When you think about it, the comparisons between Jesse Puljujarvi and Leon Draisaitl are strong. Both players were picked high in their respective drafts, both were hulking man-children at 18, and both started with the big club straight out of the draft.
And at the same point in their respective rookie pro seasons, both players struggled. For Draisaitl, there seemed to be a concerted effort to allow him to work his way through it. Although in fairness, the Oilers were wafer thin at every position (save wing) in Leon’s rookie season. Nonetheless, it would have been prudent (even classy) for the Oilers to take a long view of Drai’s development, and let him play in the World Junior Championships and later on, back to junior. But while the Oilers did eventually send Leon back to junior his season (where he starred in the memorial cup), developmentally speaking, his time with the Oilers was pretty much a write-off.
For Puljujarvi, the Oiler’s insistence on keeping him with the big club is even more perplexing. The team is not deep on the wing, but on any given night you could find one or two of Pitlick, Pouliot, Slepyshev, or Jesse himself in the pressbox. So, why the Oilers insist on keeping him with the big club is concerning to me.
To be fair, it’s not like Puljujarvi has played bad. He has had bad moments but for the most part, he doesn’t look out-of-place and shows teasing hints of his power forward potential.
However, at this point, he is not producing, and over time, that fact will erode his confidence. Looking back there was no value in keeping Draisaitl with the big club in 2015, and to me, there is little value in keeping Puljujarvi here. Keeping his development a priority, let’s look at some other options:
Another Starring Role at the WJC?
Now according to Bobby “Big Wheel” Stauffer, the Finnish ice hockey federation has not requested Puljujarvi to join their world junior team, but that makes little sense to me. Why wouldn’t the Finns want him to join their team? More importantly, it would give Jesse an opportunity regain his confidence in a true man against boys environment. That would get his development back in the right direction.
Currently, the Oilers are wasting a rare developmental situation: they have player straight out of their draft year that can play minor pro. I’ve felt from day one Puljujarvi should have started in the minors. He could have earned a promotion or set himself up as a Calder trophy winner for the 2017 – 18 season. Now, only one of those options is still available, and it’s the one the Oilers should take.
Recently the Oilers announced that Jesse was nursing an injury and would not be in the lineup so a chance a back to back World Junior glory may be out of the question ( if it was ever an option) but when Puljujarvi is 100%, an assignment to Bakersfield would be the smart thing to do, for the player and the club.
Looking back you could say that Draisaitl’s development was not hampered by his half season with the OIlers, but I don’t believe it was a gleaming positive either. Draisaitl’s season was saved when he was sent to junior and emerged as a star in the Memorial Cup. Similarly, Puljujarvi’s season could be saved by a demotion. In the minors, he would have an opportunity to regain his confidence and get his confidence back on track. Putting positive player development first is the right thing to do, it remains to be seen if Chiarelli will do it though.