Edmonton Oilers' forward Jesse Puljujärvi has stood front and center of trade rumors around the team, but what is keeping GM Ken Holland from moving him?
Simple. The franchise's single most important asset: Connor McDavid.
Analyst Anthony Stewart recently shared on NHL Network, that Puljujärvi is still an Oiler because the team's captain wants it that way. When posed with the question of naming a breakout candidate for 2022-23, Stewart tapped Puljujärvi.
"Our colleagues have been trying to run him out of town in Edmonton. But I'm going to go with Jesse Puljujarvi I think he's poised for a breakout season. He's there because Connor McDavid wants him there."
Selected fourth-overall by the Oilers in 2016, the Finn has underperformed on the stat-sheet while providing excellent puck-support to his linemates. Puljujärvi's is the penultimate case of 'analytics vs. eye-test' in the NHL today.
On one hand, fans cannot stand watching him. Stylistically, Puljujärvi plays a strictly blue-collar game without being overly physical. He is very difficult to separate from the puck and few on the team can sustain offensive pressure like him. Still, he looks like a goofball out there.
Meanwhile, on the other hand, Puljujärvi has fantastic underlying numbers. He ranks near the top of the NHL in forechecking metrics (offensive play-driving) as well as zone exits (defensive play-driving). The Oilers tend to have much greater success with JP on the ice than having him on the bench.
Analyst JFresh put it best: "Despite a relative lack of production, a big reason that many analytically-inclined fans think so highly of Puljujärvi is the way that McDavid and Draisaitl perform better with him on the ice. For example, this season, the combo of McDavid and Puljujarvi outscored opponents 34 to 15 when they were on the ice together, but McDavid without Puljujärvi only outscored them 39 to 35. Scoring chance and shot metrics told a similar story; while Puljujärvi obviously isn't the driver on these lines it seems undeniable that something in his game helps Connor be his best self."
This mash-up perfectly illustrates the benefits of Puljujärvi's game.
Connor McDavid is liberated by Puljujärvi's strong two-way play, so it makes a lot of sense why the Oilers' captain is gung-ho on keeping him. As for the other part of Stewart's analysis, Puljujärvi should be considered a top 'breakout candidate' for 2022-23. If I was to bet on one player to regress to the mean over any other, Jesse Puljujärvi might be it.