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NHL Trade Rumors: The Oilers giving up on Jesse Puljujarvi would be another team’s gain

As seen with Dallas and Colorado more recently, if another team wants to quit on a young potential difference maker, it’s a good idea to try and take that offer up

Pittsburgh Penguins v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

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.

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

“Someone else’s former first rounder”, hmm...

Pittsburgh Penguins v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.