Last month, Valeri Nichushkin was a main driver of Colorado’s run to the Stanley Cup. The 27-year old was drafted 10th overall by Dallas in 2013, but never lived up to his potential with the Stars. Long an analytic darling for his impressive advanced stats, Nichushkin just couldn’t buy a goal for the longest time. He went 91 games without a goal at one point, a streak finally broken in November 2019.
If you didn’t know that history and just watched this season or the NHL playoffs, you wouldn’t have known that. Nichushkin scored 25 goals and 52 points in just 62 games for the Avalanche this season. He was third on the team with nine playoff goals, with each one seemingly more important and crucial than the prior one as a major contributor of the team’s success, even partially done on a broken foot.
The Stars didn’t benefit from this, because they gave up on Nichushkin. Dallas bought him out in summer 2019 when he was mired in that long goal drought. It’s not necessarily their fault, Nichushkin tested the organization’s patience with failing to convert his potential into results. He also signed with the KHL and left Dallas from 2016-18 to play in Russia for two season.
Colorado swooped in and gave Nichushkin a second chance, and it still took some time. Last year was Nichushkin’s third season with the Avs, and finally his true breakthrough.
Jesse Puljujarvi is a player with a lot of similarities to a pre-breakthrough Nichushkin. Both are very big forwards. Both were drafted very high and have frustrated and tested the patience of their first NHL organization.
Much like Dallas with Nichushkin, it looks like the Oilers are ready to move on from Puljujarvi at the age of 24.
I’m told the @EdmontonOilers are actively shopping F Jesse Puljujarvi, and there’s some interest from clubs in market for his services. Curious to see if there’s a match for potential deal between now and next week’s Entry Draft. @espn @NHL #HockeyTwitter— Kevin Weekes (@KevinWeekes) July 4, 2022
The trade cost for Puljujarvi is not going to be exceedingly high. Kevin Fiala, an 85-point winger, just got traded for a first round pick and a solid prospect. Puljujarvi is a notch below
I would hold on to Jesse for 1 more year on new contract but if Oilers trade him how about we wait until deal is made before big howl, OK. Most likely it would be for somebody else’s former 1st rounder unless Jesse in package or in trade for Kane if SJ still has his rights https://t.co/oFV3vd3Pqu— Jim Matheson (@jimmathesonnhl) July 5, 2022
“Someone else’s former first rounder”, hmm...
Anyways, our buddy Adam Gretz summed it up well at NBC Sports:
Assuming the Oilers do move him in the coming days, weeks, or months, it has the potential to be a regrettable move for them and a nice win for the team that acquires him on the cheap. Just how cheap? According to Sportsnet’s Mark Spector this past week, the market for Puljujarvi seems to range somewhere between a second-or third-round pick, which is a price that almost any team in the league should be willing to gamble on.
They should be willing to do that even if the price is higher.
For starters, the odds of a second-or third-round pick (or even a mid-late first-round pick) turning into a player as good as Puljujarvi currently is are low.
There is also the very real possibility that Puljujarvi has much more to give a team than the Oilers have been able to get out of the No. 4 overall pick from the 2017 draft.
The biggest knock against Puljujarvi at this point is that he simply does not score enough given his draft spot, talent, and the fact he has gotten a lot of ice time with the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
He is coming off of a 14-goal, 22-assist, 36-point season in 65 game for the Oilers this past season, which is actually a slight per-game increase in his scoring from the prior year. His scoring over the past two seasons projects out to around 20 goals and 40 points over an 82 game season. Not great, but definitely useful.
There is also the fact that after an outstanding start to the 2021-22 season through 28 games (10 goals, 13 assist, 23 total points) he missed time due to COVID and then was injured in February, so he was rarely at 100 percent in the second half of the season.
All of this is especially useful when you also factor in that he offers more than just his own personal point production.
He is a play driver and a very good two-way player that, statistically speaking, improves the overall play of his team. When he is on the ice, good things happen for the Oilers even if he is not the one actually putting the puck in the net
Puljujarvi did everything well except finish last season.
Jesse Puljujarvi might have played his last game as an Oiler, per Ryan Rishaug.— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) June 8, 2022
I'm not saying he's the next Nichushkin, but there is certainly a comparison to be made... #LetsGoOilers pic.twitter.com/dAE86YOEUF
Puljujarvi isn’t just “Dominik Simon but 6’4 and a fourth overall pick”, he’s a lot more in the mold of the “Nichushkin scoring a big playoff goal every time you turn around” type of player. The same Nichushkin who — again reminder yourself — somehow went 91 straight games without scoring a goal.
Just getting out of Edmonton and getting a change of scenery will likely help Puljujarvi. While it’s special to play with Connor McDavid, Puljujarvi’s problem is more off the ice with expectations, confidence and a developed bad taste between him and the organization. A new start will do well for him.
The Penguins could use a top-six right winger to go along with Bryan Rust. Puljujarvi is a player that can add a dimension that they currently do not have with his size and pedigree. There’s the case to be made that his results aren’t as poor as his reputation or the perception that follows him portrays.
Jesse Puljujärvi has been very good at even strength over the past 2 seasons (minimal PP time, average penalty differential). Not really sure why the Oilers wouldn’t want to keep him. We project a 6yr x $5M contract if he signs in free agency with a new team. pic.twitter.com/4aFuZBSRpH— EvolvingWild (@EvolvingWild) June 30, 2022
If the Oilers were interested in a change of scenery “problem for a problem” type trade with Kasperi Kapanen to give them an instant NHL player for next season, it would also probably be a step up from the interest Puljujarvi is bringing now.
As many as four teams in the mix kicking tires on Puljujarvi. Sense is return is marginal at this point but things can change over the next few days.— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) July 6, 2022
The debate on just what Puljuarvi’s future holds is one that requires some nuance and seeing beyond, “bad stats but good analytic figures still he’s actually good/bad” depending on the prevalent viewpoint one might take.
NEW POST on Substack— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 5, 2022
It looks like Jesse Puljujärvi is going to be traded very soon, and probably not for very much.
Are the Oilers squandering the next Nichushkin, or cutting bait on a replaceable and limited player?#LetsGoOilershttps://t.co/vYKzCuSHiH
As JFresh puts it above, do you bank on Puljujarvi overcoming a “gangly skating stride and lack of offensive creativity or finishing touch” to be more like the player that started out 2021-22 with 20 points in 23 games? Or will his limitations lead to consistency issues and make him more like the slumping player at the end of the season?
It’s a riddle with no true answer (unless you have a crystal ball), but as folks in Dallas could offer to their northern neighbors in Edmonton regarding some Puljujarvi/Nichushkin similarities: sometimes giving up on a frustrating player who shows signs beneath the surface of being an impact player can just end up helping another team get to the top instead.