For the second entry draft in a row, the Edmonton Oilers received a major gift from the hockey Gods. From all we know and read (before and after), Jesse Puljujarvi should be celebrating goals in Columbus and making his general manager look good with fine two-way play. Alas, it was not to be, and the Oilers benefited from a mysterious draft day move. Music!
Each draft evening, I have a bit of a tradition. I prepare the 5pm (or thereabouts) post for the first-round selection of the Edmonton Oilers. I wrote the Connor McDavid item days before the actual selection in 2015, and wrote the Matt Tkachuk post during the afternoon of June 24, 2016. The post (never published) discussed the young man’s skill and rugged style, with a special segment on edgy play—and a note acknowledging foot speed as a concern.
I had it prepared by 4pm local time, a full hour to sip my beer (that’s a lie: Who sips beer?) and enjoy the moment. How long did I have to write the Jesse Puljujarvi post? About five damned minutes!
PREVIOUSLY NO. 1 ON THE WINTER LIST
- December 2006: L Viacheslav Trukhno
- December 2007: C Sam Gagner
- December 2008: C Riley Nash
- December 2009: L Magnus Paajarvi
- December 2010: L Taylor Hall
- December 2011: C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- December 2012: R Nail Yakupov
- December 2013: D Darnell Nurse
- December 2014: C Leon Draisaitl
- December 2015: C Connor McDavid
The top spot on the winter list has included some of the best young talent in the game today, peaking a year ago when young Connor McDavid ranked No. 1 in the Prospect Top 20. The list is heavy on centers and wingers, just one defender in the group—I wonder if we see that change one year from now. As you will see, there are a number of defensemen stacked and racked inside this year’s top 10, and perhaps we will see a defenseman taken first round at the entry draft in 2017. Jesse Puljujarvi is a substantial addition to a brilliant list of No. 1 ranked prospects over the last several years.
WHAT THEY SAID ON DRAFT DAY
- Corey Pronman: He’s an unbelievable skater for a 6-foot-4 player, having a great top gear and a really fluid stride. He’s not that physically aggressive, but he closes on guys so well that he pressures and wins battles effectively. Puljujarvi shows a high-skill level, a plus shot and high-end hockey IQ. He is constantly around the puck and setting up his teammates.
- Red Line Report: Big horse looks and plays like a Mats Sundin clone. Has the four S’s: size, skills, skating, shot. Has all the tools to be a dominant power forward who combines top-notch skills with brute force. Terrific size/strength and is impossible to move off the puck — uses wide stance and is hard on his stick. Comes alive whenever the puck is nearby. Wants to make plays. Dynamic skater accelerates in a few strides and has excellent speed. Uses long reach and soft hands to beat “D” off the rush. Dangerous every shift. Source
- The Black Book: This very talented Finn brings to the game a rare blend of power, skills and commitment. He is quick for a big kid and is an impressive skater who uses his speed to impact the play in different ways. He can be very effective on the forecheck, leaving defensemen little time to escape pressure.
- Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst: Puljujarvi is an extremely dangerous player who can be used in any situation, and being 6’3 doesn’t hinder his ability to adapt to a variety of situations; he can play on the power play, kill penalties, take a man out with a hit or cleanly stickhandle in very tight spaces. He owns an excellent shot, only it’s slightly less accurate than the sharpshooting Laine. Puljujarvi’s at his best when he’s got the puck in full flight, but that doesn’t mean he’s rendered useless during the slogging matches. He’s really mature and has a genuine “die hard” mentality. Even more impressive is that he rarely, if ever, gets complacent. Source
- Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting. “He’s a powerful skater with good speed and balance. He has outstanding hockey sense and reads the play well. He’s a good playmaker with strong puck-handling skills. He can take advantage of 1-on-1 situations with his long reach.” Source
- Jesse Puljujarvi’s introduction to Oilers nation was a halting interview with Jeff Marek in the moments after the draft. Unfair for the player (and Marek) and of course he was unable to play in the Orientation Camp due to recovery from surgery.
