Jesse Puljujärvi has had himself one interesting ride since being selected by the Edmonton Oilers at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. In the eyes of some, he went from a draft day steal, to a problem the organization should quickly move, to being one of the most popular players on the current roster.
Though much of the trouble he was forced to deal with over the first four years of his career can be tied back to the organization’s mishandling of the player and injury, his performance over the past two seasons has left many a fan and media member with egg on their face.
Puljujärvi is not only in the midst of a second consecutive box car friendly campaign but he’s quickly developed into one of the Oilers best and most important players. The points are great but Puljujärvi does so much more for this group and in my mind, doesn’t receive nearly the credit he should.
Yes, he is on pace for a 20+ goal and 60 point season but those numbers only tell a fraction of the story. Game in and game out, the 24-year old is making things happen, which isn’t something that can be said about many players on the current roster. Take last night’s crucial 5-3 victory over the Calgary Flames as an example.
A game in which Leon Draisaitl put up four points, Evan Bouchard scored two massive power play markers and Connor McDavid was his usual self with a pair of assists, the argument could be made Puljujärvi was every bit as impactful and was held off the scoresheet.
There was no chance of either of Bouchard’s point shots getting past Jacob Markstrom without his 6’5” frame creating a perfect screen in front the Flames star netminder. It took Puljujärvi time to adapt to the role of being a net front presence (especially on the man advantage) but adapt he has and it’s become a huge win for the Oilers
Same goes for Draisaitl’s winner, it was a hell of an individual effort from the league’s scoring leader but without his linemate driving to the net and taking out two Flames in the process, it never happens. Without the guy wearing no. 13 doing what he did, there was no lane to attack and in turn, no go ahead goal would’ve been scored.
Three massive plays, that surely went unnoticed by some watching the game and entirely unknown to those looking at a box score or half-heartedly watching game highlights. Add those kinds of plays to his on-ice smarts in all three zones, the ability to play a sound defensive style, and he has quickly become a handful for opponents to game plan for.
Since returning from his year-long exile to the SM-liiga, he has looked like a different player and the 2016 fourth overall pick is just starting to realize the impact he can make. Even in a game like the Oilers recent 6-0 drubbing at the hands of the Florida Panthers, he created a ton of chances and was the team’s best forward by a rather wide margin.
The days of us getting flashes of the kind of player Puljujärvi could become are long gone. That guy shows up to rink every game and when coupled with a smile that seemingly never leaves his face, it’s led to him becoming a fan favourite. A far cry from where things sat upon his aforementioned departure back to Finland.
While nearly all Oilers fans have fallen in love with the so-called “Bison King” during his second tenure with the club, many of those same fans were not so forgiving when he decided to go back home to try and figure things out and get healthy. Many act as if it never happened but it most certainly did and should be remembered.
Fans and media alike called Puljujärvi out for his lack of “commitment” and an unwillingness to “earn a spot” instead of being handed one, when nothing could have been further from the truth. Not to mention those who questioned his need for hip surgery, including some inside the organization. A terrible look to be sure but the Oilers got lucky.
Ultimately, it came down to nothing more than “situation” that led to the player remaining with the organization. They already had the good fortune of Jesse Puljujärvi falling into their lap once and did everything in their power to mess it up. Thankfully, they were given a second chance and it seems to be working out perfectly this time around.