EDMONTON – Jesse Puljujarvi is known around Edmonton because of his wide smile and the gait of the dogs that took him, often aimlessly, around the National Hockey League which he could not master.
What Puljujarvi, the fourth overall draft pick in 2016, is unknown is a player who creates scoring opportunities, or buries created by others.
"I haven't played much with that piece. So far I've never committed any violations in my game," he admitted about a career that had produced 17 goals in 129 matches.
"I don't often get scoring opportunities."
Out of happiness, the 20-year-old Finn sounds like he's sunken inside, his NHL experience deteriorates in an organization that, in our opinion, is mishandling the big right winger.
In a long interview with a Finnish correspondent – and my good friend – Tommi Seppala, who was carried out after Wednesday's 3-2 win in Vancouver, Puljujarvi sounded like a lost soul, without the confidence he showed when he won the MVP at the 2016 World Junior Championship.
There, almost three years ago, Puljujarvi was an unstoppable force, collecting 17 points in seven matches with teammates Patrik Laine and Sebastian Aho.
On Friday's training, with the important Battle of Alberta on Saturday in Edmonton, Puljujarvi played skating on the Edmonton Oilers fourth track with a goalless Tobias Rieder and defensive midfielder Kyle Brodziak. Considering the penalty killer role of his new teammate, Puljujarvi – who recorded the lowest ice time of 6:09 a season against the Canucks – it would be difficult to find an ice time of eight minutes against Calgary.
"I used to get less. It was four minutes against Boston in the first season. I always remember that, "Puljujarvi told Seppala, who kindly translated Puljujarvi's words for this column.
He was not bitter about the timing of his ice, as much as being defeated by the fact he could not find a way to get more.
"I don't deserve more," said Puljujarvi, who became minus-1 when he couldn't get a difficult pass from Caleb Jones, who was quickly buried by Markus Granlund for Vancouver. "Our line cannot allow the goal. I should have gotten the chip on Granlund's goal. You have to get your minutes. "
When the Oilers invaded another prospect, Seppala's interview revealed a young man who was stripped of the confidence needed to grow as a player. Not only by the decision of the Oilers front office, but by NHL games. The level requested to play is a level that is clearly not ready for him.
"If nothing happens in my game with 15 minutes of ice, then we have to go like this," Puljujarvi said of the diminishing minutes. "I don't really know what will happen next, because I'm kind of back to square one. It's been like this – up and down – now for three years. I don't know … I just have to keep fighting."
After clearing a series of wings, general manager Peter Chiarelli did what many of the previous GM Oilers had done, holding the right development path through the American Hockey League, and instead used the young player to close the gaping hole in the NHL ranks. Usually, the player does not go as expected, the hole never fills up, and they go to the next draft by choosing the top 5 to find the next sacrificial lamb.
No different from when Daniel and Henrik Sedin will visit Rexall Place in its heyday, this is a cycle that Oilers cannot understand how to stop it.
Meanwhile, young players who really look in the mirror, because the world of hockey decided he was not the player they used to believe.
"I want to focus on playing without chips," Puljujarvi said. "It's important for me to use my body and make changes. Get takeaways. You can't lose pieces on the blue line, etc … This is how I get minutes. I want to be a player who can be thrown there in any situation. "
But on the contrary, he became a player who was sent off in trade rumors, his GM would almost certainly lose his job if the Oilers missed the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons.
"I have seen the stories," Puljujarvi said. "I only go day by day with my business. I didn't think about the rumor. "
He smiled broadly.
"In trade there are always positives and negatives."
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Head coach Ken Hitchcock bravely took credit for calling Puljujarvi from a four-match task too short in AHL Bakersfield earlier this season. However, with his club in the playoff race, even Hitchcock admitted his job was not to develop 20-year-olds like Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto, who is also with Edmonton now.
"You're not trying to develop it," said Hitchcock. "You run it until you run out of gas, (then) You support it and work with them again. When we talk to all of our young men today, we have a few personal meetings, and we ask them how they are and we ask where we can help, but when they wear sweaters, they better play. That's their job and they know that. "
Hitchcock might sound rude, but he is a hockey coach. The GM gave him a player, and Hitchcock was paid to win with the players.
This is not Hollywood. Trainers and players don't all hug children like Puljujarvi every day. NHL is a world of men where you help or hinder, where everyone in the game has the success of a fundraising team.
There is no NHL center that wants a job to break into a winger who is totally unprepared and which is an obstacle in the center's production.
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So the responsibility falls on GM to ensure players don't fall into that environment. That he protects young players from being a hindrance, as defender Justin Schultz did when he underwent the right scenario here, left Pittsburgh as an empty shell, without the slightest confidence left.
To hear him speak, that is a goal that Puljujarvi might aim at.
"It's been a difficult week," said Hitchcock, "because Jesse found a new level of hockey being played at this time of year. I think Yamo will find the same thing. "
So, they gave him a new line, and they will run the boy again there on Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada.
"There must be some shuffling," Puljujarvi said. "That's something they just did here, I'm used to it.
"I will do whatever he (Hitchcock) says."