Oilers management confident in the continued development of the Finnish 20-year-old as he improves his speed this off-season and adjusts to life in North America
Ahead of the 2018-19 season, EdmontonOilers.com is taking a look back at the '17-18 individual performances of the Oilers in our series 'Roster Redux'
EDMONTON, AB - Developing right-winger Jesse Puljujarvi into a top forward is about more than just a good off-season in the gym for himself and the Oilers management team.
It's a long-term play.
The 20-year-old Finn continues to adjust to life and the game of hockey in North America after splitting time in the NHL and AHL during his first two seasons after being selected fourth overall by the Oilers at the 2016 NHL Draft.
"He's shown a lot of progress, he's getting more mature," Oilers President of Hockey Operations and GM Peter Chiarelli said of the Finnish forward. "We tend to forget he's a northern Finn and he still has that maturation process going as far as living in North America and being a professional."
After finishing 2016-17 with the Bakersfield Condors, Puljujarvi spent 10 games at the beginning of last season back in the AHL before injury necessitated his return to the Oilers. He was thrusted into a second-line at wing with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic, scoring a goal in his return with confidence soaring.
But a hot and energetic start for Puljujarvi cooled as the season ended, registering just four points in his final 20 games. A marginal return of 20 points (12G, 8A) in 65 games with the Oilers included plenty of shuffling across all four lines.
"I saw progression, but I think he tailed off at the end," Chiarelli commented. "What I saw was a much cleaner game, and that's something we asked to see from Jesse when we sent him down. I saw a real rejuvenated offensive player when we called him up, for large part a dangerous player, and then I saw a player who lost a lot of confidence at the end."
But the forward's value to the club as a future top-six forward can't be understated.
"I know some of his counterparts are doing better, but with this player it's about the long term and what he's going to become because with his package and ability he's going to be a real good player.
"This kid's a horse, he can score, he's still learning, and his learning curve maybe is a bit more shallow than some of the guys drafted around him, but he'll be there in the end and I think you're going to see big things from him this season."
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound winger boasts size and speed that affords him plenty of opportunity to control the tempo of play on the ice. Being able to utilize every asset of his game day in and day out remains the priority, and it begins with confidence.
"We had a good exit interview, he's going to work on his speed," Chiarelli said. "He's a terrific skater but when his confidence is down his skating looks a little gangly and off.
"He has to get better at a number of things, and you saw them all. When he doesn't have confidence he doesn't hold on to the puck and protect it well enough for a man of his size, he doesn't win the battles for a man of his size, but when he's on he's a very dangerous player."