There are many stories plaguing the Edmonton Oilers these days and now it turns out you can add the saga of Jesse Puljujarvi to the list.
The fourth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft has been having trouble finding his groove in the NHL game. And now, an interview with Finnish journalist Tommi Seppala is pouring gas on the dumpster fire.
Puljujarvi gave an interview to Seppala Wednesday after Edmonton’s 3-2 shootout victory in Vancouver. He’d logged just 6:09 of ice time against the Canucks, a season low, and it looks like he’ll be lining up for the same numbers against Calgary on Saturday. Puljujarvi, like William Nylander in Toronto, was demoted to the fourth line.
Of course, his assessment was blunt.
“I didn’t deserve anything more,” said Puljujarvi.
That’s an impeachment of his play, more than anything, but there’s more to it. And there are differences of opinion, inside the Oilers fanbase and outside.
Inside Puljujarvi’s Finnish fanbase, the hockey club is more to blame than the player. That’s apparent in Seppala’s piece, which paints the 20-year-old as a player not quite ready for the big time but also not flourishing in Edmonton’s dubious environment. Many of his fans in Finland are reportedly unhappy with how he is being used.
This is a well-worn story, especially on a team that’s become a one-line pony of sorts.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock has praised Puljujarvi at length, of course, but he’s also not in the business of player development. He’s in the business of winning hockey games.
“You don’t try to develop them,” Hitchcock said. “You run them until they run out of gas, (then) you back them off and work with them again. When we talked to all of our young guys today, we had little individual meetings, and we asked them how they were doing and we asked them where we could help. But when they put the sweater on, they’d better play. That’s their job and they know that.”
That is as clear-cut as it gets: this is a game about winning and the players know their roles. In the case of Puljujarvi, that is apparent. He’s taking ownership of his play and the Seppala interview confirms this.
Puljujarvi seems a fair shade away from the player who paced the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Eric Lindros and Wayne Gretzky as an under-18 skater. But now that he’s in the NHL and wearing Brian Lawton’s number, it’s a different game and a different system. The supports, it seems, are gone.
And so is his confidence, which is the real disaster.
“If there’s nothing going on in my game with 15 minutes of ice time, then we have to go like this,” Puljujarvi said. “I don’t really know what’s next, since I’m kind of back to the square one. It’s been like this – up and down – now for three years. I don’t know…I just have to keep battling.”
To matters worse, Puljujarvi is again the subject of trade rumours on a team that can’t quite seem to get anything right. He needs a new contract after this season and that’s put him on the bubble. With his confidence waning, it’s seems likely that his experiment with the Oilers is about to come to an end.