Jesse Puljujarvi skated with two coaches on Monday in Edmonton, the Oilers trainer watching like a hawk from the seats above.
His drills weren’t about skating the length of the ice and blasting a shot, but instead a series of circles, and tighter turns, as he rehabs from surgery to correct a problem on both hips. He used pucks not in the traditional sense, but as pylons to be skated around.
Swirling, turning, looping. Returning to the place he started, and doing it over again.
This is the metaphor for the career of a No. 4 overall pick who is in limbo, circling somewhere between the ‘B’ word (bust), a young player who may be ready for that boost a second organization can give him. Or is he simply a 21-year-old who just needs some consistency in his handling to find a niche that he can use to find some traction in the National Hockey League?
Some young players survive the vortex and stay on the team that drafted them, like Sam Bennett has done in Calgary, or Jake Virtanen in Vancouver. Others, like a Dylan Strome, need the inspiration a trade provides to begin to find their potential.
We spoke with people around the hockey world — including Oilers new GM Ken Holland and Puljujarvi’s agent Markus Lehto — to get a read on what lies ahead for the six-foot-four Finn, who landed in the Oilers’ lap at No. 4 when Columbus selected Pierre-Luc Dubois third overall in 2016.
Vancouver drafted Olli Juolevi next. He hasn’t played an NHL game yet. Both the Canucks and Oilers wished they’d taken Matthew Tkachuk, chosen sixth by Calgary, a far better prospect than either Finn. Charlie McAvoy went at No. 14 to the Boston Bruins. Ouch!
First, it must be said that Puljujarvi was absolutely failed by the previous Oilers administration, led by fired GM Peter Chiarelli. They were too late on getting him help with his English; they likely brought him over from Europe a year too soon; they should have given him more time in AHL Bakersfield; they left him far too often to his own devices, a teenager far from home in a foreign land with a foreign tongue.