It looks like the Jesse Puljujarvi era in Edmonton will be coming to an end soon. The 24 year old Finnish winger has struggled to produce, and in recent weeks, has been a healthy scratch from the lineup.
Does a reclamation project like Puljujarvi make sense for the Colorado Avalanche at the trade deadline?
Let’s take a look at some of the important numbers for Puljujarvi first.
Game Played: 49
Statistics: Four goals, six assists, 10 points, -13
Contract: $3 Million cap hit, Restricted Free Agent after the season
Digging Deeper Into the Numbers
While Puljujarvi’s actual individual numbers are not good, his on-ice numbers continue to be strong. He’s fourth amongst all Edmonton forwards who have played 400 minutes this year in shot share, with the team controlling 52.14% of the shots when he’s on the ice. He’s on the ice for significantly more scoring chances for than against, and the same goes for high danger chances.
So what gives?
For one, the Oilers can’t score when he’s on the ice. They are shooting only 5.82% when he’s out there, far and away the lowest among the forward group. They also aren’t exactly getting good goaltending with him out there. The team’s on-ice save percentage when he’s on the ice is 90.23%, second lowest to only Leon Draisaitl.
Put those two numbers together, and Puljujarvi’s PDO is .960. The next closest Oilers forward with 400 minutes to him is Ryan McLeod, at .994. That’s a huge gap. Finishing has been an issue throughout Puljujarvi’s career, but luck does not appear to be on his side right now.
How about Puljujarvi’s individual numbers? The on-ice numbers were good. The individual numbers…not so much.
Puljujarvi’s points per 60 at even strength is only .95. Only Devin Shore is producing less than him in Edmonton. Puljujarvi himself is shooting only 5.6% this season, well below his 8.7% career average. Given he only has 72 shots on net, we’re talking a two to three goal difference if he was shooting at his career average. Not huge, but it’s a difference nonetheless.
He averages 12:35 a game, and you can’t say he hasn’t been given opportunities. He’s spent 186 minutes this year alone on a line with Conor McDavid, and 90 minutes with Draisaitl. He’s had chances, but just hasn’t produced.
A lot of this reminds Avalanche fans of a certain reclamation project from a few years ago…
The Nichushkin Comparison’s
Any time a reclamation project becomes available, Avalanche fans point to Valeri Nichushkin. The reality is, most reclamation projects don’t work. Not every one of them needs to be compared to Nichushkin.
However, with Puljujarvi, the comparisons kind of make sense.
Nichushkin was 23 going on 24 his final year in Dallas. He had terrible shooting luck (or no shooting luck, quite frankly), with zero goals on 65 shots. And he produced just 10 points in 57 games. While his on-ice numbers weren’t as strong as Puljujarvi’s this year, Dallas had terrible luck with him out there. They scored on just 5.79% of their shots, and saved only 91.84% of the shots headed their way. That put him near the bottom of the team in PDO.
All of this led to his buyout, which brought him to Colorado on a free agent deal. Nichushkin needed a fresh start, not unlike Puljujarvi right now.
The difference with Puljujarvi now and Nichushkin then is how Val was acquired: a free agent deal. Key word being free.
At this point, I can’t imagine a trade for Puljujarvi being that expensive, in terms of what you’d be giving up. It’s clear both the Oilers and Puljujarvi need a change. The problem is that $3M cap hit that Puljujarvi carries. If the Oilers were willing to retain just a little bit, and the Avalanche tossed in a roster player (say a Denis Malgin) on top of a decent prospect, does that get it done? It’s tough to say.
While the fit hasn’t been there in Edmonton, that’s a team looking to make a Cup run right now. They probably want someone in return that can help their team down the stretch.
Whether the Oilers would even be willing to trade with a team they may play again in the playoffs in a few months is another story.
Is There a Fit?
I think the fit is there for the Avalanche in terms of the player. Expectations would be lower in Colorado, and stylistically, he’s a player the staff could work with. Given how poorly the depth has performed this season, he’d be an upgrade. He’s also a right shot, and Bednar loves having players that can play on their strong side.
But he’s a reclamation project who needs his confidence rebuilt, and heading down the stretch into a (hopefully) long playoff run, is that the type of player you want to add? And is it worth using up a decent chunk of your available cap space at the deadline for a minor upgrade to your fourth line? He doesn’t kill penalties (and never has at this level), and he would not play on the powerplay. If you’re adding a bottom six player late in the year, you typically want someone who can add value elsewhere.
I have no doubt that the Avalanche coaching staff could turn Puljujarvi into a valuable depth forward, and if they gave the go ahead, you run with it. But for a stretch run, I think you might want more of a sure thing. For that reason, this makes more sense, to me, as an off-season trade rather than a trade deadline deal.