Per PuckPedia, Puljujärvi will earn the league minimum $775K salary this season before seeing a $50K pay bump in 2024-25. He will be an unrestricted free agent for the second time in his career when the deal expires.
Puljujärvi, 25, had four goals and nine points in 13 games on a PTO with Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after returning from a double hip surgery he had received during the offseason. He began training with the Penguins in early December, signing a PTO at the NHL level to do so.
The Finnish winger looked like a long-term fixture in the Oilers’ top six as recently as two years ago. A long and winding development path led him to a career-best 2021-22 campaign in which his 36 points and +22 rating in 65 games, oftentimes playing alongside Connor McDavid, earned him a spattering of Selke Trophy votes. Their line with Zach Hyman was arguably the best in the league that season at generating offense, producing 4.18 expected goals per 60 minutes, according to MoneyPuck.
However, Puljujärvi regressed significantly in 2022-23. After posting five goals and 14 points (along with a -11 rating) in just 12:15 of average ice time compared to the prior season’s 16:14, the Oilers cut bait with their former top prospect and traded him to the Hurricanes for the signing rights to forward prospect Patrik Puistola. His possession impacts rebounded down the stretch with Carolina, but the point production did not – he went without a goal in 24 regular-season and playoff games and added only three assists. As such, the Hurricanes opted not to issue Puljujärvi a qualifying offer and let him become a UFA last July.
Last summer’s surgery suggests his skating and overall play were hampered by a lingering hip issue in 2022-23, and the Penguins are banking on his ability to keep driving possession in a limited role out of the gate. There is a fair amount of upward mobility for Puljujärvi in Pittsburgh if his play warrants it – underwhelming seasons from Rickard Rakell and Reilly Smith have created multiple openings in the team’s middle six. He may be best used in a bottom-six role to start, however, as poor defensive play from veterans like Noel Acciari and Matthew Nieto has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. Puljujärvi could provide an upgrade there and boost the team’s goal differential, even if he’s not providing a truckload of offense himself.