Jesse Puljujarvi tells Oilers: ‘Trade me or I’ll play in Europe’

Edmonton Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi, left, tries to keep the puck away from Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov. (Matt Slocum/AP)

EDMONTON — Jesse Puljujarvi will not play another game for the Edmonton Oilers, according to his agent Markus Lehto.

If the Oilers don’t trade him within the National Hockey League, he will play in Europe next fall.

"If he doesn’t get traded," Lehto confirmed, "he will play in Europe next year. He will not play in Edmonton."

The Oilers have until Monday to issue a qualifying offer to Puljujarvi, 21, in order to retain his NHL rights. Puljujarvi will refrain from accepting that offer until he has been traded, as a contracted NHL player cannot sign in Europe.

If a trade to another NHL team cannot be consummated — and if it has not happened by end of day Saturday, that is unlikely — Puljujarvi is considered free to sign with any European club. There has been interest from more than one KHL team, according to Lehto, with Puljujarvi expected to favour Jokerit (in Helsinki), or the Finnish Elite League club Karpat, near his family in Oulu.

How does that news sound to Oilers general manager Ken Holland?

"At the end of the day, if you can do a deal that makes sense for the Edmonton Oilers, you do it," said Holland, who spoke on Wednesday morning with Lehto. "If you can’t, you go over (to Europe) and watch him play, and hopefully he scores a lot of goals over there."

Holland is in Vancouver at the NHL Draft and will fully explore the trade options for the No. 4 overall pick in 2016. Puljujarvi has 17 goals and 37 points in 139 NHL games, and is coming off surgery on both hips. He is skating and expected to be fully ready for the coming season.

That’s the news on the Puljujarvi front. Now, the opinion:

The language barrier has kept us from getting to really know the young man, but considering what he’s gone through, he always had a smile and a hello — more than you can say for some players. He seems like a good kid who wants to succeed, but we’re not sure he knows how to succeed in the NHL quite yet.

He does not have NHL hockey sense or, by all accounts, the drive necessary to succeed at this level, though that possibly could be learned.

It is Lehto’s job to advise the player, but if I sat down next to Puljujarvi, this is what I’d say:

"Jesse, there isn’t a team that wants you to succeed more than the Oilers. They’ve got a high draft pick and a piece of their reputation invested in you. Sure, they mishandled your career by not letting you spend enough time in AHL Bakersfield. But, truth be told, you and your agent didn’t want to go there either, right?

"You haven’t played much with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, or on the powerplay, but in the NHL you earn those prime spots. They don’t just get handed to you because of where you were drafted, most times.

"Here’s what you should do: Have your agent negotiate a fair two-year deal with the new GM, Ken Holland. He’s an honest guy, and he’s saying you’ll get a full season on the third line, and a chance to learn how to play the NHL game under the new coach, Dave Tippett.

"The Oilers are very lean on goal-scoring right-wingers. There probably isn’t a team in the league with a combination of better centremen and open spots on their flanks.

"Have Lehto get a handshake deal with Holland that, if we don’t like the way the 2019-20 season goes, he’ll trade you next summer. That way, he can say he tried to develop you, but the previous GM drafted you and it just wasn’t working.

"Give it one more year, take some of the blame for your slow development, then go out and prove you are a player. Score some goals, show the commitment that is necessary, and by Christmas you could be the No. 1 right-winger in Edmonton.

"You’re just 21. This is the last place you’ll ever play that has as much invested in you as the Oilers have. Which, you’ll learn one day, is important."

Would the kid listen? Maybe, maybe not.

The truth wouldn’t hurt though. And that isn’t always what players always hear from those closest to them.

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