The top 3 in the 2016 NHL draft seemed like a foregone conclusion for most of the year, especially after the 2016 World Juniors. Everyone thought Auston Matthews would go 1. Patrik Laine 2. And Jesse Puljujarvi 3. Puljujarvi had 17 points in 7 games and Patrik Laine had 13 points. There was even some discussion whether Puljujarvi could go #2 because he had that good of a tournament. Well that all changed after Patrik Laine put up 10 goals in 18 playoff games in the Finnish League playoffs.
At the 2016 draft there was lots of trade discussion, Taylor Hall was still an Oiler and PK Subban was still a Montreal Canadien. The top 3 seemed pretty much set, Matthews to Toronto, Laine to Winnipeg and Puljujarvi 3rd to Columbus (who has the only Finnish GM in the NHL, Jarmo Kekalainen). Many predicted that Pierre-Luc Dubois would be the top Canadian taken but not until 6-10.
The biggest story from that draft was PK Subban was going to be traded to Vancouver for the #5 pick and Montreal would take Dubois at 5th. Meanwhile, the Oilers seemed to be talking to everyone at the draft but never made a trade because there was growing awareness that Columbus was going to take Pierre-Luc Dubois at #3. So Matthews to Toronto, Laine to Winnipeg and then Columbus took Dubois at #3. Which cancelled the Subban to Vancouver noise and any Oilers deal. They got Jesse Puljujarvi at pick #4 and found Connor McDavid’s future winger
Not so fast. Puljujarvi scored in his 1st NHL game but never scored for the next 27 games after that and was sent to Bakersfield where he recorded 28 points in 39 games. Those AHL numbers aren’t eye-popping but in the defensive driven AHL, those are pretty good. he next season 2017-18 Puljujarvi started in Bakersfield and was called up after 10 games, he finished the season in Edmonton with 12 goals and 8 assists in 65 games. Somewhat of a step up but you expect more from a 4th overall pick, given that Matthew Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, Mikhail Sergachev, and Charlie McAvoy all went after and nobody is questioning them.
Part of Puljujarvi’s development falls on the coaches and management. Should Puljujarvi played another year in Finland? Maybe. Did Puljujarvi deserve to play 28 games in his rookie year and only play 11:15 per game? Definitely not. For a player who is supposed to be offensive, averaging less than 13 minutes a game makes no sense. This year, Puljujarvi has played on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines. Including on October 23rd against Pittsburgh when he finished with 9 minutes finishing the game with Kyle Brodziak and Zack Kassian, and was unable to clear the puck on the game tying goal.
Puljujarvi shows flashes in each game but there is so few of them where you question if he understands the North American game yet and it’s already been 100 games. It is difficult to understand what the Oilers are doing with Puljujarvi but we can all agree that this is a big year for him and only recording 1 goal in 7 games isn’t going to cut it.