The second half of the Edmonton Oilers’ season has arrived, and guess what? Not only is the team not irrelevant, as has been the case for the past many seasons, the Oilers find themselves as a legitimate playoff contender, just one point out of first place in the Pacific Division.
As such, it is time to start acting like a contender. That began on Monday when the team acquiesced on 18-year-old right-winger Jesse Puljujarvi, finally sending him to the American Hockey League, while putting ineffective backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson on waivers.
The Oilers called up right-winger Anton Slepyshev to replace Puljujarvi, and as soon as Gustavsson clears waivers, expect a call-up of 23-year-old goalie Laurent Broissoit, who has seen roughly two-thirds of the minutes in Bakersfield this winter.
The Puljujarvi move was long, long overdue.
The Oilers intentions were to allow the young Finn, whose English was poor upon his arrival in Canada, to acclimate to North America and the NHL game while staying with Edmonton. There, the plan went, he could live with an English roommate and study the language. After a half-season however, it was clear that the combination of Puljujarvi’s immature game and the increasing importance of each game to the Oilers playoff chances made grooming the NHL’s youngest rookie at this level an awkward exercise.
The loss of right-wing Tyler Pitlick (ACL, gone for the season) likely extended Puljujarvi’s stay in Edmonton by a couple of weeks, but nobody in the organization could reconcile with playing the No. 4 overall draft pick just 11:15 per game at the NHL level, when he could be in Bakersfield playing 19 minutes.
Puljujarvi was a healthy scratch again on Sunday, and it is clear that — like Leon Draisaitl did when he was sent back to junior in his rookie season — a trip to the AHL will put the 6-foot-4 Finn back on a developmental track that is more becoming a prospect of his pedigree.
In keeping Puljujarvi on the NHL roster for more than 40 games this season, the Oilers burn a year of his Entry Level Contract (ELC), and the season counts towards unrestricted free agency. As such, when his three-year ELC expires Puljujarvi will be four years away from unrestricted free agency, rather than five.
As for Gustavsson, the former Maple Leaf, Bruin and Red Wing may be at the end of his NHL tenure at age 32. He has looked nothing but shaky both in practice and during games this season, starting only five of 42 Oilers games this season and posting a save percentage of .878.
He showed weakly in a 5-3 loss at Ottawa Sunday, and if Brossoit proves even marginally better the Ottawa game could very well mark be Gustavsson’s final appearance with Edmonton — or in the NHL, for that matter.
Also, Columbus placed 33-year-old backup goalie Curtis McElhinney on waivers Monday. There is a chance Edmonton could put a claim in, but the smart money says they’ll take a look at Brossoit first.