There was a ton of pressure on Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi entering the 2022-23 season.
The fourth-overall selection in the 2016 draft was coming off yet another inconsistent 2021-22 campaign, and as a result was discussed as a potential trade candidate last summer. Ultimately that didn’t happen, as general manager Ken Holland instead chose to give him one final shot. So far things have gone so poorly that the 24-year-old is reportedly questioning whether he has what it takes to stick around in the NHL.
It is clear watching Puljujarvi this season that his confidence is at rock bottom. Despite his skill level, he seems hesitant to ever carry the puck on his own, often deferring to his linemates and playing a very safe game, which has made him rather ineffective with just one goal and five assists in 26 contests. Speaking with Finnish journalist Tommi Seppala of YLE news agency, he sounded like a player who is completely lost on how to turn things around.
“Twenty games in and I have one goal. It’s sad,” Puljujarvi admitted, per Sportsnet reporter Mark Spector's translation. “I’ve been thinking a lot how to do things differently. Right now, I just don’t have an answer.”
Every athlete, regardless of how dominant, goes through periods where their confidence level lowers. After all, they are still human beings. That said, it is very rare to have one question out loud their place in their current league. That is exactly what Puljujarvi did.
“Of course I’d like to be a productive top-line player,” Puljujarvi said. “But right now, it looks like I can’t do that in the NHL. Maybe some other league.”
The Oilers have tried to get him going in recent weeks by often slotting him alongside Connor McDavid, but even that hasn’t resulted in an uptick in point production.
“It takes a lot to play with a superstar like him,” Puljujarvi said. “You have to win battles and make plays at the same time. It's a high-quality game and it takes a good player. You have to be a really good player to play with him...
“If you play with Connor, you have to score. Maybe I just don't have it.”
The Finnish winger has shown in spurts in past seasons that he does have the ability to provide offence. Perhaps a hot stretch is right around the corner if he can get to a better space mentally.
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