The Oilers Have A Promising Rookie In Leon Puljujarvi By @OilersNerdAlert

Oops, of course I mean Jesse Draisaitl.

Aaargh, no wait, it’s *JESSE* *PULJUJARVI*.

The comparison to Leon isn’t a coincidence though … not that I fooled any of you into thinking it was.

Pulju has had a bit of an unproductive rookie year, much like Draisaitl did, and people are a little worried about that.

On top of that, a lot of verbiage is being spilled recently on the fact that Pulju isn’t playing much for Finland’s team at the Worlds. Not sure what that’s about (I haven’t followed closely, but I keep hearing he’s been one of their better players, so … ?)

With that said, given all the negative ink, I see similarities in the way Draisaitl and Puljujarvi tracked during their rookie years that keeps me from getting too gloomy, so let me share that with you.


Let’s start with some basic stats from the rookie years of the two players:

**Note: the Sh% numbers above are on ice EV sh%. Personal sh% numbers were 2.4% for JP and 4.6% for LD**

The similarities here should be clear. Both played less than half a season. Both scored around a quarter of a point per game, and well shy of two points per 60 minutes. Both players had shooting percentages in line with fourth liners rather than first liners.

Pulju was a little ahead of Draisaitl in that regard, but not in any significant way.

But the thing I want to really emphasize is the possession. Both players were positive in possession metrics, both on an absolute and a relative basis.

The ‘relative’ part means the team did better on shot metrics with these guys on the ice than without them.

That’s a really important thing IMO.

Young skill players can often score as rookies, but even the highly skilled ones typically struggle with the defensive aspect of the game … which means they tend to give up a lot of shots and chances. That shows up in poor possession numbers.

If they don’t learn to think that defensive aspect of the game at the NHL level, the offensive skill may not overcome the defensive liability and that can derail or even torch an otherwise promising career (think: Gagner, Sammy; Yakupov, Nail).

That LD and JP at such a young age both allow(ed) their teams to get the better of the shot balance when on the ice is a very good thing indeed.

Replacement Impact

Let me dig in a bit more on this aspect, because there’s something *really* unusual (in a good way) with both players that needs highlighting.

Let me explain what the two charts I’ve posted below mean.

We start with WOWY (WithOUT you With You) data. WOWY looks at pairs of players to see how they do together and then without each other on the ice.

By looking at a player’s WOWY data across a range of teammates, we can start to get a sense of whether that player is carrying/dragging his teammates, or is being carried/dragged by them.

“Replacement Impact” is a specific way of looking at WOWY data where you ignore the ‘together’ data and look at the players as substitutes. That is to say, we compare how Player 1 does without Player 2, and vice versa. In other words, conceptually it’s kind of like we look at it and say “what happens when you replace Player 1 with Player 2 on the ice?”

The charts below show what happens to shot attempts (CF%) when you replace a particular player with Puljujarvi or Draisaitl. (This data is from 2016 for JP and 2014 for LD, and shows all non-goalies with whom they had 30 or more minutes of shared icetime).

Here’s Draisaitl:

And now Puljujarvi:

You see what’s happening?

In terms of replacement impacts, with just one single exception each – Maroon for Pulju and Perron for Draisaitl – the team gets better when Drai or Pulju step on the ice, EVEN AS ROOKIES.

Now let’s throw out a word of caution here … what I’ve put forward for you is hardly an iron clad or infallible type of analysis. There’s lots of confounding factors involved with teammates and competition and usage that aren’t accounted for.

But when you see such a consistent positive pattern across a wide variety of teammates, it’s a tell. A good one!

The Future

So we saw how this played out with Drai – as a rookie, the possession was there, the skill was there, but the scoring wasn’t. With experience and confidence, the scoring came on like gangbusters.

So don’t get down on Puljujarvi’s future.

He’s younger than Drai was (Drai was an October birthday and was 19 most of his rookie season; JP just turned 19 a day or two ago), and unlike Drai did not have the benefit of playing and adapting to North America in Junior, so adaptation *is* going to be a struggle.

Even in the best case, it’s going to take Puljujarvi some time, moreso than it did with Drai.

But the speed and skill is there, in spades. The possession impacts are excellent – indeed, for a rookie they are stellar. What’s missing for Puljujarvi is confidence and experience (and also like Drai, some man strength to be able to play his imposing power game against NHL size players).

There are no sure things when you’re projecting young players, and like all of his ilk, Jesse will need to be dedicated to getting better … but this first season tells me we’re quite likely seeing a star in the making.

Don’t forget about Drai, but remember Puljujarvi!

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Beer League Hero Written by:

I'm the Beer League Hero! I am from Camrose, Alberta but I make my home in Taipei City, Taiwan. I've been through the ups and downs and the highs and the Lowes, the Bonsignores and the McDavids, the Sathers and the Eakins but I'll never leave my Oilers, no matter what! They're with me until the end and then some. GO OILERS GO!

  • Joe

    Thanks for doing this work.