Puljujarvi rues struggles: 'Maybe I just don't have it'
The slumping winger, who entered Wednesday with just one goal and five assists in 26 games this season, offered a candid self-evaluation Tuesday in an interview with Finnish outlet YLE's Tommi Seppala, who translated the conversation for Sportsnet's Mark Spector.
"Twenty games in, and I have one goal. It's sad," Puljujarvi said. "I've been thinking a lot how to do things differently. Right now, I just don’t have the answer."
The 24-year-old has largely underwhelmed since the Oilers selected him fourth overall in 2016, ahead of players such as Matthew Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, and Mikhail Sergachev. Puljujarvi tallied 47 goals and 57 assists in 285 NHL games.
Following three unproductive seasons to begin his career, Puljujarvi returned to Finland's top professional league in 2019-20. He excelled that season and parlayed his strong play into a 15-goal campaign with the Oilers in 2021 and a 14-goal showing last year.
But Puljujarvi questions whether he can be a true difference-maker in the world's best league.
"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 NHL. Maybe some other league."
He added, "I'm trying to find out who I am as a player, since it looks like I don't fit anywhere (in Edmonton)," he said. "I've started checking a lot and lead the team in hits. At least that's some positive."
Despite his offensive struggles, Puljujarvi has demonstrated good physicality and stellar defense. His 2.37 expected goals against per 60 minutes at five-on-five ranks second on the team behind Ryan McLeod, per Natural Stat Trick.
But while physical, low-event hockey is often commended for fourth-liners, the same can't be said about fourth-overall picks.
The Oilers haven't been able to get the most out of Puljujarvi offensively despite extended stints on a line with Connor McDavid.
"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.
"It’s hard to tell why I'm not scoring," he continued. "I've been thinking about it a lot. I scored earlier, and I think now I'm older, more experienced, and a better player. Yet I'm not scoring.
"If you play with Connor, you have to score. Maybe I just don't have it."
Puljujarvi carries a $3-million cap hit and will be a restricted free agent at season's end.
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