Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres: A Trade For Jesse Puljujarvi Makes Sense

Winger depth is an issue for the Buffalo Sabres and adding Edmonton Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi might be the best way to address those issues.

Last season, Puljujarvi played in 46 games with the Edmonton Oilers. Unfortunately for the Finnish national, he wasn’t too productive in those 46 games. He tallied 4 goals and 5 assists. 

Embed from Getty Images

When the Edmonton Oilers took him with the 4th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, I assume that they weren’t looking to snag someone who’d only register 9 points in their second season in the NHL. You would normally expect better results from a winger taken early on in the first round. But, sadly, the Oilers are in a tough spot. Do they keep Puljujarvi and hope that finally grows into a top six forward? Or, do they pull the plug on the experiment? 

The Oilers have a history of giving up on their prospects. The Oilers gave up on Nail Yakupov and Devan Dubnyk. If the Oilers chose to hold onto those players for a tad longer and give them time to develop, they could have emerged as studs. 

Edmonton’s Front Office

Unfortunately, the Oilers have been mis-managed. Former general manager Peter Chiarelli had no clue what he was doing and run the team into the ground. The Taylor Hall/Adam Larsson trade was one of his worst decisions. But, he also made several ugly acquisitions throughout last season which left a bad taste in many Oilers fans’ mouths. Adding players like Alex Petrovic and Ryan Spooner didn’t help the Oilers move forward. Instead, they set the Oilers back. 

Now, Oilers interim general manager Keith Gretzky needs to make up his mind on how he wants to proceed. Does he try to move on from assets like Puljujarvi and start building his version of the Oilers?

On The Flip Side

On the flip side, the Buffalo Sabres had a rough season. At a point early on, the Sabres were dominating the NHL. Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel were raking goal after goal after goal, but the Sabres failed to play consistent hockey. 

Defense wasn’t the problem. When you have a defensive unit composed of Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen, Brandon Montour (trade deadline acquisition), Jake McCabe and Lawrence Pilut, it’s obvious that defense isn’t the issue.

Goaltending was a concern. Many folks across the NHL were unsure if Carter Hutton would put up similar numbers in Buffalo that he put up in his 2017-2018 campaign with the St. Louis Blues. Unfortunately, Hutton was awful for Buffalo. He registered a goals against average (GAA) of 3.00 and a save percentage (Sv%) of .908 in 50 games played. The Sabres back-up goalie, Linus Ullmark also failed to impress hockey fans in Upstate New York. In 37 games played, Ullmark posted an abysmal GAA of 3.11 and an ugly Sv% of .905. But, the good news is that the Sabres have a potential elite goaltender in the making. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was outstanding for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves this season and will soon enough be the number one goalie in Buffalo.

But, as I brought up before, winger depth is the real long-term issue in Buffalo. Buffalo’s winger depth consists of Kyle Okposo, Skinner, Jason Pominville, Sam Reinhart, Vladimir Sobotka, Conor Sheary, Johan Larsson, Scott Wilson, Evan Rodrigues, Tage Thompson and Alexander Nylander.

That list isn’t great at all. Okposo is past his prime. Pominville is near the end of his career. Sobotka is a bottom 6 forward/grinder.

Skinner is a pending UFA. Sheary and Reinhart are serviceable, but both wingers have failed to produce consistent results. Nylander and Thompson do have promise and a ton of upside, but haven’t had consistent playing time at the NHL level. Without consistent playing time, it’s difficult to gauge whether or not they will be rock solid producers long-term.

Given the concern around offensive production of the Sabres winger depth, it wouldn’t hurt to make a trade for someone like Puljujarvi. Perhaps, Puljujarvi needs a change of scenery and might fare better if he were playing alongside Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt

stats from hockey-reference.com and NHL.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers: 3 Teams Who Could be Interested in Jesse Puljujärvi

It’s not a secret that Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi is having problems with his development.

A few days ago it was reported that both agent and team could be finding a new team for the youngster, who is only 20 years old. His agent, Markus Lehto, is not happy with Jesse Puljujarvi’s usage, As evident by this quote from him:

https://twitter.com/SportsnetSpec/status/1096626282845089798

If he is to get traded there’s a couple of teams that could be interested. As far as returns go it would have to be a lot, as reported by TSN’s Ryan Rishaug. As far as what a package for Puljujarvi could look like, I see two options. One a player of similar draft pedigree that is also going through development struggles, or 2. A 3 for 1 package that includes a top 6 winger, a first, and a B level prospect.

Full disclaimer I’m here to give my opinion and I hope you all respect it but remember that you don’t have to agree.

