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Puljujarvi's First Season

A look back at the 2016 Draft's top Oilers acquisition and the prospect's first professional season

by Chris Wescott / Head Writer

The 2016 NHL Draft brought with it a few interesting moments for the Oilers, in particular their first-round acquisition of Finnish product Jesse Puljujarvi.

Video: BEHIND THE SCENES | Puljujarvi at the Draft

The Oilers had discussed either moving up or down the draft board in the first round and were keeping their eyes and ears open for the possibility of acquiring a veteran defenceman. At one point, they had a trade on the table under "very real" consideration that included their first pick.

However, when they began to receive information that the Columbus Blue Jackets may be considering a different order to the top five than much of the Leauge, they stood firm at four. Sure enough, the Blue Jackets took Pierre-Luc Dubois third overall, allowing Puljujarvi to slip to four.

The Oilers received several calls from teams looking to move into that spot and select the Finn, but the Oilers stayed and made the pick.

Video: CGY@EDM: Puljujarvi scores first career goal

There was a lot to be excited about with Puljujarvi instantly becoming the club's top non-NHL prospect.

The big, strong and skilled winger checked a lot of boxes and had a real chance to enter the League from day one.

Puljujarvi had an interesting, but expected career path his rookie season. While he would get a taste of the NHL, he'd need some more seasoning in the minors as the adjustment to the North American game almost always takes time.

"I think if you were to ask him he'd say it was frustrating," said Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli. "I met with him a couple times throughout the year and he was very frustrated with his game."

Puljujarvi's season began with a bang, as the rookie scored his first NHL goal in his first game against the team's archrival, the Calgary Flames. The first-year forward sniped a shot off a turnover and was already on the board a little more than two periods into his career.

Puljujarvi's best offensive stretch in the NHL came in November when he recorded four assists in a four-game span. He'd be inserted in and taken out of the lineup quite a bit as he continued to learn the systems and the game.

"When he was up here, I thought he started well and he lost some confidence so we ended up sending him down," said Chiarelli.

The Oilers would assign him to the American Hockey League's Bakersfield Condors. Sent down in January, Puljujarvi would instantly make an impact on the Condors offensively. He recorded a point in each of his first five games (2-3-5) and began to settle in as quite the weapon, generating scoring chances even if he couldn't score.

"I think he had 12 goals and he could have easily had 20 goals," said Chiarelli. "He missed a lot of goals. He was good for a breakaway a period. I liked his game down there."

Puljujarvi racked up 109 shots on goal in 39 games down in the minors. He recorded 12 goals and added 16 assists for 28 points.

"I was happy with (his first season)," said Chiarelli. "I've seen young 18-year-olds play in the AHL, I've seen some outperform him and most not.

"Every time he touches the puck in the American League it pretty much turns into a scoring chance."

Following the conclusion of the AHL regular season, Puljujarvi was loaned to the Finnish national team for the 2017 IIHF World Championship. Finland fell short to Russia in the bronze-medal game.

Overall, the season was a learning experience for the first-year Finn. Navigating the ups and downs left him frustrated according to Chiarelli. It's something he had to fight through and will continue to grow from moving forward.

"He's a young kid from Northern Finland and when I talk to him he's frustrated he wasn't scoring," said the GM. "I told him you just worry about your wall work and work behind the red line, the defensive side of the red line, and don't worry about the offence. I have no issues with the offence. I think he has a little trouble not accepting, he's a very understanding kid, just knowing he has that period of apprenticeship that maybe he didn't think he was going to have. But he's a good kid."

Puljujarvi said one of the biggest adjustments to make was the speed of the game on the smaller ice, but the language barrier was the hardest.

"It was tough," Puljujarvi said. "Sometimes, I'd play good, but it was tough with the new culture."

Puljujarvi added his goal is to come into next season with more confidence. As the top prospect in the system now, the Oilers hope he builds off lessons learned in year one as he prepares to hit the ground running in year two.

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