Where Oilers stand with Puljujarvi, Kassian, Bouchard

Connor McDavid scored the overtime winner to get the Oilers a 2-1 win over the Blackhawks.

The Edmonton Oilers took Monday off. The players, that is.

But where the coaches readied for a visit from Minnesota on Tuesday, management wrestled with the fates of three players: A couple of kids and a veteran who appears to burning through yet another organization.

Let’s take on each case, and see if we can find some conclusions:

Jesse Puljujarvi

The debate inside the Oilers organization right now is, with the Oilers on a 3-0 run with Puljujarvi in the press box as a healthy scratch, is it time for the 20-year-old right-winger to spend some time on the farm? They’ve officially reached a tipping point with this No. 4-overall draft pick, with the surging Oilers at a juncture where they can not afford a roster spot to a player who can’t help right now.

Puljujarvi’s uptake on how to play the NHL game has been slow, and the place to play catchup on that is at AHL Bakersfield. After parts of three seasons in the NHL however, that would mark a measure of failure for both the player and the team that drafted him — especially in a 2016 draft where Matthew Tkachuk, Mikhail Sergachev and Charlie McAvoy were there for the taking.

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Finnish correspondent Tommi Seppala recently talked to Puljujarvi for a piece in their native language. Seppala wrote about a player for whom points are the cherry on top of the sundae; that Puljujarvi needs to be better without the puck, learn to use his size, and play a trustworthy, professional game. Do all of those things, and the points will come.

I couldn’t agree more. The Oilers need to get out of the business of teaching players how to be pros at the NHL level. Better to have a player become overripe in Bakersfield, than playing in Edmonton before he is NHL-ready.

Seppala also asked Puljujarvi’s agent Markus Lehto on Monday if he’d received news that Puljujarvi was AHL bound. As of Monday, he had not.

Zack Kassian

Our Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada that Kassian’s agent, Rick Curran has been granted permission by Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli to seek a trade for Kassian out of Edmonton. A couple of things on that:

Rarely is an agent the architect of an NHL trade but sometimes it happens. Pat Brisson had a constructive hand in both Roberto Luongo to Florida, and Matt Duchene to Ottawa, so perhaps Curran can cook something up.

But it won’t be easy: At 27, Kassian’s next NHL organization will be his fifth. He is a fourth-line player who will be paid $1.95 million this year and next, another example of Chiarelli overpaying a depth player.

In a pair of weekend wins, Kassian’s characteristics were on full display. He took a needless, reckless roughing penalty with 5:16 to play in a game the Oilers had well in hand, leading 4-2. Filip Forsberg scored on the ensuing power play, and the Oilers required an empty-net goal to rescue the two points.

The next day Kassian displayed the soft hands he’s always had for a big man, lifting in a rebound from in close for the only Oilers regulation goal in a game Edmonton won 2-1 in overtime. Over time however, his inability to find a consistent middle ground makes coaches crazy.

Coaches can accept the odd penalty. It comes with Kassian’s bruising style. But turnovers and the inability to play the clock and the score — for a player with nearly 400 games played — makes you wonder if Kassian isn’t another Ben Eager. He has size, skates great, can shoot the puck, is terrifying to some opponents — but never figures out how to make all that come out as a positive on more nights than not.

We don’t see him being moved without the Oilers eating some of his contract, which seems an unlikely scenario.

Evan Bouchard

For many of the same reasons we listed for Puljujarvi’s absence from Edmonton’s lineup, Evan Bouchard spent the weekend in the press box as well. The 19-year-old defenceman has played seven games, and can get up to nine before burning a year on his entry-level deal.

Like Puljujarvi, Bouchard has not been a plus player in any one game this season, despite being protected with offensive-zone starts against mostly third and fourth lines. It’s understandable for Bouchard, of course, as a younger player playing a more difficult position.

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There is a very good offensive-minded blueliner here, and the debate over whether there is anything for him to learn by returning to London — where Bouchard led all CHL defencemen in points last season — is legitimate. But Edmonton sees its resurrection as a contender being based on strong defensive play, and keeping the goals against down. That doesn’t jibe with breaking in a first-year pro on defence.

On its current 6-1-1 run, Edmonton has held opponents to two goals or less four times. On the weekend, with neither Bouchard nor Puljujarvi in the lineup, they played two solid defensive road games — the kind of game that wins. The power play is running at 25 per cent without Bouchard as a member, so any thoughts of keeping him in the NHL to help there is moot.

Bouchard is going to be a big part of things in Edmonton, but with front office jobs on the line this season and some early success — of which Bouchard has little part in — he’ll very likely be sent back to London in the coming days.

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