The Edmonton Oilers finally admitted that Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto aren’t quite ready for prime time yet.
The way they went about it was kind of greasy — the Oilers made no mention of their demotions during a post-practice media availability Saturday morning, then issued a release and snuck the two out of town a few hours later — but sending Puljujarvi and Yamamoto to the minors is ultimately the best thing for them.
Like returning Evan Bouchard to Junior a couple of weeks ago, it never hurts to give a young player more time to develop at a lower level.
And that’s what both of them need. Badly. The NHL is not a developmental league. It is a place for finished products, or players who aren’t far off but are making steady progress, who can make their teams better. Puljujarvi and Yamamoto didn’t fall into either category.
They were struggling, bleeding confidence and in no way helping the Oilers win games. Between them, they combined for two goals and one assist in 33 man games.
For a couple of players who are being earmarked for top six roles one day, that’s not even close to where, or who, they need to be.
Between them they’d been healthy scratched nine times and it was becoming obvious that they would be better served by taking on more minutes and more responsibilities in Bakersfield.
Asked a few hours before the demotion was made official whether Puljujarvi would be better off in the AHL, McLellan hinted he wasn’t seeing much from him and that a move was being considered.
“We want a confident set of players and if he can’t gain that confidence or that traction here, then maybe the best answer is somewhere else,” he said. “Those decisions will be made as we go forward.”
Three hours later, as it turned out.
In addition to the chorus of people who thought he should be sent down, there were those who believe Puljujarvi is simply a victim of neglect, that the only reason he struggled offensively is that McLellan wouldn’t play him in the top six.
This is not an original argument. It dates back to the days of Nail Yakupov and Rob Schremp before him. According to the vocal minority, both of those players were exceptional talents capable of scoring 30 goals if only given a chance, but were being kept down because their coaches didn’t want to see them succeed.
That’s a hard one to swallow. Coaches and players want to win more than fans do, so if McLellan or any of his team leaders, who see Puljujarvi close up in games and in practices every day, thought he would make the Oilers better by playing with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, he’d be there.
Fact is, Puljujarvi has all the raw talent in the world but he doesn’t think the game at a high enough level yet. And Yamamoto, like almost every player ever drafted, simply needs some seasoning in the minors.
Sending them down doesn’t mean these two kids are failing, it means they are finally being given the best chance to succeed.
It could be a nice show of firepower and force when the Colorado Avalanche and Oilers meet Sunday.
Colorado has the hottest line in hockey with Nate MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, while Edmonton can counter with McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and whoever else they slot into the right wing spot.
Seeing the two lines go head to head would be great fun, but McLellan says he isn’t sure what formation his team will take. In a rather cryptic answer to whether or not he’ll go power-vs-power, McLellan offered this:
“We still have to sit down. I can’t even tell you who’s playing Sunday night yet. We’ve got to look at some injuries, where players are at health wise. Practice is one thing because we can control it, but going through a game situation where guys are competing at a different level is another.”
So somebody in Edmonton’s top six, even though they practised Sunday, is a little iffy?
“All of our top six guys are banged up, just like everybody else’s, because they play so many minutes and they played some taxing games. But banged up and injured are two different things.”
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