Embed from Getty Images

New York Rangers

The Rangers are starting to rebuild finally after being a powerhouse of the East for many seasons. One of the many things teams do when they rebuild is getting younger, so it’s possible that Puljujarvi could be heading to New York in a package that could have a experienced veteran player like Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes just to name a few. Puljujarvi could be a future 1st liner if he pans out to be what he was supposed to be when he was drafted 4th. I really can’t think of why the Rangers wouldn’t want him. As far as the rest of the package New York has an abundance of prospects they could offer in return. One of Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Vitali Kravstov, or Libor Hajek could potentially be included as well.

Embed from Getty Images

Columbus Blue Jackets

It seems like Columbus is going to fall apart this off-season with Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin most likely going else where. Columbus passed on Puljujarvi in the draft and took Pierre-Luc Dubois instead, fair to say that was a great decision. With a Finnish GM at the helm I could see Kekäläinen being really interested in getting another Finnish player who also has a great potential also he probably knows that Nutivaara has played with him before. Possibly Panarin or Bobrovsky could be shipped off in a massive deal where Puljujarvi could be a nice chunk of. If somehow Columbus keeps the two Russians then this deal is most likely off the table.

Embed from Getty Images

Carolina Hurricanes

I know, this is a stretch but I have reasons for putting them here. First, Sebastian Aho has played with Jesse before on Kärpät. Second, it’s another young forward, something they still have a need for. Third, it would probably only cost Haydn Fleury a defenseman who is struggling to break in to the Carolina defense. Reasons why it wouldn’t work could be the following, he isn’t good enough to play with Aho, they already have a great RW prospect in Andrei Svechnikov and why would you shake up a team what could make the playoffs. I’m saying if Puljujarvi becomes a 1st line level RW this is a great move. It looks like Puljujarvi could have some players on the team who he is familiar with. Also if he struggles he could also be on the same line as Mäenalanen, another former team mate of his.

In all likelihood Edmonton will not trade him. Edmonton just cannot afford to lose a Jesse Puljujarvi trade like they did with prospects in the past. Edmonton will try to avoid a Nail Yakupov-esque disaster once again. Part of me honestly hopes he gets a trade out of that organization.

stats for nhl.com, hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers: Thinking Outside the Box

The Edmonton Oilers have a big problem with Ryan Spooner.

That’s not news. The sky is blue, Connor McDavid is the most skilled player in the NHL, and you can still find me in the stands cheering on this team. Some things, unfortunately so in some cases, never change.

My weird love/hate relationship with this team aside the Edmonton Oilers find themselves trapped by one of Peter Chiarelli’s final moves (man does typing that feel good!). However now is the time to start correcting those mistakes and I think there’s an outside solution to the Spooner problem.

Buried in the AHL

It was announced on January 23, 2019 that both Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Spooner were assigned to the AHL:

The former being there makes sense in the short term, as Yamamoto can play a few games in Bakersfield over the all star break or in the long-term. Personally I feel like Yamamoto should stay the rest of the season on the AHL so he can be a key cog in Bakersfield’s playoff push/run. The latter on the other hand is a different story. Spooner has failed so spectacularly in Edmonton that they no longer feel he is anything but a detriment to the team.

My first ever post on ThePuck77 was on Ryan Spooner and in it I stated that Edmonton needed to find a lineup spot for Spooner that works for him. I won’t go into too much detail on him here but my main points were:

  1. Ryan Spooner is not an offensive driver
  2. Ryan Spooner was, at his most successful, a good 3rd piece of a top 6 line.
  3. He benefited greatly from being on top power-play units
  4. He is a really ineffective possession player.

If you want more in depth analysis on Spooner check out my first piece on him here.

Someone Similar?

You would think this situation would be rare in the NHL. Not many teams employ 3+ million dollar men in the AHL…

But there is another…

Embed from Getty Images

Yes that’s right I’m talking about Sam “8 points in one game” Gagner.

Gagner has been a very nice addition to the Toronto Marlies roster since being sent down. In 36 games thus far Gagner has 10 goals and 22 assists for 32 points. He definitely isn’t letting his demotion slow him down any. Even when he has played in the NHL he was not that poor. In 7 NHL games Gagner had 3 points, 1 goal, 2 assists. He has also been very good in terms of possession at the NHL level, posting a surprising 59.9% Corsi rating, and a 15.2 Corsi relative for rating. This, along with his 59.9% Fenwick for rating and 17.4 Fenwick relative for rating, paint a picture of a player who has more to give at the NHL level.

Gagner does a lot of things well that mesh with the Oilers needs right now. While he does have some warts to his game in regards to defending Edmonton at current needs a guy who is an offensive weapon. Gagner is a power-play, overtime, and shootout specialist. Put in the right situation; i.e on the left side of a Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl power-play, should result in increased success for Edmonton’s power-play.

