In Pro hockey, one player’s misfortune can be another’s gain. And that was certainly the case when promising forward Anton Slepyshev went down with injury, and Oiler’s high-end draft pick Jesse Puljujarvi got the tap, tap, tappy, and was called up from the Bakersfield.
Slepyshev was fitting in well before the injury, scoring two points in two games on the Nuge’s second line. But JP also had a strong showing in his first game, scoring a goal, skating well and being a physical presence.
For many Oiler fans, there was a collective sigh of “I told you so,” when Puljujarvi’s star shone so brightly on his first game back. That feeling was aggravated when Oiler’s management stubbornly hung on to Kailer Yamamoto past his due date, keeping the diminutive dynamo with the big club when he clearly was not ready for full-time NHL work.
And while Yamamoto was with the big club, the only place for Puljujarvi was to languish on the farm where he could ostensibly work on his game. The bigger question is, was this the best move for Puljujarvi development and on a macro view, the Edmonton Oilers? When contrasted with similar moves since McLellan’s tenure has started, you have to question if there is a development plan, or if it’s flawed.
Back in McLellan’s rookie year, he inherited a former first overall pick in Nail Yakupov who’s game clearly had stalled. Initially, McLellan put Yakupov in a position to succeed, right alongside the franchise Connor McDavid. The two played well together, Yakupov produced, but when injuries led to their separation they were never reunited, and Yakupov’s game and confidence evaporated. For the sake of a proper value pump before trade, he could have brought them back together, but chose not to. Later when Yakupov was traded McLellan chose to point fingers at the previous coach as the reason for player’s poor development. That may have been valid, but McLellan certainly did nothing to help.
In 2016 when oft-injured Tyler Pitlick came storming out of the gate, McLellan was specious in trusting the former second pick of the Oilers in the 2010 draft. Eventually, McLellan warmed to the player but there were a number of un-warranted nights in the press box before Pitlick passed the trust test, and for a younger player this could have led to confidence issues. Ultimately one more injury led to Pitlick leaving for Dallas in a move that may have purely been the GM’s. My guess is McLellan chimed in his two cents as well, and it wasn’t a thumbs up for a player that continues to produce in the bottom six on another NHL team.
Even in Draisaitl’s 2015 impact year when he scored 51 points, McLellan made the decision to start Leon on the farm where he scored two points in five games and openly spoke of how the decision bruised his confidence. To his credit, LD rebounded to have a productive year, but was it because of McLellan’s coaching? Or because he happened to spend a lot of time with players named Hall and McDavid.
Getting some perspective on McLellan’s coaching ability, he seems to be challenged with developing offensive players. This may sound strange considering the offensive teams McLellan had in San Jose, but as it stands right now the Oilers are in last place in goal production in the NHL . . . how does that happen on a team that has McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and others on the team?
Meanwhile, the coach switches linemates frenetically like a like a teenager with ADHD, while players are unable to gain traction and chemistry with teammates. The end result being an Oilers power play loaded with talent continues to underachieve, currently ranked a pedestrian 24th.
As Puljujarvi continues to make his way in the NHL the pressure to produce will always be there for the player, as it should. There should be a growing focus on whether McLellan is doing his part to succeed and show he can create systems that produce offense, as well as defense. To this point, the Oilers look to be limiting their opposition to 1 or 2 goals letting the McDavid – Drai combo work its magic in overtime. That plan may have worked in a couple of games, but it definitely won’t get the Oilers into playoff contention this season.