Defining Success for Jesse Puljujarvi

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:14 am by Jonathan Willis

Jesse Puljujarvi may or may not be NHL-ready next season. If
he is capable of playing in the majors, he may not score right away. It’s
important to say these things now so that he’s not branded a disappointment if
he fails to meet some of the sky-high expectations out there.

Jason Gregor wrote a great piece on this yesterday, and this one echoes it somewhat but also works as a complement. Where Gregor looked at European players generally, and the difficulty of hitting the 30-point mark at 18, I’ve decided to focus specifically on Finland and an outer marker for Puljujarvi.

The Finns

Saku Koivu

From 1990 to 2015, NHL teams spent 17 first-round selections
on forwards who spent their draft years in Finland’s SM-liiga. Six of those
picks were top-10 choices; three of them were top-six selections.

Of those 17 players, exactly one scored so much as a single
point at the NHL level in his Draft+1 year.

A lot of that has to do with opportunity, of course. Only
three of those 17 players were moved into the NHL immediately after being drafted,
and two of them—Olli Jokinen in 1997-98, and Mikko Rantanen with Colorado last
year—played less than 10 games. Players like Saku and Mikko Koivu, Mikael
Granlund and Tuomo Ruutu would surely have scored at least a little if they’d come
over from Finland immediately and been given NHL minutes.

On the other hand, none of those guys blew the barn doors
off when they did come over. The high-water mark for any of them was the elder
Koivu’s 45-point rookie season at the age of 21; several of them took a while
to find their legs in North America even after additional seasoning in Finland.

Jokinen is an interesting fit as a comparable for Puljujarvi—he
was picked third overall, is listed at 6’3” and 215 pounds and had better
numbers in Finland—and he had four low-scoring seasons and was traded twice before
he emerged as an offensive threat.

The most interesting comparable for our purposes, though, is
Aleksander Barkov. Barkov, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 Draft, is now a vital
player for the Florida Panthers and is the one guy from our list of 17 who
contributed in the NHL immediately after being drafted. How does he stack up to

Vs. Barkov

Barkov was the second-leading scorer for Tappara Tampere
(Google Translate renders the team name as “Poleaxe”, which is awesome). The
SM-liiga keeps a pretty comprehensive collection of stats, but unfortunately
the really in-depth stuff has only been tracked since 2014. Here are the basics
for Barkov:

  • 53GP, 21 goals, 27 assists, 48 points (0.91 points/game)
  • 167 shots, 12.6 shooting percentage

Puljujarvi’s regular season numbers fall well short of those
recorded by Barkov. He finished sixth on his team in scoring (well, actually
seventh, but Sakari Manninen joined the team late and should probably be

  • 50GP, 13 goals, 15 assists, 28 points (0.56 points/game)
  • 175 shots, 7.4 shooting percentage

It’s interesting to see the shot totals so similar. I’m inclined,
however, to think that the gap in shooting percentage is reflective of talent,
rather than poor luck of Puljujarvi. Barkov had back-to-back
seasons with a 12.5 shooting percentage leading up to the draft, while
Puljujarvi shot at just a 6.2 percent clip
in 2014-15.

“He’s done everything but score in the games I’ve seen him
play this year,” one scout told The
Hockey News
about Puljujarvi this year.

Where Puljujarvi has the edge on Barkov is in tournament
play. Both played at the World Junior level in their respective draft years,
and while Barkov was good (seven points in six games) Puljujarvi blew him out
of the water (17 points in seven games).

The other thing in Puljujarvi’s favour is the way his game
grew over the course of the year. We don’t have Barkov’s month-to-month splits,
but we do for Edmonton’s latest pick and they show solid improvement:

  • Prior to January 1: 31GP, 5 goals, 7 assists, 12 points
    (0.39 points/game)
  • After January 1: 19GP, 8 goals, 8 assists, 16 points (0.84


One of the key tools that we have for projecting players
from other leagues into the NHL are league translations. Gabriel Desjardins
pioneered this work in hockey, looking at players who had come to the league
prior to the 2004-05 lockout; Rob Vollman updated it with players after 2005 in
his 2014 edition of
Hockey Abstract.
Translations are simple; they’re based on past performance of players coming
from other leagues to the NHL.

Here’s how Barkov compared to his translation numbers:

  • Pre-2005 translation:
    0.44 points/game
  • Actual: 54 games,
    24 points (0.44 points/game)
  • Post-2005
    0.27 points/game

Barkov’s modest 24-point performance (which pro-rates to 36
points over an 82-game season) is an exact match for Desjardins’ league translation.

How does Puljujarvi fare under the same approach?

  • Pre-2005 translation:
    0.27 points/game (23 points in 82 games)
  • Post-2005
    0.17 points/game (14 points in 82 games)

This is a player who by all accounts plays a complete
two-way game, who has good physical tools and a big brain. But the offence may
not come in year one.

“Laine will score earlier,” another scout told THN, “but Puljujarvi, if he doesn’t
score, he’ll still be able to help you.”

If the Oilers are fortunate, Puljujarvi’s growth over the
course of the year will result in him blowing the translated numbers out of the
water. If not, though, it shouldn’t be held against the player. Even if he spends the whole year in the AHL, we might look back on this as a successful developmental season.