EDMONTON — There is a Jesse Puljujarvi in every National Hockey League town across the country.
Whether his name is Sam Bennett in Calgary, Olli Juolevi in Vancouver, Tyler Biggs in Toronto or Jarred Tinordi in Montreal, the locals fixate on a first-round pick of whom much is expected but not enough delivered. The pressure that is created permeates the team, and decisions get made that often differ from the way a third- or fourth-round pick gets treated.
Reality finally came to a head for Puljujarvi in Edmonton, expected to be a healthy scratch when the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals visit Thursday night.
“Jesse is an important part of our team. Of our organization,” began head coach Todd McLellan, the final decision-maker who went to great lengths not to divulge his decision at his morning media availability. “His development has to get going to where he has a positive influence on the game every night. And there is still some confusion in how that impact can come.
“It’s not always goals and assists — as we’ve seen, there haven’t been many of those. But there are other areas of the game that are important.”
Puljujarvi has one goal in seven games this season, and 14 – along with 15 assists – in 100 career NHL games. His game away from the puck has been slow to develop, however. Pegged as a top-six right-winger, this is a classic case of a player who consistently gives up more than he produces.
Puljujarvi’s plus-minus is dead-even in his career, but minus-4 this season. Where fans say, “the coach should give him more opportunity, more power-play time,” the coach has waited patiently for the player to earn that time with solid play within the Oilers’ system.
Soon after Puljujarvi scored a goal while playing with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in a game at Winnipeg this season, he was elevated from his third-line spot with centre Ryan Strome to the second line to play alongside centre Leon Draisaitl.
That opportunity was not grasped however, and likely should not have been given after such a small sample of success.
On Tuesday against Pittsburgh, McLellan replaced Puljujarvi mid-game with Alex Chiasson, who scored his second goal of the night on a 2-on-1 with Draisaitl. Chiasson will remain in that spot Thursday, as the Oilers play his old team, the Caps.
Puljujarvi is only 20 years old, but he has played parts of three NHL seasons in Edmonton. He is simply developing at a slower rate than most of his peers, thus far.
“Young player? Yes. But NHL three years,” McLellan advised. “We have to treat him like we do just about every other player, and hold him accountable. That’s where we’re at.”
Defenceman Matt Benning and winger Ty Rattie will both miss Thursday’s game with injuries. It appears Drake Caggiula could draw in after missing the last three games with an injury.