After reports just days ago that new Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland was unlikely to give in to the trade demands of Jesse Puljujarvi, the young forward has fired back. Puljujarvi took part in a charity game in his hometown of Oulu, Finland today and spoke with the media during the event. Finnish sports reporter Jouni Nieminen translated his comments as follows:
I want a new start with some other team. Playing in North America is still my goal. I will stay in Oulu until I have a contract. I will find a place to play somewhere.
This echoes what Puljujarvi has been saying all summer long and he is well within his right to remain in Europe if he chooses. While technically still a member of the Oilers, the 21-year-old is an unsigned restricted free agent under no obligation to return to Edmonton if he doesn’t want to. However, he is not free to sign with another NHL team and will require a trade to continue his goal of playing in the NHL. While the Oilers have been listening to offers from other clubs, they have reportedly been underwhelmed and are not willing to trade Puljujarvi away at rock bottom price. By no means has the 2016 fourth-overall pick showed that he is worthy of a great return; in three pro seasons he has split time between the NHL and the AHL, recording just 37 points in 139 NHL games and another 37 points in 53 games in the minors. However, the young winger still has the size and skill to be a special player if he can put it all together and Holland is not ready to give up on that potential, especially so early into his tenure as Oiler’s GM.
However, will that mindset change if Puljujarvi really does hold true to his promise to play in Europe? It’s a very reasonable option for the Finnish forward, as he won’t have to go very far. Oulu is home to the Liiga’s Karpat, the team whose system Puljujarvi grew up in and a club that he played in 71 games with before moving to North America. The league’s defending regular season champs and a perennial contender, Karpat is a team that Puljujarvi could play a major role for and could continue his development with, while also being fairly compensated. And at 21, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t spend multiple seasons with Karpat if things are going well and the Oilers are unwilling to change the status quo. So is Edmonton really willing to ride that potential career arc out on principal? Or will the team simply cut ties with a player who has only brought disappointment and frustration to the club thus far? There is still far more to the trade demand saga between player and team this summer and possibly longer.