There are a lot of great stories coming out of the Edmonton Oilers organization this season. They’re a playoff team, Connor McDavid is on a quest for 100 points, Mike Smith is having a Vezina-caliber season and Darnell Nurse should be in the conversation for the Norris Trophy. With countless positives, perhaps the feel-good story of the season is Jesse Puljujarvi’s.
A player who returned to the Oilers during this past offseason, there was some serious doubt he’d ever be back with the team. Not only did he return on a team-friendly contract, but he’s out-performed almost everyone’s expectations. A forward that, before he started playing in 2020-21 might have been a question mark for protection during the NHL Expansion Draft, he’s now a player the Oilers have huge hopes for and is a massive part of this franchise moving forward.
This is a such a huge change from where things were just a couple of seasons ago. There was a time Puljujarvi didn’t want to be an Oiler. To me, there are three obvious reasons things have completely turned around.
Puljuarvi is a Part of This Team Now
Before he left the first time, it was clear Puljujarvi was a bit of an outcast. He had trouble with the language, he struggled with on-ice consistency and he was getting some poor advice from his agent that gave the perception he was entitled. Players were happy enough to see him go, suggesting if he didn’t want to be an Oiler, he wasn’t exactly wanted.
Fast forward to yesterday as the Oilers had Puljujarvi in the middle of the ice at practice and were belting out the words to “Happy Birthday”. You could see from the smile on the winger’s face that the relationship between he and his teammates has totally changed.
“I think his smile is infectious,” Head Coach Dave Tippett said. “He’s smiling all the time and enjoying himself. That was a good moment for the guys. They put him in the middle, made him lead the stretch and they sang ‘happy birthday’ to him. Tippett added, “Shows you how far he’s come from where he was a few years ago.”
Not only are the Oilers not upset with Puljujarvi, but the are picking up characteristics of his incredibly upbeat personality. Connor McDavid has talked about how hard he works but also how positive he is, calling him deserving of his strong season. And for a new guy like Ryan McLeod, that’s key. McLeod noted, “Everyone’s super happy in the room and everyone’s super nice to each other.” He added, “It’s been super welcoming coming in and it’s really nice that we did that for Jesse in the middle of the ice.”
Puljujarvi Is Finding Success
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the potential for Puljujarvi to be the best player out of his draft class is there. I took some heat for it from readers and I was well aware that take would be polarizing. I’m glad to see Puljujarvi has continued to roll on this season. He’s got a long way to go, but all the arrows point up.
He’s now got 14 goals on the season and he’s only finding himself in positions where he can add to that total over the final few games. He’s a regular on the top line and built strong chemistry with McDavid. He’s a forechecking machine and learning to use his frame to remove players from the puck.
The sky is the limit for this player and the Oilers probably know they’ve got a good one.
Puljujarvi Is Happy
It’s not just that the Oilers are happy for him, but you can tell Puljujarvi is excited to be part of this team. Winning certainly helps, but more than that, he’s enjoying the opportunity to be included and be counted upon. That’s all he ever wanted.
This is a forward that knew he could contribute. He had some things to learn and some maturing to do but now that he has, all the stars are aligning. A happy player is the kind of player who wants to stay. That will be important when it comes time to talk extension.
He’s on a contract that has good value now and will have even better value next season. A happy Puljujarvi is likely a less costly Puljujarvi at the end of the 2021-2022 season.
Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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