Oh sure, it’s easy to say or to write what should happen. If only the world were that simple. The Edmonton Oilers and new GM Ken Holland are prepared to play hardball with Jesse Puljujarvi. Edmonton has set a high-bar to trade their former fourth overall draft pick as if the organization hasn’t already squandered and dealt more top-five picks in the past decade than most teams have ever received. Puljujarvi is an RFA and Edmonton wants him back, but he doesn’t want to come back. And here should enter the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After film studies of the Penguins newest additions Brandon Tanev and Alex Galchenyuk, and a tip from a source that the Penguins are leaning towards Galchenyuk on the top line RW beside Sidney Crosby, it is easy to conclude the Penguins are short of one scoring RW to fill out their top-nine.
Puljujavi, 21, and his agent Mark Lehto spoke to Finnish media this week. Puljujarvi said he wants a chance to show what he can do. The big 6-foot-4, 223-pound winger has game-breaking talent and can play physical, even if he hasn’t unleashed his full talent skill set in the NHL, yet. Last season, Puljujarvi shuffled between Edmonton and Bakersfield of the AHL as then-Edmonton head coach Ken Hitchcock sent hard messages to the young Finn. In 46 NHL games, Puljuarvi slumped to just nine points (4g, 5a).
He felt abandoned in Edmonton, and things spiraled. Do not most comeback stories begin with a team making the player feel welcome, wanted, and restoring confidence?
Importantly for a team like the Penguins, who are as perennially tight to the salary cap ceiling like a helium balloon, Lehto told Finnish TV, “Puljujärvi is and has been convinced that he needs a change. He is an NHL player. This is about getting an opportunity for a new start. The salary can be almost anything.”
Note the last sentence. An agent said the salary could be almost anything. Sold!
When news of Puljujarvi’s trade demands broke earlier this summer, an NHL source told PHN the Penguins made contact with Edmonton but did not like the price, believed to be Bryan Rust. The PHN+ film review of Tanev did not bolster opinions or hopes that Tanev could fill the top-six Roles which Rust variably filled. So, it would be difficult for the Penguins to send Rust to Edmonton. That may be the right call.
But it also seems crazy to think Edmonton will let Puljujarvi play in Europe and receive nothing in return. Surely, the Penguins have another asset or two which could temp Holland. Perhaps a prospect. The Penguins have a few legitimate prospects, and they have some talented forwards with 40-point potential such as Dominik Simon and Dominik Kahun.
I am serious and don’t call me Shirley.
The Penguins also need to clear a few million to sign RFA defenseman Marcus Pettersson to a multi-year deal. And shed more salary for the future contracts of Matt Murray, Jared McCann and more, next summer.
Holland must realize that Puljujarvi feels burned by Edmonton. A new coach, new GM and all of the hope might not be able to fix that.
If the Penguins must, then even Rust should be on the table. In a hard situation, there must be hard choices made. Teams are about 20 days away from the start of training camp. Rosters should be settled, by now. Trading Rust won’t be a one-for-one deal with Edmonton if the Penguins sign Pettersson as a result. The Penguins have speed. Physicality. Depth. Strikingly, the thing which the Penguins lack is offensive pop.
Puljujarvi could be that player. He also adds those other traits, too. Every possible effort should be made to keep Rust in the Penguins fold because every team needs a player who can fill-in on every line, score 40 points, forecheck and play a fast, responsible game. But, the Penguins could also afford to gamble away that skillset, too.
If that gamble pays off, the Penguins have a 21-year-old star or at least a young winger who can score. If the Penguins lose the bet, at very least they found the money to sign Pettersson.
The summer is almost over. It’s time to make the Puljujarvi trade happen, one way or another.