BUFFALO, NY - If there were going to be fireworks at Friday night’s opening round of the 2016 NHL Draft, they were likely to happen somewhere in the top five selections.
The Oilers were somewhat of a swing pick, with General Manager Peter Chiarelli openly saying he was fielding offers for the fourth-overall selection. Would Edmonton stay put? Move down? Package the pick with more for a player? Who would be available at four? Was defence in play or would Edmonton have to choose from the second tier of forwards?
As it turned out, the Blue Jackets were the real wild card.
With the first and second picks falling into place as expected, it looked like it would be a quiet start to the evening. That was until Columbus, at three, decided to go off script a bit. Instead of taking the presumptive pick at three, the Blue Jackets selected Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
That meant one thing. Jesse Puljujarvi had slipped to the Oilers.
Chiarelli admitted following the NHL Draft Lottery that he was a little disappointed the team dropped to the fourth spot. It seemed to take them out of the running for the top tier of prospects, which included the locked-in first-overall pick, Auston Matthews, and two Finnish phenoms.
If the Oilers had any thought to trading out of four, that likely went out the window with this development. Edmonton stepped up to the podium and selected Puljujarvi, a player they once thought would be gone by the time they were on the clock.
“We were going off our list, and that’s where we would have picked him,” said Chiarelli. “There was no hesitation.”
Chiarelli was engaged in talks to either move up or down from the four spot. That’s when the Oilers started to feel like there was a chance Puljujarvi might be available to them. So they held their position and waited. Columbus pounced on their guy, so the Oilers got theirs.
Puljujarvi is a big winger, standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 203 pounds. But along with that size, Puljujarvi is very skilled with top-line ability and potential. He showed he could play with men already, competing in Finland’s top league this past season.
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“I learned a lot about what it’s like to be a professional hockey player, and play with men and have to fight for a spot on the roster,” he said.
Puljujarvi scored 13 goals and recorded 15 assists for 28 points in 50 games for Karpat this season, and also had nine points (4-5-9) in 10 post-season games. His year placed him third on NHL Central Scouting’s list of European skaters, and third overall on International Scouting Services’ list of prospects.
“Puljujarvi is the ultimate power forward package,” said Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr. “He is a big, mobile, highly skilled, well-rounded winger who is both a scorer and a playmaker. He is a powerful skater with excellent offensive instincts, puck skills and determination.”
Puljujarvi helped lead Finland to a gold medal at the 2016 World Junior Championship, where he led all players in assists and points. He was named the MVP, Best Forward and earned All-Star Team honours.
“He’s a big, strong kid,” said Chiarelli. “I believe he was the youngest MVP of the World Junior… He had a terrific tournament. He was lights out. He played at the men’s level and had a very strong season. He had a very strong U18. We had him in that upper echelon all year.”
Puljujarvi, who idolizes Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, can rip the puck and displays high-end offensive creativity and vision.
“Showed the high-end versatile tool box he has with speed, size, vision and skill,” said one ISS scout. “Great character and love for the game, played with determination. Looks NHL ready.”
Photo by Getty Images.
And Puljujarvi feels NHL ready.
“I’m really happy now,” said Puljujarvi. “It’s a nice city and a great team. I’m ready to play next year for the Edmonton Oilers.”
There’s already speculation that Puljujarvi could wind up on Connor McDavid’s wing. McDavid, selected first overall last year, could form a fierce duo with the big Finn.
“Connor is a very good player, and I hope I play next year with him,” said Puljujarvi.
“I’ve seen quite a bit of Connor,” Puljujarvi added, speaking through a translator. “He has very good hands and he’s a very fast skater.”
Both Chiarelli and Head Coach Todd McLellan indicated they believe Puljujarvi could be ready to transition to the NHL right away.
“I like his big, strong stride,” said Chiarelli. “He protects the puck well, he shoots in traffic, can make plays too. He’s not just a pure playmaker. He’s maybe a little more playmaker than shooter, but he’s got a good wrist shot. He sees the ice well. He’s a real versatile player. You don’t accomplish what he’s accomplished at the men’s level and the international level without being a real good player. He’s obviously a real good player but he does all this stuff and he’s a big, strong body which I like.”
Puljujarvi joins an Oilers roster with young talent up front already, making it a great landing spot in his mind.
“It’s a good thing to get on a team that has a lot of young players, and who are only going to get better and start winning at some point too,” Puljujarvi said.
A big prize — in the form of a big Finn — fell into the Oilers laps at the fourth-overall spot. They snatched him up, and are hoping he can begin to grow with and contribute to the team immediately.
“We’re fortunate,” said Chiarelli. “He’s a big, strong kid, a smart player who can shoot the puck. Happy to get him.”