The Edmonton Oilers continued their recent history of drafting highly touted offensive prospects in the first round. With the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft, the Oilers drafted 18-year old Swedish right winger Jesse Puljujarvi. This marks the fourth time in five years the Oilers drafted an offensive player with a top five pick: 2012 #1 Nail Yakupov, 2014 #3 Leon Draisaitl, 2015 #1 Connor McDavid and now Puljujarvi.
Puljujarvi comes to the NHL with high expectations. The 6’3” right-winger recorded four goals and four assists in 16 games as a 17-year old in Finland’s top professional league. NHL’s Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb had high praise for Puljujarvi saying, “He’s a powerful skater with good speed and balance. He has outstanding hockey sense and reads the play well. He’s a good playmaker with strong puck-handling skills. He can take advantage of 1- on-1 situations with his long reach.”
Puljujarvi made a name for himself when he was named MVP of 2016 World Juniors Championship. In seven games, he recorded 17 points on five goals and 12 assists, placing him second all-time for points scored for a player under 18 in the tournament’s history. Puljujarvi is in elite company, as his 17 points is tied with Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros and is only behind Jaromir Jagr. Puljujarvi has drawn comparisons to future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne.
With all of this high praise and expectations, you would assume that Puljujarvi would be impressive so far in training camp. Unfortunately, this is not the case. College free agent Drake Caggiula continues to impress coaches and turn heads in training camp, turning the pressure up on Puljujarvi. Caggiula is grading somewhat higher than the fourth overall pick, causing concern with the fan base. Puljujarvi is still a teenager with no experience playing outside of Europe, while Caggiula played four years at one of the best pro-producing hockey programs in North Dakota University.
It seems like the rookie is going through some growing pains, which should be expected with such a drastic culture and life change. Despite Puljujarvi playing on the top line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the Oilers’ 5-1 preseason loss to the Winnipeg Jets, there is still talk that he can start this season in AHL. Teammate Mark Letestu is trying to limit expectations saying, “My expectations for Jesse haven’t been sky high…maybe outside they have. It’s the best league in the world. What Connor did last year is very difficult. Not a lot of rookies can replicate that. There’s going to be growing pains…you can hear the coaches communicating with him and he’s adjusting.”
It is smart for the Oilers to not put added pressure on the teenager in his first season in the NHL. He may have dominated as a teenager, but that doesn’t mean his skillset will translate automatically at this level. There should be no cause for concern with these recent reports of Puljujarvi being out played by a free agent rookie. The Oilers believe Puljujarvi will be a major factor in their franchise’s plans, but fully understand the growing pains that come with such a young player.