By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
If cap space is going to be the problem most suspect it will be for the Bruins this summer, getting the most bang for your
buck handful of nickels will be the name of the game for Don Sweeney.
Given the sticker price that typically comes with the start of free agency, as well as their prior failures to address top-six needs here, the truth is that the Bruins are unlikely to find such gifts on July 1.
But the disgruntled Jesse Puljujarvi — a pending restricted free agent wing who desperately wants (and needs) a fresh start far from the Oilers — would fit the bill as that low-risk, high-reward gamble that could answer some of the Bruins’ organizational weaknesses.
Aaaaaand he’s already been linked to Boston as a potential option, courtesy of Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
Drafted with the No. 4 overall pick in 2016, the 6-foot-4 Puljujarvi’s Edmonton career has been a complete disaster. Let’s not dance around it. With just 17 goals and 37 points in 139 NHL games, Puljujarvi currently stands as the 13th-highest scoring member of his draft class, trailing four defensemen (including Boston’s Charlie McAvoy) as well as sixth-round draft pick Jesper Bratt. Puljujarvi’s third (and likely final) season in Edmonton was certainly his most frustrating to date, with just four goals and nine points in 46 games before a hip injury put an end to his season.
The blame for Puljujarvi’s Edmonton struggles go beyond just the kid not quite getting the hang of the NHL, too.
The Oilers repeatedly tried Puljujarvi with Milan Lucic (no longer an effective five-on-five player) as his opposite winger, and gave him just 91 minutes of power-play time over the course of his three-year tenure with the Oilers. 91! For added perspective with that perplexingly low number for such a high-ceiling talent, the list of Oilers to log more power-play time on ice over that three-year stretch features 14 names in total, including Alex Chiasson, Drake Caggiula, Ryan Strome, Pat Maroon, and Mark Letestu. I’m convinced that only three of these people are real, and even then, I’m suspicious.
And just last year, Puljujarvi had the fifth-lowest nightly time on ice among the 16 Edmonton skaters to log at least 500 five-on-five minutes, and this was while scoring goals at the seventh-best rate (0.40 per 60 minutes) and generating the ninth-most individual scoring chances (5.97 per 60 minutes). Still, Puljujarvi’s breakout never came, as the 21-year-old played more than 11 minutes in just three of his last 11 games of the season, leaving his confidence by all means crushed like his hip.
With those kind of underlying numbers, it’s impossible to imagine Puljujarvi not being worth the risk for a team like the B’s.
Especially when we talk about what Bruins president Cam Neely wants out of the team’s next potential top-six addition.
“You have to be able to skate nowadays, as you know in this game. For me, I thought that we could’ve put more pucks on the net to give [St. Louis’] defensemen a turn and look to where the pucks are as opposed to trying to beat guys one-on-one,” Neely offered at his year-end press conference. “I felt we should’ve shot the puck a little more to try to create, whether it’s rebound opportunities or at least get them scrambling around a little bit.”
Among the 94 right wingers to have logged at least 1,500 five-on-five minutes since the start of the 2016 season, Puljujarvi ranks 44th in shots per 60 (7.78). And touching on Neely’s desire more specifically, the Bruins would have to be comfortable with Puljujarvi creating .92 rebounds per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, the 24th-most among that group of 94.
If it’s size the Bruins covet, they should feel comfortable with Puljujarvi’s 6-foot-4 frame, his work between the circles and in front of the net, and his willingness to both absorb and dole out hits when necessary.
In essence, he fits.
But most importantly, so does his price.
Though a restricted free agent, Puljujarvi’s next destination is not going to come with anything close to a substantial raise.
He’s in short-term, prove-yourself territory no matter his stop. That’s due to a value-crushing blend of limited production in Edmonton, his season-ending hip surgery in 2019, and the fact that his camp has made it pretty clear that they have no interest in returning to the Oilers organization. And no matter Oilers front office head Ken Holland’s desired return, some believe that it’s a team’s ‘top prospect’ or young player contract for the foreseeable future, the odds suggest he will by all means have to settle for less than he’d like. The Bruins have plenty of complementary pieces to pull off that kind of deal, too, and can do it without complicating either their long-term future or short-term Cup window always in need of more scoring punch up front.
It’s the exact kind of deal the Bruins should be in on this summer. At least if they’re looking for the value any cap-crunching team needs to maximize to remain truly competitive in the wake of a Stanley Cup Final appearance.