Future Considerations: What to expect from Jesse Puljujarvi with the Penguins

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) shoots as he is pressured by Anaheim Ducks' Cam Fowler (4) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

As the Edmonton Oilers look to extend their winning streak to 17 games Tuesday night versus the Vegas Golden Knights, former Oilers first-round pick Jesse Puljujarvi made some news over the All-Star break by signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Puljujarvi’s deal is for two years and carries a cap hit of $800,000. If he doesn’t stick with the Penguins in the long run, he will still make the same amount playing in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre Scranton.

The Penguins are desperately in need of a secondary layer of scoring. They are a top-heavy group that relies on the usual suspects to carry the offensive load. Their top five scorers (Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Evgeni Malkin, Erik Karlsson and Kris Letang) have combined to produce 75 goals and 127 assists. The rest of the team has contributed 61 goals and 105 assists.

Before signing this contract, Puljujarvi played in the AHL for Wilkes-Barre where he was averaging 17 minutes of ice time, including a primary role on the power play where he averaged three minutes a game. And though he got off to a slow start offensively, going scoreless in his first four games, he contributed four goals and five assists in his last nine games there.

Clearly the Pens are hoping Puljujarvi can translate his recent impact into a secondary layer of scoring at the NHL level.

Puljujarvi produced offence in a variety of ways in Wilkes-Barre. He scored from the weak-side flank on the power play and found pucks around the crease area to deposit in the net. He’s been using his big frame (6-foot-4, 201 pounds) to his advantage when boxing out opponents. He’s also moving well in open ice, where he’s shown he can pull away from opponents and take pucks to the net off the rush.

I completely understand why the Penguins are gambling on Puljujarvi to produce offence. But he still needs to prove it at the NHL level. This is, after all, a player who only produced five goals and 11 assists in 75 games last season split between Edmonton and Carolina. Not to mention the fact he was minus-13.

Here’s a clip from an AHL game that consolidates the good and the bad with the current state of Puljujarvi’s game:

In this sequence, Puljujarvi is above the play in the offensive zone and briefly looks like he might finish a check in the early stages of possession for Springfield. As the play moves into the defensive zone, however, notice how he is focused solely on the puck carrier. There’s a Springfield player (No. 17 in white) open in the middle of the ice, but his teammate doesn’t get him the puck. At the NHL level, a better scoring chance would have come out of this sequence. Puljujarvi didn’t identify his man correctly on the back check, but he gets away with it and ends up with the puck on his stick in transition. He has no problem skating past defenders and taking the puck to the net for the tuck.

This entire sequence sums up several things about Puljujarvi. The Pens are hoping he contributes offence, but they will need him to be detailed defensively as well.

At the end of the day, I’m pulling for Puljujarvi. He’s a character person and great teammate. Maybe he finally finds a way to have more consistent impact at the NHL level with a new start in Pittsburgh.

First challenge for him is Tuesday’s home game against the Winnipeg Jets.

FLAMES CLAIM BRAYDEN PACHAL

The Calgary Flames claimed defenceman Brayden Pachal off waivers from the Vegas Golden Knights over the weekend.

Pachal is a bit of a throwback. The right-shot defenceman is listed at 6-foot-2, 202 pounds and he uses every inch, and pound of strength, to his advantage.

Pachal empties the tank every shift and plays physical. I’ve personally enjoyed watching him play dating back to his days in the WHL with Prince Albert. He always appears to be running into opponents and disrupting their flow offensively. He suited up for 17 games with Vegas last season and was credited with 42 hits and 23 shot blocks.

Pachal leads by example. He’s only 24 years young, but was the captain of the AHL’s Henderson Silver Knights.

Pachal won’t bring much in the way of offence, but he’s a capable skater and outlets pucks efficiently. He’s a bottom pairing defender who can match up against bottom six forwards and should land on one of the Flames’ penalty killing units.

Pachal’s contract carries a cap hit of $775,000 through next season.

Jason Bukala is a former NHL scouting director and founder of The Pro Hockey Group

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