Connor McDavid said he sees a difference in Jesse Puljujarvi with the Edmonton Oilers and expects the forward to play a big role this season.
“He’s a huge part of our team,” McDavid said Friday. “If he can make strides like he looks like he has, it’s big for our team.”
Puljujarvi is back with the Oilers after signing a two-year contract Oct. 7. The No. 4 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, he scored 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists) in 139 games for Edmonton from 2016-19. When his entry-level contract expired, he asked to be traded and then left to play in his home country of Finland.
“It’s really nice to be back to help [these] guys to win games and to be a good teammate,” he said. “I appreciate that I can play in the best league in the world.”
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Puljujarvi played last season for Karpat of Liiga, the top professional league in Finland, and scored 53 points (24 goals, 29 assists) in 56 games.
“My English is better, and communication with coaches, players, is different,” Puljujarvi said. “It helps a lot. You speak better, you play better.”
McDavid said he also has noticed a more positive attitude from the 22-year-old.
“He’s got the biggest smile, he’s such a happy guy playing hockey, loves the game, loves to be out there, so you’ve just got to keep that love for the game,” the Oilers captain said. “I could see that he was probably losing it a little bit at the end of his time with us in his first stint, so it’s great to see him come back and look so excited, so happy to be playing the game and to be back with us. We just have to keep that.”
Puljujarvi has been on a line with Kyle Turris during training camp. The center signed a two-year contract to join the Oilers on Oct. 9.
“To be honest, I didn’t really pay too much attention to his situation when he was here earlier,” said Turris, who played the past three seasons for the Nashville Predators. “But coming to camp here and seeing him have this opportunity, it’s something that really reminds me of myself when I was younger.”
Turris, the No. 3 pick of the 2007 NHL Draft, scored 46 points (19 goals, 27 points) in his first 137 NHL games and was traded by the Phoenix Coyotes to the Ottawa Senators for defenseman David Runblad and a second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft on Dec. 17, 2011, midway through his fourth professional season.
“I didn’t have a great start to my career,” the 31-year-old said. “You do things to try to put yourself in position where you think you’re going to have success, and when it doesn’t go your way, you get frustrated and down on yourself, and just having the next opportunity, that second opportunity, in my case it was career changing and it’s something you take advantage of.
“[Puljujarvi] is a great player … big (6-foot-4, 201 pounds), strong, fast. He looks to make plays. He seems like a really nice kid, very humble and a down-to-earth, happy kid. He’s just got to keep that confidence, and I’m going to try to help him do that.”
Dave Tippett, who became Oilers coach prior to last season, said Puljujarvi’s previous issues in Edmonton will remain in the past.
“[He was] probably thrown into some situations early and struggled with it, which happens with a lot of players that come in too early,” Tippett said. “He put it on himself, that he didn’t handle it very well and his expectations were higher than they probably should have been. He’s matured as a young man and as a player.”