Power-play Prowess

For example in 2016/17 he had 50 points, 18 of which came on the power-play. In 2017/2018, in his first year with Canucks (way lower teammate quality), he had 31 points, 11 of which were on the power-play.

In 2016/17 Gagner played on a unit with Zach Werenski, Nick Foglino, Cam Atkinson, and Alex Wennberg. on a much less successful Vancouver power-play Gagner played with a mix of Alex Edler, Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, both Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Sven Baertschi, and Thomas Vanek. Vancouver struggled to find the right mix of players and eventually Gagner got lost in the shuffle. He ended up struggling to the point where he was demoted to the AHL at the beginning of this season.

Wherever Gagner goes he always finds a way on to that team’s power-play because that is where he excels. He is an extremely gifted offensive player who has a good shot and is extremely creative with the puck. The thing that he is the best at on the power-play is MOVING. The Edmonton Oilers power-play right now has stagnated. This is mainly due to the same issue that plagued them last year. They are too slow. they do not move the puck around enough to properly open up seams and lanes in an opposing team’s penalty kill. This kills them and they need a player like Gagner that can keep the puck moving on the power-play.

Is This Trade Realistic?

This is always the huge question with the hypothetical articles. It’s why I don’t enjoy making these speculation articles in general, do it wrong and you immediately can ruin your credibility as a writer. 

However in this case I think there’s a realistic possibility a trade like this could work. Right now at left-wing the Canucks employ Nikolai Goldobin, Sven Baertschi, Josh Leivo, Loui Eriksson, and Antoine Roussel. Goldobin has 23 points, Eriksson has 20, Leivo has 7, Baertschi has 13, and Roussel has 19. It’s safe to say they could use a boost. Edmonton currently employs Alex Chiasson, Milan Lucic, Jesse Puljujarvi, Jujhar Khaira, Tobias Reider, and I could go on at wing. Outside of Chiasson none of those players have 20 points, outside of Khaira, none have 15 points. Edmonton needs wingers bad.

So a swap of two players that both make almost exactly the same amount of money, that could potentially re-spark their careers makes a lot of sense. Gagner makes 50k more than Spooner at 3.15 million over the same amount of term. At current neither of Spooner or Gagner are going to see the light of day back in the NHL with their respective teams. It makes sense, at least to me to try to swap the two players in the hopes that they could re-find their offense elsewhere.

Wrap Up

The main reason this probably won’t happen is Vancouver and Edmonton are teams both currently in a dog fight for the last wildcard spot. While it would be an interesting trade as it would create a potential double rental situation if both Spooner and Gagner bounce back, the risk involved nixes that trade.

What do you think? is this trade realistic for both sides? leave a comment or find us on twitter at @ThePuck77 and me personally at @chayzdj.

All stats used in this article came from HockeyReference.com, Capfriendly.com, and HockeyDB.com.

 

 

Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres: Their Most Intriguing Prospect, Alex Nylander

When the Buffalo Sabres drafted Alexander Nylander at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, they felt they were getting a player with one of the highest skill sets available. 

Pre Draft Hype

Prior to the National Hockey League draft in 2016, most of the hype was on Auston Matthews and the Finnish duo of Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujärvi. However, there was a group of four players that were considered the “next tier” after the top three, and Nylander was widely considered to have the puck skills to be in the upper echelon. He ended his lone season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with 28 goals and 47 assists for 75 points in 57 games for the Mississauga Steelheads.

Nylander was considered to have as much skill as anyone in the draft.  With the puck on his stick, his offensive prowess was considered elite. As a winger, his lack of a defensive game was overlooked slightly because coaching can help fix defensive issues for high skill players. Nylander had high-end hands and a great shot. He had all the attributes to play in a sport that was trending towards skill and speed.

Embed from Getty Images

It was well documented in the pre-draft process that Alexander came from hockey blood lines. His father, Michael Nylander, played 920 NHL games and had 679 points. His older brother, William Nylander, was a draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs who was tearing up the AHL before a call up near the end of the season just prior to Alex being drafted.

Draft +1 Year

Nylander is the rare case of a player in the CHL who was on loan from a European team, AIK in the HockeyAllsvenskan which is the second tier league in Sweden. This meant that he was eligible to play in the AHL with the Rochester Americans as a teenager rather than going back and playing in the OHL.

His first AHL season was nothing spectacular. He played 65 games and totaled 28 points. As a teenager, any production in the AHL is considered a positive. He showed signs of offensive talent even if the results were not showing up on the scoresheet. 

He was allowed to play for Team Sweden in the 2017 World Juniors and played at an elite level, recording 12 points in seven games to tie for the tournament lead. He helped lead Sweden to a 4th place finish.

