The Edmonton Oilers are now fifteen games into the 2022–23 season, and one question requiring review pertains to how the off-season returnees are faring. While the sample size is small, being almost a fifth partway through the season indicates how Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto have performed to date.
Comparing the current season to last year’s and overall career numbers
Evaluating performance reviews is more than examining basic stats and watching the game. Assessing a deeper understanding of analytics provides the basis for trends that identify production results that may not be as apparent on the score sheet.
For example, although shooting percentage relates to how many goals per shot the player successfully puts in the back of the net, it does not provide an accurate picture of the shot’s distance, area, or value. Thus, CF% (a puck control measure composed of total shots for and against), xGF, and xGF% (shows a player’s expected scoring percentage when the individual is on the ice versus the opposing team), helps provide additional analysis and argument construction regarding play to date.
Kailer Yamamoto was selected 22nd overall in the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, chosen ahead of the likes of Jake Oettinger and new Oiler addition Klim Kostin. At the start of his career, Yamamoto exceeded expectations. He thrived on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, averaging almost a point per game during the pandemic-shortened season.
However, the last two seasons have highlighted the streakiness and regression of a young player in the NHL, decreasing to 0.38 and 0.51 PPG during the 2020–21 and 2021–22 seasons, respectively. Yamamoto still provides value in the top six through relentless puck pursuit and tenacity in the corners, uncommon for a winger of his stature.
The beginning of the 2022–23 season closely resembles Yamamoto’s 2021–22 slow start, collecting three points, one primary and two secondary assists, in 13 games. The underlying statistics depict a similar outcome. A career 14.4% shooter, Yamamoto has generated 15 shots this season without yielding a single goal. Yet the season’s expected goals imply he should have scored at least twice.
Both xGF% and C% do not regard Yamamoto’s year-to-date as favorable. Yamamoto’s negative C% suggests he is underperforming and not controlling the puck or shot share compared to his career norm, where Yamamoto has generally been around league average. The xGF% demonstrates a similar analysis, yielding Yamamoto is below both career and league averages. These results imply Yamamoto is not consistently returning the value of his two-year $3.1M AAV contract compared to other players signing similar deals.
Like Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi was another Oiler first round pick, selected ahead of recently departed Calgary Flames pest Matthew Tkachuk and Clayton Keller. Most Oiler fans remember Puljuarvi as a highly chosen player who failed to meet top-of-the-draft expectations before returning to Finland and being brought back by the Oilers’ current management.
Since returning, the aptly named “Bison King” has re-embraced a fan base divided on his value. Analytically strong, Puljujarvi’s talent lies within C% and xGF%. However, this value is not necessarily recognized on the score sheet, which Puljuarvi’s detractors quickly point out.
Puljujarvi’s season has been less than ideal for a player entering a contract year. Unlike last season’s red-hot start, Puljujarvi has not produced at previous seasons’ levels, albeit being used in a different role on the third line alongside Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele.
In this season, Puljujarvi has struggled, netting only two points, one goal and one primary assist, in the first 15 games of the season. A mark of 0.17 PPG is far lower than last season’s 0.55 and his career average of 0.37. Regardless, Puljujarvi’s strength has generally lied within underlying metrics.
For last season and his career, Puljujarvi’s CF% and xGF% have been borderline elite (>55%), well above the league norm up until this season. Contrary to the usual puck-controlling and goal-share strength, Puljujarvi has still produced an above-average CF%, though not to the same degree, implying a positive shot total control. However, unlike most of his career, Puljuarvi is sporting a sub 50 xGF%, showcasing he is not driving the Oilers’ expected goal-scoring within his new role.
Comparing the two to others in the league
But how do these contracts compare to other similarly aged first-round picks with close AAV playing in the top nine? Contrasted against Martin Necas, Dillon Dube, and Denis Gurianov, the Oilers’ $3M returnee signings results are mixed.
This season can be regarded as a sustained Necas breakout: 107-point pace for the season at a similar career shooting percentage alongside players of lesser caliber compared to McDavid and Draisaitl, outclasses the output of the two Oiler forwards.
However, compared to either Dube or Gurianov, the Oiler forwards’ results can be viewed as more favorable and almost equivalent. Dube’s season totals a modest four points, three of those are secondary assists, and Gurianov has only posted three points and sub 50 CF% and xGF%, indicating a lack of goal and shot control.
Looking ahead for the two forwards
Simply stated, both Oiler forwards must start producing, especially when compared to Necas’ offensive output, and when teamed with either McDavid or Draisaitl.
Due to the recent injury to Evander Kane, a vital offensive member of the top six, Yamamoto and Puljuarvi will be expected to step up and contribute during Kane’s prolonged absence. Projecting for the rest of the season depends on whether Yamamoto and Puljujarvi can begin to regress toward their career averages positively. Based on current PPG and xG metric, the Oilers can hopefully predict Yamamoto to contribute between 13-17 goals and roughly 16-22 assists. In contrast, Puljuarvi is on pace to net only 20 points, 12 goals, and seven assists.
Although the season is young, contributions from these two forwards will help ease questions surrounding their value and if Holland was correct in his assessment to lock them up for short-bridge deals at $3M AAV.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire