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Could the Montreal Canadiens revive Jesse Puljujarvi’s stalled career?

Edmonton is looking to move on. Can Montreal add to their Finnish entourage?

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Edmonton Oilers are an abject disaster of a franchise. They’re up against the cap ceiling, they aren’t very good on the ice, and they can’t seem to find the right combination of players to take advantage of Connor McDavid’s elite talent.

News broke this week that they were also likely to part ways with 2016 first-round pick Jesse Puljujarvi, as the Oilers and the Finnish forward seem to want different things.

He has bounced around the AHL and NHL, seemingly interrupting any consistent development he had been working on. In his first season in North America, Puljujarvi was putting together a fantastic year in the AHL for Bakersfield, but at the NHL level he struggled to find the same consistency.

That is a trend that has continued: decent AHL numbers, stagnant NHL production on disastrous Oilers teams. Whether it’s the player or Oilers management and coaching, it’s clear that something is not clicking, and it’s costing Edmonton a chance to add a highly skilled, cheap asset for the future.

Among his most common linemates this year are Milan Lucic, and Jujhar Khaira, not exactly prime pickings for a young prospect looking to grow in the NHL.

If the Oilers are truly looking to ship the young forward out, they aren’t exactly dealing from a position of strength. Due to a stagnated development curve, Puljujarvi could end up being an absolute steal at this year’s trade deadline. Marc Bergevin should be among those ringing up Keith Gretzky to see what it’ll take to get Puljujarvi out of Alberta, and for good reason.

Puljujarvi is just 20 years old (he’ll turn 21 in May), and with his highly skilled game he would be an ideal candidate to add to Montreal’s new-look offence. He can work as a playmaking winger or as a shooter on a line, and ideally could be great to pair up on a line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi. While Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen have formed a great partnership with the rookie centre, adding an offensively inclined winger can help elevate his game to a level that hasn’t been fully reached quite yet.

His underlying numbers aren’t spectacular, but considering his situation within the Oilers, it makes perfect sense why that might be. We can look through a number of tables related to Puljujarvi’s play to draw some more clear thoughts on his play right now, but it’s worth looking at his most basic metrics to start.

Bill Comeau/SKATR

This year, in no uncertain terms, is a dismal one for Puljujarvi. His offence is non-existent, and defensively he isn’t faring any better. Yet, over a three-year sample (that includes this season) some of his metrics look much better, specifically on the defensive side of the puck, and it might be worthwhile to try him out with similarly talented linemates, instead of anchoring him as the Oilers have.

Evolving Hockey’s Wins Above Replacement and Goals Above Replacement charts also show a current downward trend for the young Finn, which fits the observations made about his brief career to date.

So, what that leaves us with currently is a top-five pick who is currently playing below replacement-level hockey, in an organization that can’t seem to figure out what to do with him.

So why should the Montreal Canadiens be even remotely interested in him?

For starters, there is very much still plenty of talent in the young forward’s game, and he could provide a great boost to an already talented lineup. For one thing, over the course of his time with the Oilers, Puljujarvi was more than adept at entering and exiting zones with the puck.

Compared to forwards who play a similar role in Montreal, Puljujarvi looks outstanding, though this is not to take away from the play of both Andrew Shaw and Joel Armia during this season.

Kotkaniemi is proving to be a budding star in his own right, and providing him with another offensive winger could do wonders for both players, given their skill sets.

While in an ideal world Puljujarvi could come in and be a force for the Canadiens, there is a secondary option for him should he be traded. Puljujarvi is waivers exempt, meaning he could immediately be assigned to the Laval Rocket of the AHL if need be. This solves a two-pronged problem in Montreal right now, as the Rocket are lacking firepower due to losing players on waivers and to a rash of injuries, and the Canadiens are building toward a more competitive formation in the near future.

Assigning him to the AHL to play out the season and giving him a stable place to play under a coach like Joël Bouchard could do wonders for a young prospect’s confidence. He’d immediately become a focal point in a team desperate for a game-breaking player, and with his skills and Bouchard’s guidance, he could very well become that.

The biggest hurdle is the cost. In a normal world, acquiring a 20-year-old, top-five draft selection would be extremely expensive, but to call back to the start of the article, this is the Oilers we’re dealing with. The ask could be anywhere from a top prospect like a Josh Brook, or Ryan Poehling, to a current roster player like Andrew Shaw or Tomas Tatar with a combination of picks.

The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, and given that the Oilers are selling brutally low on Puljujarvi and have a penchant for mishandling big trades, there’s reason to believe Marc Bergevin could swing a deal relatively cheaply here.

If the asking price is right, adding a talented, young asset like Jesse Puljujarvi to Montreal’s budding pool of talented youth should be at the top of the trade deadline list for the Canadiens.