True Grit: This Edmonton Oilers Striker Has But Rarely Gets Credit

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Over the past few months, I’ve heard the following from critics of Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi:

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That he has a dubious hockey IQ.

That he needs to be more physical.

That the Oilers would do well to trade him, even if his value with another NHL team isn’t that high.

That while some cheesy stats show the Oilers do better when he’s on the ice, some of his more distinguished teammates prefer to play with other wingers.

Of course, Puljujarvi’s supporters and fans are vocal and numerous. In fact, most Oilers fans appreciate Puljujarvi’s game and felt a warm affinity for him after the entire Bison King episode.

Who doesn’t like a man who communes with buffaloes?

But Puljujarvi’s detractors are a rowdy faction and some of them are well-placed mainstream media commentators close enough to the staff that I wonder if they’re not essentially passing on a critique of Puljujarvi that comes from true NHL members like scouts, players and types of management.

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I also wonder if this criticism does not contribute to Puljujarvi being moved out of Edmonton in the coming weeks. I won’t be surprised if that happens.

As for my own assessment of Puljujarvi, I would suggest that he was one of the Oilers’ strongest wingers when it came to evenly strong doubles during the regular season. He took a big step at the start of the year, only to take a big step back in the playoffs, so much so that I fear recency bias is clouding some’s view of player merit.

But Puljujarvi played poorly in many playoff games. As Oilers GM Ken Holland suggested, it looked like Puljujarvi had lost confidence in the playoffs. Instead of making the plays himself, he was too eager to toss the puck around the ozone plates for one of his teammates to catch.

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It’s not uncommon for players to lose their offensive confidence at times. I hope Puljujarvi returns to a higher level of play next season.

And I’d like to focus on a quality he has that his critics always seem to overlook: true courage.

Puljujarvi doesn’t look like a tough hockey man. He’s not a big hitter like Zack Kassian. He’s not some kind of bully, like an Evander Kane. That said, Puljujarvi will take a hit and take a hit to make a move.

Tough hits at the net on Grade A kicks

More than that, when it comes to the smart, courageous and courageous plays that are often required to create Grade A shots at the net, few Edmonton Oilers are more willing and capable than Puljujarvi.

He was the Oilers’ second-best player for two years in a row in this dark art of the o-zone game.

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What do I mean by difficult shots at the net on Grade A pitches?

I’m talking about fighting opposing d-men to take down kicks into the net, hitting the net to fight to get in the way of net kicks, executing huge screens from the opposing goalie on strong outside kicks, attacking hard into the net to act as a great decoy, and digging hard into the boards to earn discs that are quickly passed into the slot for the most dangerous shots.

I’m talking about the kind of plays that cause bumps, bruises, sprains and strains. I’m talking about the kind of play that helps your team score goals, even if you never get a point on the play.

Puljujarvi is adept at all true courage moves.

Again, he’s not a feared or fearsome player on ice, but he is a glue player, doing the countless hard, difficult jobs that help his teammates get rid of nasty blows.

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Last year, in 65 games, Puljujarvi made 81 difficult shots at the net in Grade A shots, 1.25 per game, which was an improvement from the previous season’s total when he was at 0.85 per game.

In 2020-21, Alex Chiasson led the Oilers in difficult shots at the net on Grade A shooting with 1.11 per game. This year, it was the gritty Zach Hyman who led with 1.37 per game, with Hyman being particularly strong at dropping and pushing pucks across the net. And if anyone was going to put up a Total Eclipse of the Sun goalie screen, completely blocking the disc goalkeeper’s view, it was most likely the tenacious Hyman.

But Puljujarvi was right behind him. He also demonstrated the cunning, courage and tenacity of striker True Grit.

It’s something for the Oilers to consider as they ponder this player’s future, if only because this particular quality of Puljujarvi is rarely noticed or mentioned by his critics. It’s like he’s seen as a kind of perimeter player. He’s definitely not that.

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He is no attacker. I’m not saying he is.

He can be clumsy shooting and passing the puck.

It’s still not super strong protecting and protecting the disk.

It gets in the way of your playing quota.

But this young striker has guts. He has some skill.

In my eyes, if the contract price is right, he is a definite goalkeeper.

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