On June 1, 2023 the Edmonton Oilers rights to the recently acquired Patrik Puistola will expire if he is left unsigned. The 22-year-old left-shot winger was the return for the Oilers trading of Jesse Puljujarvi to the Carolina Hurricanes.
From being considered a top prospect at the beginning of his draft year, to his 40-point team leading season for Jukurit of the Liiga this season, Puistola’s journey has been one of ups and downs. Now traded, and still unsigned, there are twists and turns yet to come for Puistola.
At this point, we have more questions than answers. Is there any hope for Puistola to become an NHL regular? How soon could Puistola push for an NHL roster spot? Do the Oilers plan on signing Puistola, or was he simply a throwaway in a cap dump trade? Let’s see if we can read the tea leaves to try to decipher what the future holds for Puistola.
Puistola’s style of play
As evidenced by his leading Jukurit in scoring, Puistola’s greatest assets are his offensive talents. Since his draft season he has been known for his shooting talents, a powerful and accurate shot with deception in his release, Puistola has been able to score from distance. From there opponents must respect him as a shooter, opening up other options for him to exploit.
Puistola has a playmaking game that has grown to compliment his shooting talent. This is apparent as Puistola has become a focal point of Jukurit’s power play, distributing from his weak side flank. Using some fake shots, crisp passes, and slick dekes, including a lacrosse style goal in the Liiga this season, Puistola has a lot of tools at his disposal, a multi-dimensional scorer.
Meanwhile, since his draft year Puistola’s skating has been a topic worthy of discussion. At one point it was seen as a potential concern for his NHL viability, but this is an area where Puistola has taken strides. When we watch Puistola this season, we can see that he has enough speed and acceleration to be an effective attacker in transition, as well as enough agility to open up lanes for more dynamic offensive plays. Perhaps Puistola will never be the most dynamic skater at the NHL level, but there is enough to think his skating won’t hold him back.
Will he fit in the roster?
The Oilers are in a precarious cap situation, where every dollar might make a difference. With the goalie tandem of Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell locked up, and the blueline all signed and accounted for beyond the pending extension for Evan Bouchard, the most obvious path to cap space comes up front. If a few young players on cheap deals are able to hold down regular roster spots, it gives the Oilers a great deal of flexibility.
This is the foremost framework from which we can make a case for Puistola, or a number of other younger forwards, to make the Oilers lineup. Dylan Holloway was able to make this season’s team out of training camp but was unable to make much of an impact in his rookie NHL season. There is legitimate hope that he will continue his progression and see his level of play increase this season.
Meanwhile another young winger is expected to push for a spot, Raphael Lavoie. After a dominant second half to his AHL season, Lavoie finally proved his mettle as a top line AHL scorer, leading the Bakersfield Condors in points. Naturally, it is worth exploring Lavoie’s chances to make the Oilers next season more closely, but to summarise most would think it a fairly conservative amount of optimism to see Lavoie in some NHL games in 2023–24.
Funnily enough, Lavoie and Puistola share a number of similarities, both in play style and in their respective resumes at this point. Both are shoot first offensive wingers who led the charge for their teams in scoring this season. The AHL might be more similar to the NHL than the Liiga is, but the Liiga is a strong defensive league where scoring is anything but easy.
Lavoie finished the season with 0.68 points per game while Puistola finished 0.67. As far as NHLe is concerned, Lavoie posted a 31.1 while Puistola finished with 24.8, good for fourth and fifth among eligible Oilers prospects this season. Lavoie might have a few inches and pounds on Puistola, while Puistola is roughly five months younger. To drive home the similarities between the two, both Lavoie and Puistola failed to become top level scorers in their current leagues until this season.
Depth is not an issue
It is quite possible that all three of Holloway, Lavoie, and Puistola play games for the Oilers next season. The Oilers have depth up front, but many of these depth forwards don’t bring shooting talent, or offensive contributions in general, to the table. Though the biggest focus for the Oilers should be continuing to improve their defensive will, as the Oilers key players were quick to mention in their season ending media availability, adding some scoring talent to the lineup would still be appreciated.
With the likes of Zach Hyman and Evander Kane battling sub-optimal health throughout the playoffs their goal scoring dried up. Though the Oilers had some production from their bottom six forwards, having talents like Holloway, Lavoie, or Puistola in the lineup would have been a big help. Although Lavoie and Puistola don’t necessarily project as great individual contributors to team defence (though time will tell), their presence as legitimate scoring talents might help put the Oilers at ease, willing to commit to defence knowing that there are shooters lower in the lineup. Of course, their NHL readiness is yet to be proven, but such a reality is certainly within the realm of possibility.
The Oilers should sign Puistola
It takes two sides to come to an agreement, so Puistola has to be willing to sign with the Oilers, but there’s no reason that the Oilers shouldn’t look into signing the Finnish winger.
Though the optimism of the summer’s uncertainty is before us, a time where anything from big trades or signings to big leaps in development might happen, Puistola still has some time to grow even if he doesn’t see NHL action in 2023–24. Puistola should be expected to continue his top line level production in the alisha should he return again next year, just as we would expect him to be a top line scorer in his rookie AHL season.
Of course, the big hope would be that Puistola, like Lavoie, is ready to take the big step forward into the NHL next season. Though how likely it is that either take that step is debatable, the fact that such discussions are reasonable is sign enough that the Oilers should look to bring Puistola into the fold.
Photo from @MikkelinJukurit on Twitter