PHOTO CREDIT: ERIC HARTLINE-USA TODAY SPORTS
The Oilers assigned Jesse Puljujarvi to Finland’s World Championship team last week, ending his rookie season in North America. Puljujarvi, along with Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, was thought of as one of the three 2016 draftees who were NHL-ready going into the season. Matthews and Laine had amazing rookie campaigns, but Puljujarvi’s wasn’t on the same level, spending time in both Edmonton and AHL Bakersfield this year. Puljujarvi didn’t have the same immediate impact as a Matthews or Laine, or even a Tkachuk. He didn’t dress in every game and he didn’t play much when did, averaging only 11:15 minutes.
While Puljujarvi’s NHL time was disappointing to some, his time spent in the AHL is much more encouraging. Very few 18-year olds play in the AHL. This is mostly because of the NHL and CHL agreement, where a player drafted out of the Canadian Hockey league either needs four years of Major Junior played or to be 20-years old, but this obviously didn’t apply to Puljujarvi and the Oilers. Edmonton drafted Puljujarvi out of Finland, so he could readily play in the AHL at 18. His boxcar stats align with some current NHL scorers, and should suggest he might be ready to step in as a productive player as quickly as next year.
There aren’t many 18-year old forwards who have played in the AHL recently, but they’re all from overseas and there are some encouraging comparisons for Peter Chiarelli and the Edmonton Oilers.
- The biggest success story here is David Pastrnak, another Peter Chiarelli draft pick. Pastrnak came over and set fire to the AHL after being drafted. His 1.12 points per game earned him a call up to Boston, where he put up 27 points in 46 games, and he most recently found himself on one of the best lines in hockey with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
- William Nylander’s 18-year old season is quite similar to Puljujarvi’s. Nylander spent more than half the season playing for Modo Hockey in the SHL, the Maple Leafs assigned him to the Marlies later in the year and they both got into a similar amount of games in the AHL. Puljujarvi’s points per game is less than both of Pastranak and W. Nylander, but we don’t have AHL ice time statistics available to compare.
- Bergfors and Filatov are the two players that might scare Oilers fans, but Bergfors had some modest scoring totals in the NHL, while Filatov couldn’t translate his scoring to the NHL, but provided one of the best quotes in his limited NHL time.
- Like W. Nylander and Puljujarvi, Kevin Fiala spent time elsewhere before playing an abbreviated season in the AHL. His scoring totals are similar to Puljujarvi, and just recently spent the majority of the season playing for Nashville. Fiala scored 16 points in 54 games, including a slick overtime winner against the Blackhawks in the playoffs.
- Alex Nylander didn’t have the same success his brother did in his AHL debut, but it’s important to stress that we don’t have ice time stats. It’s entirely possible that Alex didn’t play as much as William did in his rookie AHL year, and was limited in his opportunity to match his brother’s scoring totals.
- Zemgus Girgensons reflects the lower end of the spectrum. He didn’t score much as an 18-year old AHL player, and that more or less reflects his NHL career to date, except for the 2014-15 season where he received 19:05 a game in Buffalo’s quest for last place.
Jesse Puljujarvi was one of the most productive 18-year old forwards in AHL history. Nothing is guaranteed, but his points aren’t too far off of William Nylander, who provided Toronto with a fantastic rookie season this year, but also managed 13 points in 22 NHL games the season prior. If Puljujarvi can give Edmonton something similar to Nylander’s previous two NHL campaigns, that goes a long way to add cheap secondary scoring.
THE LEON PATH
Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Puljujarvi might follow a similar path to another recent top-five Oiler draft pick, Leon Draisaitl. Draisiatl spent 37 games in Edmonton averaging 12:43 a game, and scoring 9 points. He was eventually assigned to Kelowna in the WHL, as he wasn’t old enough to play in the AHL. Draisaitl started in the AHL the next season, but was quickly called up to Edmonton and scored 51 points in 72 games playing on a line with Taylor Hall. Draisaitl followed that season up with a 77-point campaign split between playing center and right-wing with Connor McDavid. He spent far less time in the AHL than Puljujarvi did, but he had an equally lacklustre, if not worse, rookie NHL season than the Finnish winger, and Draisaitl was even older during his 37-game stint.
Pulujarvi didn’t sprint onto the scene as quickly as Matthews or Laine, but Todd McLellan didn’t feel like he was ready for primetime NHL minutes and needed seasoning in the AHL instead. His AHL scoring is in mark with recent 18-year olds, and suggests he should be able to provide a scoring role in Edmonton sooner rather than later. The Oilers can look to one of their former draft picks in Leon Draisaitl and hope for similar success in the coming years for Jesse Puljujarvi.