Early on Tuesday February 28th, the Edmonton Oilers made a move that has been anticipated for years now, the trading of Jesse Puljujarvi.
Selected fourth overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, Puljujarvi’s tenure with the Oilers was seemingly always rocky. From a trade request, a return to Finland, an offseason with double hip surgeries, speculations from Finnish reports that he is better off with a new team, and ultimately the dramatic decrease in his ice time this season, the path here was long and weary for all those involved.
Fans have all had their minds made up on whether or not Puljujarvi is a good player for a while now, one way or another. His play was polarising, with fancy stats rating his contributions highly, while old school armchair scouts found his lack of production (and at times coordination) frustrating. This situation festered long enough that one thing became clear for fans of the team and fans of the player alike: a change of scenery is likely best for everyone involved.
In return, the Oilers received Patrik Puistola. Puistola is a 22-year-old winger playing for Jukurit in the Finnish Liiga, and has scored 15 goals and 38 points in 56 games. A younger player in a defensive league, this production represents some scoring talent. Puistola can make plays, from quick dekes to Michigan goals, but is most known for an accurate shot.
Puistola figures to be a scoring winger. A third round pick in 2019, Puistola does fit some attributes that the Oilers have targeted in recent years, especially when it comes to shooting talent. Heading into his draft year there was a lot of hype around Puistola, thought to be a first round pick on many season-opening lists. Ultimately, he fell to the third round when it was all said and done.
In the seasons following his draft, Puistola struggled to find a spot, bouncing between leagues. There were thought to be some issues with his skating, puck moving skills, decision making, strength, and defensive abilities. These are all areas Puistola has improved on in his early twenties, earning him a bigger role and better results.
Puistola signed an extension with Jukurit earlier this season, through the end of the 2023-24 season, leading many within the Hurricanes fan base to wonder if there was a rift or reluctance between the team and Puistola. The absolute earliest Oilers fans should expect to see Puistola is 2024-25, though it might be another year or two after that.
The unsaid piece of the equation is that trading Puljujarvi’s $3M cap hit opens up a lot of space for the Oilers. This move is only the first shoe to drop in the Oilers’ deadline plans, and it’s all but guaranteed that there will be some sort of additions made in the coming days. Fans clamouring for the Oilers to be more aggressive in their deadline buying may have gotten their wish, the first piece of that being this trade.
Et tu, Carolina?
This is a very on brand move for the Hurricanes, in acquiring a Finn, a strong defensive player with outstanding flow of play stats, but also a strong move, acquiring a young NHL contributor with control for a mid level prospect. Though Puljujarvi has earned some criticism, and might never live up to his pre-draft stock, he is undoubtedly an NHL contributor, if not more. It would not be that surprising to see Puljujarvi’s game soar to new heights with this fresh start, not to mention past linemate Sebastian Aho, though in truth even if he plays as well as he has to this point in his career the Hurricanes will feel content with their returns here.
Another maligned Finnish prospect who was once a top draft pick is Jesperi Kotkaniemi, also a member of the Hurricanes. As top-five draft selections, both players have dealt with a lot of scrutiny, as well as being rushed into the NHL, and still have years left to add to their legacies and career totals.
More moves ahead?
In a vacuum, two teams that should consider themselves contenders, or at least deadline buyers made a trade and only one of them improved their team this year, the Hurricanes. The Oilers, of course, will have to use the newfound cap space for other moves in the coming days for this to make sense from their side.
As much as it will pain some fans to see Puljujarvi move on, this is what is best for him. His role continued to diminish to a farcical level this season, giving him little chance to succeed, and the media sentiments towards him have been overly harsh, a fact he has openly discussed.
What’s done is done, and despite whatever disappointment fills the air in Oil Country, the buzz of excitement from the upcoming move might look even larger. The Oilers are a good team, with amazing players, ready to take a run at a championship. We will see what they feel gives them their best shot by the NHL trade deadline, just days away on March 3rd.