When Jesse Puljujarvi fell to the Edmonton Oilers back in the 2016 Entry Draft, fans and management alike were astounded and excited. The Finnish scoring forward has a package of talent, size, skill, and hockey IQ that set him apart from his counterparts. But as we come upon six years post-draft, he only has 95 points in 248 games, including a season and a bit back in Finland developing after a bit of a fallout with the Oilers organization. Needless to say, his tenure in Edmonton has been a bit tumultuous.
Since his return for the 2020-21 season, Puljujarvi has been as good as he had been since the draft. He’s set career highs in goals, assists, and points, been regularly playing higher in the lineup, often beside Connor McDavid this season, and is an overall effective player with and without the puck. Despite a hot start to 2021-22 that saw him put up 23 points in his first 28 games, he has since cooled right down. In the 26 games since, he has just two goals and ten points.
The promising part for the Oilers is that Puljujarvi doesn’t need to score to be good. He has a huge impact on the team’s performance even when he isn’t finding the scoresheet.
Puljujarvi, especially in 2021-22, has established himself as an elite forechecker. His presence in the offensive zone creates a ton of chances. He is aggressive on the puck and the puck carrier, regularly creating opportunities for turnovers, hence why someone like McDavid likes to be linemates with him.
The impact that Puljujarvi has when he is on the ice is luckily seen by both the eye test and some analytics and possession metrics. Of all regular Oilers players, he has the best Corsi and Fenwick stats. These are stats that measure shot and shot attempt differentials when a player is on the ice. He has a 59.11 Corsi for percentage and 58.11 Fenwick for percentage, so approximately 59% of shots and 58% of shot attempts are made by the Oilers when he is on the ice.
In terms of creating scoring chances, Puljujarvi also leads all regular Oilers players by creating 35.49 scoring chances for/60 and is third behind McDavid and Zach Hyman in High Danger Chances for/60 with 14.32. These numbers also place him 24th in the league in SCF/60 and 33rd in HDCF/60 among players with a minimum of 500 minutes of time on ice.
Furthermore, Puljujarvi once again leads all regular Oilers players with a 63.24 Goals for Percentage, so we can see that when he is on the ice, the Oilers score more often. And this is not something that is attributable to luck since his Expected Goals for Percentage is 61.02, right in line with actual performance.
Puljujarvi creates scoring chances like crazy. It is a result of his tenacious nature on the forecheck, his utilization as a net-front presence in the offensive zone, and his hockey IQ helping him just be in the right spots on the ice to intercept players and pucks. He uses this to sustain pressure in the offensive zone, regain possession of the puck and prevent the opponents from breaking out the opposite direction, and generate shots, chances, and goals while preventing the other team from getting the opportunity to do so. Quite simply, when he is on the ice, the play typically sways in the Oilers’ favour.
Now, we do have to factor in that he spends most of his time on a line with McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. But this is a situation in which we can start to supplement the analytics with the eye test and look a bit deeper at the numbers and comparisons. Puljujarvi has better advanced stats than both of the previously mentioned players. So, he is outperforming his superstar linemates in those categories.
Additionally, when we watch his play on the ice, like the clip below, for example, it gives us an indication that he is directly contributing to his high performance in these advanced stats, rather than being a product of his linemates. We can see his ability to keep possession, hold the puck in the offensive zone, and keep plays alive. Sure enough, they contribute to chances and goals for.
It would be nice if he was putting up more points. When someone is playing in the top six, especially on a line with McDavid, you want to see more than ten points in 26 games. But when we watch him play and look at the advanced stats, we can come to the conclusion that Puljujarvi doesn’t need to score to be good. His value as a player goes well beyond basic goals and assists. His contributions to the team’s forecheck, backcheck, offensive pressure, and overall performance don’t always get measured on a scoresheet. Once he has rounded out his game for a while by doing all of these things well, just like he is right now, the offensive side of his came can come through again.
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