As he was three seasons ago, Puljujarvi is ready to move on for a fresh start elsewhere, sources have confirmed. The Oilers are ready to oblige, and are speaking with at least four teams in an attempt to push the return as high as possible.
Puljujarvi’s agent, Markus Lehto, declined to comment but did not dispute the above characterization of his 24-year-old client. Oilers GM Ken Holland, who is actively working the phones on a number of players — including Puljujarvi, Tyson Barrie, Warren Foegele and Zack Kassian — did not return a request for an interview, which is rare.
Back in 2019, Lehto told Sportsnet that his client was ready to move on.
“It’s kind of hard for me to think you can hit the re-set button,” Lehto mused in February of 2019, between periods of a game in Raleigh, N.C. “It’s like, when the player isn’t trusting anymore … ‘Do these guys really want me here? Do they really trust me to become a Top 6 guy? A Top 9 guy? An offensive player?’ The player is uncertain.
“Are we reaching the point that, for the team and for the player, it might be actually beneficial for going different paths, different routes?”
Puljujarvi instead went home to Finland for a season, while Holland waited for a first-round pick in trade that never emerged. So he brought Puljujarvi back to middling success, and the GM was praised for his patient handling of the asset.
Three years later, that patience has run out — on both sides.
Puljujarvi is deemed “a play killer” inside the Oilers dressing room, it is believed, where two of the best centremen in the world have not been enough to turn Puljujarvi into a legitimate Top 6 winger in the NHL. The puck dies on his stick in the offensive zone too often to continue to saddle Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl with such a winger on a regular basis.
So, what is Puljujarvi’s value on the NHL market? Drafted at No. 4 overall in 2016, consensus among professional scouts we spoke with this week is that Holland would do well to find a second-round draft pick in return for Puljujarvi. Here is a sample of replies:
• “Probably more like a third (round pick) for me. I think they only way they get a second is if it’s a late second or the team has multiple seconds and can get rid of one for a flyer on him.”
• “Should be able to get a second.”
• “Puljujarvi is the equivalent of a third-line player with some upside.”
• “If you can get a second (round pick), take it.”
The assumption is that Puljujarvi would be dealt for a pick, and that pick could help Edmonton acquire a player they need for the coming season. We do not expect the Oilers to use the draft pick acquired for Puljujarvi, but you never know.
The Arizona Coyotes have three second-round picks (and three first-rounders) in next week’s draft. Would they swap one for the six-foot-four winger?
Carolina is definitely interested in taking on the project that is Puljujarvi, based on the fact he and Hurricanes centre Sebastien Aho worked well together as Finnish juniors. Playing together at the 2016 World Juniors, Puljujarvi led the tournament in scoring with five goals and 17 points, while Aho was second (5-9-14). Their linemate, Patrik Laine, was third in tournament scoring with 13 points, while Puljujarvi was named tournament MVP.
Carolina has a second-round pick (60th overall) and has Chicago’s third-round pick (71). The latter would likely be fair compensation for Puljujarvi, or perhaps the former if Holland can create a market.
New Jersey is another target, as a team that places a high value on the analytics that are kind to Puljujarvi. Despite scoring just four goals nine assists in his final 36 games of the season — almost all spent next to Connor McDavid — analytics exist that pump up Puljujarvi’s value and could entice certain teams to the asset.
Ottawa is another team of interest, a deal that could possibly see winger Kassian included. Such an inclusion would mitigate return, but make for a cap savings of at least $1.4 million on Puljujarvi, and whichever portion of Kassian’s $3.2 million cap hit the Oilers are not forced to retain.
San Jose may also be a destination, though with the Sharks in the process of hiring a new GM, that could complicate a process both sides hope to wrap up prior to next Thursday’s draft.