- The Young Stars tournament gave us a chance to look at JP the player, and here is what I wrote about his game against Vancouver: R Jesse Puljujarvi—2-1-3, +3 and five shots. Jesus, Mary and Joseph that second goal was thrilling. He seemed sleepy early, but there was a play in the first period where JP got a pass with some open road and showed off his skating ability—it was fantastic. First goal was kind of a whiff, but goal-scorers tend to find a way. An electric debut. Source
- And the Golden Bears performance: Jesse Puljujarvi is such a dynamic player (two assists last night, six shots) at this level (while also being 18) it is easy to suggest he can play in the NHL this season. I don’t believe that is necessarily true, but based on the Oilers own past and this young man’s unique skill set, I feel there is a growing sense that JP has an NHL job to lose this fall. The moment he scores on the PP (The Alvkarleby Assassin!) it may seal the deal. I do think 20 games in the AHL wouldn’t go a-miss, but feel like a man who has fallen in the well and is waiting for Lassie. It is over, in my opinion. Puljujarvi could be as high as 2R but more likely 3R opening night. Source
- Todd McLellan, September 27: “He has some work to do. Let’s cut to the chase and be honest, we’d like to think he can pull through and play on our team, but he has some work to do based on tonight’s game. He has a lot of talent, he has to learn timing and space at the NHL level, how to use his body and how to stay in plays. There were a couple times he had the puck and looked dangerous, but he needs to have it a lot more and the people around him have to help him.” Source
- Todd McLellan, October 27: “I think he took a step forward on consecutive nights (the Heritage Classic game and against the Capitals). Watching two games was a good thing for him because he had to work on his body a bit. He trained and looks stronger, and he’s rested.“ Source
- Todd McLellan, November 3: “He’s getting better every night, he’s fitting in more and more, feeling comfortable about playing in any situation. I think there’s been real growth in his game, and we’re happy for him.“ Source
JESSE PULJUJARVI, 2016-17
- 5×5 points per 60: 1.21
- 5×4 points per 60: 3.72
- Corsi for 5×5 %: 53.61
- Corsi for 5×5 % REL: 4.6
- Shots on goal/percentage: 24 shots/4.2
- Boxcars: 10, 1-2-3
- (All numbers via Corsica.Hockey, NaturalStatTrick and Hockey-Reference)
Puljujarvi has a lot of nice things in this line, including 2.4 shots per game (about 200 per season, and remember he isn’t playing 18 minutes a night) plus a solid Corsi number. These are early days for him, he is averaging 11:33 a night (9:59 at evens, 1:34 on the power play). He was injured November 5, that could derail or postpone his progress, but he certainly looks like part of the solution. The lingering voice running counter to the great arrows? How much will this mannish boy score?
I am tempted to call him a member of the Mika Zibanejad family, except JP is two inches taller and more of a bull in a china shop. There are similarities, and it is another center used as a comp. Puljujarvi is currently injured, but it has not inhibited his ability to enjoy pizza. This guy will own the whole damn town by the time he is through.
Puljujarvi projects as the future No. 1 RW and Jordan Eberle’s eventual replacement on the Connor McDavid line. That could happen later this year—there has been clear progress—but that soft parade line with Leon Draisaitl has served him well. The early returns on Puljujarvi are not as brilliant as those for Patrik Laine, but the range of this young man’s skills is outstanding. I can see him emerging as a complete player, and the idea of JP playing center—mentioned before the draft—makes sense based on his abilities.
THE 2016 DRAFT
- Jesse Puljujarvi—No. 4 overall. Edmonton has enjoyed two lucky moments in consecutive drafts, and getting Puljujarvi was an enormous stroke of luck. We do not know the totality of his offense, so there is reason to be measured in our enthusiasm. Still, if he can become a 25-goal scorer along with all of the other skills, Edmonton will have another impact player. No. 1 prospect.
- Tyler Benson—No. 32 overall. Injury made him unable to showcase his talent during training camp, but once back with the Vancouver Giants (WHL) he established himself as a bona fide talent. Benson also has a range of skills, and his offense (14gp, 8-9-17) is improving in draft+1 season. Ranked inside Top 20.
- Markus Niemelainen—No. 63 overall. Niemelainen is a big (6.05, 200 on draft day) defenseman with speed and raw skills. He has two-way ability but that has not shown itself in Saginaw (OHL) where he has just one point in 13 games this season. Ranked inside Top 20.
- Matthew Cairns—No. 84 overall. He is another defenseman who has much development ahead, but in this case there appears to be an offensive payoff clearly visible. Now 10gp, 0-2-2 with the Fargo Force, playing time has been an early issue in his new league. He is big and has a nice range of skills.
- Filip Berglund—No. 91 overall. He is the most interesting defenseman in the group, owing to both range of skills and the fact he is already playing in a pro league (SHL, 12gp, 0-1-1). Has enough finesse to be considered a puck mover, he has good vision and is an excellent passer. A very nice skill set. Ranked inside Top 20.
- Dylan Wells—No. 123 overall. Well. There is a temptation to trumpet progress (.926SP this year is a spike of 55 points year over year) but it is simply too soon. Can he manage to bear up under the pressure of playing for a poor team (they appear to be genuinely awful)? He has good size and is athletic, and is clearly playing with confidence. Ranked inside Top 20.
- Graham McPhee, No. 149 overall. Intriguing selection (Corey Pronman liked him) and I wonder if he is (like Niemelainen and Cairns) something of a draft and follow. His early Boston College numbers (11gp, 0-4-4) are solid, but so much of college hockey numbers depend on playing time. Kind of a mystery at this point. Candidate for Top 20.
- Aapeli Rasanen, No. 153 overall. As is the case with Wells, we must resist overreacting to a strong start (USHL numbers—10gp, 3-8-11). A true center, he is an excellent passer who can finish, plays in all disciplines and is a fine face-off man. An impressive group of skills for so late in the draft, he is described as having average foot speed. Inside the Top 20.
- Vincent Desharnais, No. 183 overall. Steve Kournianos (via the Lowdown): Very big, skates awkward but makes good first pass. Not physical, no way on the PP. Best thing he does is stand people up, use long stick to jar puck loose during board play. Doesn’t have Paigin’s shot/skill.