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.
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