We are nearing the end of the 2021 edition of our Top 25 under 25. I’d like to thank everyone who stopped by to help vote in the reader poll, to those who have read the rankings, and to our contributors. We couldn’t have done it without everyone involved.
Number one will be revealed tomorrow, you might have heard of this player before. For today, it’s Jesse Puljujärvi at number 2.
|2021 C&B Staff Rank||2021 C&B Reader Rank|
Good choice, readers. Puljujärvi jumps from 7th in our 2020 Top 25 rankings all the way to 2.
Jesse Puljujärvi is ready for a season where he spends the lion’s share of his ice time on a line with Connor McDavid and new Oiler Zach Hyman. It’s a rich reward for a young man who had a rocky start to his NHL career.
Puljujärvi is a big, talented dude. He’s 6’4 and 200 lbs, he’s a talented skater with a good shot and can make space by using his body. If I have one criticism of his game, it’s that he’s lacked some finishing. He was a can’t-miss draft pick that almost turned into an afterthought through no fault of his own. In some of his best work since becoming Oilers GM, Ken Holland was able to play nice with Puljujärvi and his agent Markus Lehto before it was too late.
Jesse Puljujärvi was taken fourth overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft after the Columbus Blue Jackets opted to take Pierre-Luc Dubois at third overall. Puljujärvi had just finished his second season with Karpat, where he finished sixth in scoring at just age 18. Like many first round selections before him, Puljujärvi was tossed into the opening night lineup alongside Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon. Chances are good that had he stayed in that trio for some time, things might have worked out better for Puljujärvi sooner.
Instead, it was a long road to get to the top. Puljujärvi split time between Bakersfield and Edmonton in his first season, he would end up playing in just 14 AHL games in seasons 2 and 3. He was often scratched from the NHL lineup, he would often be put into line combinations that made little to no sense during the Todd McLellan era. (Puljujärvi’s most common NHL linemate in his first three years would be Milan Lucic. Galaxy brain stuff.) Puljujärvi’s three year entry level deal would expire with him playing in 139 NHL games, 53 AHL games, and a whole lot of frustration. The idiotic commentary would come raining down about how Puljujärvi’s lack of English proficiency was somehow a tell that he didn’t want to be in Edmonton, or wasn’t taking his career seriously. You’ve been an Oilers fan long enough to know that it’s all hot, dumb air. Puljujärvi would need double hip surgery at the close of his 2018-19 season, and by that time his agent Markus Lehto indicated that his client would like a fresh start.
If the Oilers were serious about getting any value from Puljujärvi in a trade with another club, it wouldn’t be after three ineffective seasons and a double hip surgery. Without an NHL contract at the time. Puljujärvi would spend 2019-20 back in Finland with his old club Karpat. He would complete the season averaging nearly a point per game (24-29-53 in 56 GP), and hockey became fun again. It just so happened that the Oilers weren’t too deep on the right wing, and Oilers GM Ken Holland was able to make amends with Puljujärvi and his agent. He would convince Puljujärvi to sign a two year deal to return to Edmonton beginning in the shortened 2020-21 season.
It took exactly six games for Puljujärvi to play Zack Kassian off of the first line. It’s a spot he maintained for well over 95% of the season. Puljujärvi scored fifteen goals in the shortened season, and is expected to be a net front presence for the Oilers this season (and hopefully for many more after that).
Puljujärvi hasn’t gotten much special teams time on the power play; that should change with Alex Chiasson in Vancouver this upcoming season. On a line with Zach Hyman and the greatest player in the game today with Connor McDavid, the sky is the limit for the one they call Pulju.
Getting a deal done is the most important thing for the Oilers to do off the ice between now and next year. There’s every reason in the world to believe Jesse Puljujärvi will be the number one player on this list next year.
Let’s see it happen.