On April 3rd, 2017, Nylander was called up to the Sabres and seen action in four games. Coincidently enough, his NHL debut came against the Toronto Maple Leafs and his brother William Nylander. He eventually recorded his first NHL point in a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. This was his lone point that season.

Draft +2 Season

With expectations growing, Nylander was hoping to break camp with the Sabres but that wasn’t in the cards, as he was hurt in the Sabres prospect tournament. He didn’t skate in training camp and finally began skating on November 13th, 2017.

Jumping right into game action three days later, he began the season at a rate similar to the previous season. He again attended the World Juniors with Team Sweden, scoring seven points in as many games in helping lead the team to the silver medal.

After heading back to the Rochester Americans upon return from the World Juniors, he again received a call up to the NHL for a three game stint. He recorded another first against Tampa Bay, scoring his first NHL goal on a tip in.

Nylander finished that season in the AHL with 27 points in 51 games, a slight improvement to his points per game production. His playoff with the Americans was a massive disappointment. He was demoted to the fourth line during the first round while being swept by the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Affiliate).

Today, Draft +3 Season

This season Nylander came into camp in great shape. He admitted to the groin injury hampering him most of last season and revealed that he played through pain for much of it. 

Playing well in the preseason, Nylander ended up being one of the final three cuts off the Buffalo roster. A disappointing result for Nylander, after showing up to camp in Rochester with a great mindset. Knowing that he did everything asked of him in the summer, prospect camp and training camp, he knew an opportunity was just a call up away.

His season has been another step in the right direction, again slightly increasing his points per game pace by putting up 24 points in 40 games. This means his points per game have gone from .430 in 2016-17 to .529 in 2017-18 and finally a .600 this season.

Although he hasn’t received a call up this season, he is playing well according to all reports. His play this season has helped Rochester lead the North Division by 3 points over the Crunch with 56 points, good for third overall in the AHL.

Embed from Getty Images

Is Nylander a Bust?

Seeing a player with the pedigree that Nylander had coming into his draft year and play so few games in the NHL is odd. Of the top 10 picks from 2016, the only one to play fewer games than Nylander is Vancouver Canucks 5th overall pick, defensemen Olli Juolevi, who has yet to make his NHL debut.

On average, the top 10 players from Nylander’s draft have played in 122 games, including Nylander’s seven games.  The next lowest figure is 114 by the Colorado Avalanche‘s Tyson Jost.

One question to ponder is whether the Sabres are purposely taking a long approach with Nylander. This is something the Detroit Red Wings franchise has done with players going back to their Stanley Cup winning days in the late 1990’s and 2000’s. The difference being, the Red Wings draft choices tended to be later in the first round because of their playoff success.

The Wings prolonged the development of first round picks Niklas Kronwall and Keith Primeau, and even recently with players such as Dennis Cholowski, Evgeny Svechnikov and Anthony Mantha. All of whom had their development extended at least two years post draft, often times longer.

Issues With Skating 

The Sabres are taking a patient approach with Nylander. This could be due to some of the glaring weaknesses in his game such as his defence and his motor. His skating has been exposed at higher levels of play as well.

His defence hasn’t improved significantly since his draft year. He’s begun to play more physically this season, but he’s isn’t a guy who goes into corners and gets the puck out. He is playing a bit more on the penalty kill this season which should help him improve his defensive game.

His skating isn’t at the elite level that you would expect from a high skill player and it’s showing in the AHL. He isn’t able to create as much space as at lower levels. He was able to rely on his skill and not having to skate as much during his junior hockey days. He is making strides in that department, becoming more confident skating the puck out of his own end and into the offensive zone to help create controlled zone entries.

Nylander’s biggest issue seems to be his motor. His willingness to engage each shift and every game. He often looks like he’s floating on shifts when he’s without the puck. His motor was one of his biggest flaws going into the draft and it remains an issue to this day.

Nylander is a high skill player who is taking time to develop. He isn’t a bust at this point in time, but he is slightly behind the development curve of a top 10 NHL draft pick. With the consistency of his motor being his main obstacle to gaining full-time NHL employment, maturity will be key to his future success. Settling in as a middle six forward is where he projects to be in a year or two. He may get a chance to establish himself towards the end of this season if Buffalo continues to fall out of the playoff picture. If he does, he needs to lock down his spot in the lineup with consistent effort and display his skill on a nightly basis.

For more on the NHL and hockey in general follow me on Twitter at @theTonyFerrari

All stats and information are from hockey-reference.com, hockeydb.com, Nhl.com, theAHL.com and quanthockey.com

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

NOTE TO OUR READERS – We are looking for help covering the Buffalo Sabres. If you are interested in joining our team, please check out the “Looking To Contribute?” page.