Less than a month after he once again asked the Edmonton Oilers to move him on the NHL trade market, Oilers winger Jesse Puljujärvi and the Oilers avoided arbitration with Puljujärvi signing a one-year, $3 million contract.
According to one NHL executive with knowledge of the NHL trade talks involving Puljujärvi heading into, at and immediately after the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal July 8-9, the Montreal Canadiens did their due diligence on the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft during the draft at the Bell Centre. According to one NHL scout late Tuesday afternoon on the East coast, Puljujärvi is still on the NHL trade market and even more attractive to interested NHL trade suitors now that he’s signed. That makes a ton of sense considering he now comes at a fixed rate and teams can factor him in against the the NHL salary cap.
Well, there’s no reason to believe that Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes won’t, or maybe already has, looked into what it would take to acquire Puljujärvi on the NHL trade market. Back on June 8, before Puljujärvi’s second NHL trade request went public via friend of MHN and Sportsnet Oilers and NHL insider Mark Spector, it was suggested here that Hughes should try and pry Jesse Puljujärvi away from a team and a general manager in Ken Holland that seemed to be giving up on Puljujärvi.
“He played really well the first quarter of the season, then it was a real struggle for him,” Holland said of Puljujärvi after the Oilers were swept out of the Eastern Conference by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche. “I think he lost his confidence, then when he lost his confidence he was in the top six, worked his way down to the bottom six. He’s not really young, but he’s relatively young. I got to sort out Jesse.”
A reporter then asked Holland if he thinks Puljujärvi is part of the solution for the Oilers going forward?
“That’s what I’ve got to sort out. I talked to him yesterday, I don’t want to divulge, but I talked to him for a good half an hour and I told him I would talk to his agent,” the Oilers GM replied.
Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft on the other hand seemed to think that Puljujärvi could be part of the solution and the young core the Oilers are trying to implement onto the roster.
“He’s a young hockey player,” Woodcroft pointed out in his end of the season presser. “I think for him, he is not dissimilar than Ryan McLeod, Evan Bouchard, Stuart Skinner, Dylan Holloway, some of our young guys. That’s where the growth is going to come from and they got really good experience in our playoff run to aid that growth. We have a strong belief in the next wave of young players coming through our organization, and Jesse is one of them.”
Puljujärvi is coming off what he and the team were hoping would be a two-year bridge to a long-term contract if he took his game to another level over the duration of the deal. The contract carried a $1.1 million salary cap hit. Puljujärvi needed to receive a qualifying offer of $1.4 million or above by June 11 or he would an unrestricted free agent. He elected not to accept that and filed for arbitration.
Puljujärvi had 14 goals and 22 assists in 65 regular season games this season and then added two goals and one assist in 16 playoff games during the Oilers’ run to the Western Conference Final. So did that poor playoff performance seal his fate with the Oilers and make him a target for teams looking to get a bargain on the NHL trade market for a young, big winger who was drafted fourth overall at the 2016, and who could still blossom?
That still appears to be the case and one has to wonder if Hughes and the Canadiens could even package one of the numerous contracts they’re trying to unload that could help a contending team like the Oilers, with a third or fourth round pick and acquire a winger in Puljujärvi, who might need the Midas touch of Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis to finally realize his potential?