It’s crazy that Jesse Puljujarvi would leave Edmonton and end up in Oulu, jumping from Canada’s northernmost large city to a town that is said to be the second largest city of its size in the entire world to be located that far north.
From cold to colder, dark to darker, Puljujarvi will take his talents to the Finnish Elite League’s Oulun Karpat, a powerhouse in the league that sits a level below the Kontinental Hockey League, which lies some distance below the competitive level of the National Hockey League.
The Edmonton Oilers, having issued him a qualifying offer (Q.O.), retain his rights in perpetuity until Puljujarvi serves enough NHL time to become an unrestricted free agent.
As for this season, he has until 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 1 to sign his Q.O., or he cannot play in the NHL in the 2019-20 season. (You’ll recall the William Nylander negotiations stretching to the final moments last season.)
By later November, Karpat will have played some 24 Liiga games, a decent sample from which Oilers general manager Ken Holland can fashion a trade — assuming Puljujarvi shows as a dominant player in Oulu.
"I don’t know that him signing in Finland has a huge effect on the situation," Holland said on Tuesday morning, adding that is better for everyone that Puljujarvi is playing somewhere rather than holding out. "I’ve had conversations with numerous clubs that have had interest, some interest, in acquiring Jesse. And I have had, probably in the last 10 days, two or three new teams reach out to me. Teams whose positions have changed, and are checking into the Puljujarvi situation.
"I’ll do a deal if I feel good that I’m making a deal in the best interests of the Edmonton Oilers."
Holland will wait now, while other NHL teams perhaps watch players fail to pan out at the right wing position, or maybe incur an injury or two. He’ll hope Puljujarvi stays healthy and is productive. If those two things occur, in our opinion Puljujarvi will be traded by mid-November.
He has almost certainly, as agent Markus Lehto promised in this piece back in June, played his last game in an Oilers uniform.
"A week after I was hired (on May 6) Markus Lehto told me Jesse wanted to move on," Holland said. "I was hoping, you know the old saying, that time heals all wounds. I hired Dave Tippett, and shortly after I talked to Lehto and nothing had changed. We had Jesse here in Edmonton for four or five days, and him and I sat down for an hour face to face. Jesse told me the same thing Markus was telling me."
The two reached out to the Puljujarvi camp again in late July, only be told that they could call Puljujarvi in Finland if they wanted, but he was steadfast in his wish to move on from the team that drafted him with the No. 4 pick in 2016.
"I was in Detroit at that time," Holland said. "Any one of 30 GMs would have picked him in the Top 5 — no question."
Karpat is coached by one Mikko Manner, and Puljujarvi will have teammates like 36-year-old Jussi Jokinen, ex-Blackhawk and Flyer Lasse Kukkonen, and the much travelled former Mellville Millionaire defenceman Shaun Heshka, who has found a home in Karpat at age 34.
The Finnish league is less of a developmental league than the American Hockey League, but more competitive, as the players are older. Karpat is a Liiga power, and could compete in, say, Sweden. Overall however, the Finnish League lacks the depth of the Swedish League, scouts have always said.
Home to the annual Air Guitar World Championships, and a now retired Finnish metal band named "Sentence," Oulu sounds not unlike Edmonton, two sports-mad cities that thumb their noses at the climate by hosting all kinds of festivals and parties that dare its citizens to stay indoors due to weather.
Like Edmonton, however, hockey comes first in Oulu. Folks there have watched the Granlund boys, Mikael and Marcus, grow up, as well as players like Reijo Ruotsalainen, Pekka Rinne, and Carolina phenom Sebastien Aho, whose father Harri currently GMs the team Puljujarvi is joining.
In fact, Puljujarvi and Aho skated together with Karpat this summer, stoking some hopes that Carolina would make a pitch for Puljujarvi
In the end, Puljujarvi would be pleased to spend his Christmas in Raleigh.