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Oilers hoping Puljujarvi takes fast track to NHL

Forward prospect aims to join Connor McDavid, young core in Edmonton

by Derek Van Diest / Correspondent

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers get their first look at forward Jesse Puljujarvi this weekend at the Young Stars Classic Tournament in Penticton, B.C. The No. 4 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft was unable to skate during Edmonton development camp this summer because of a leg injury.

"I'm excited and I think it's good for me, it's a fast game and that's cool," Puljujarvi said Thursday on the first day of Oilers rookie camp. "My leg is perfect and I'm 100 percent."

The Oilers expect Puljujarvi, 18, to make the team out of training camp this season. He had 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 50 games last season with Karpat of Liiga, Finland's top hockey league.

Puljujarvi got off to a fine start Friday, when he had two goals and an assist in a 4-1 win against the Vancouver Canucks on the first day of the tournament.

Puljujarvi (6-foot-4, 203 pounds) represented Finland at the World Junior Hockey Championship and had 12 points (five goals) to help them win the gold medal.

"That's my plan, to go to camp and try my best," Puljujarvi said. "I think I'm ready [for the NHL]."

Video: Oilers draft F Jesse Puljujarvi No. 4

The Oilers will evaluate Puljujarvi at the rookie tournament and see how he adjusts to the smaller NHL ice surface.

"The coaching staff will put him into situations where he can succeed," Oilers vice president of player development Kelly Buchberger said. "I haven't seen him play; at development camp he was suffering a minor injury. He's better now and he looks like he's in great shape and I'm excited to see him play and use that size and skill level that he has. He's going to be a great asset to us."

Depending on how far along Puljujarvi is, there is a possibility he could begin this season with Bakersfield of the American Hockey League before making the jump to the NHL on a full-time basis.

"I don't think about that right now," Puljujarvi said. "I'm only going to try my best."

Traditionally, the Oilers have not hesitated in giving young, talented players an opportunity to go directly into the NHL.

Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Taylor Hall, who was traded to the New Jersey Devils this offseason, all made the jump to the NHL directly out of junior hockey.

"If we feel they're ready, there is no question they'll play," Buchberger said. "With Connor, there was no question, it was 'absolutely.' If you go back with Taylor, [Eberle] and [Nugent-Hopkins], these guys were great players, they played really well in their rookie years. Did we make mistakes with them? I don't think so. They've developed and became great players in the NHL."

The Oilers will have plenty of time to make a decision on Puljujarvi, who will dictate his starting point.

"This is a small step," Buchberger said. "I'm sure he's excited to put the jersey on and start playing with his teammates. I think we're all excited to see him play and to see him compete against these guys and compete against the pros after."

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