskilled player after unskilled player for the majority of his time in Edmonton. With the exception of Leon Draisaitl, who is now a permanent fixture on the team’s second line, McDavid’s most popular right-wingers last season were Zack Kassian and the aforementioned Archibald. While Kassian did have a career year in this position, he seemed almost invisible in the playoffs and is therefore probably not a good bet to return to that top line position. Archibald performed admirably on the wing, but I think we can all agree that he is most effective in a bottom six role.
Did these players grind to deserve a spot on McDavid’s wing? Perhaps, but when they eventually got to that spot they weren’t able to produce the way a top six forward should because that is not what they are. A player like Puljujarvi has actually shown to be successful in such a role. If we take a look back to the instances where he was actually played alongside McDavid we can actually see just great they were together.
A quick look over at Natural Stat Trick shows us that during the 407 minutes the pair has spent together they have a xGF% (expected goals for percentage) of 55.47. This number is significantly better than Archibald (44.40), Kassian (45.77) and Chiasson’s (44.67) time spent with McDavid. So, if we take that into account, why shouldn’t we try giving Puljujarvi more time with the captain? It seems just like plain ignorance at this point.
I can understand why some fans seem to have soured on Puljujarvi leaving the team but the reality is that he is a young kid trying to make a name for himself in country that he can’t speak the language of. The Oilers basically tossed this kid in the trash for the first three years in North America and he was understandably frustrated. If he decides to come back to the Oilers he should be given a fair shot just like players like Kassian, Archibald and Chiasson have gotten.
The Oilers are desperate for some sort of infusion of skill on the right wing and for them to be this incredibly picky is just silly. The Oilers are beggars and that most definitely means they shouldn’t be choosers when it comes to Jesse Puljujarvi. Give the kid a month with McDavid and if doesn’t work you can move on. Simple as that.