While not the fall from grace Jakob Chychrun has experienced, 2015-16 presented an interesting arc for Jesse Puljujärvi. In addition to helping deliver a gold medal for Finland at the 2016 World Junior Championship, Puljujärvi was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, becoming the youngest winner in that award's history. His strong performance at the U18 World Championship received an All-Star Team nod, as the Finns again took home the gold.
But despite these accomplishments and beginning the season as Finland's most heralded 2016 Draft-eligible son, Puljujärvi now finds himself in the shadow of Patrik Laine. Puljujärvi may have had nine points in 10 playoff games, but Laine was named the Liiga's playoff MVP. Laine takes Puljujärvi's U18 performance and raises it a World Championship invite, where he continues to blow the doors off in spite of one bad game. Puljujärvi is mostly (though not universally) ranked below Laine in the contest for 2nd place, an understanding unlikely to change unless Laine gives someone the finger between now and June 24th.
"The difference between Marthews and Laine is greater than the difference between Laine and Puljujärvi."— Risto Pakarinen (@puckarinen) May 13, 2016
People have officially fallen fully asleep on Jesse Puljujarvi. They've entered into hibernation. The Patrik Laine hype train has overflown.— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) May 12, 2016
The Patrik Laine hype train is particularly fascinating if you believe, as Sonny Sachdeva wrote, that "The distinction between Laine and Puljujärvi is one grounded more in style than actual talent." Discussion of Patrik Laine brings up terms such as "lethal", "dynamic", and "Alexander Ovechkin". With Puljujärvi, comments of "well-rounded", "complete game" and/or "full package" are inevitable. While Puljujärvi does receive credit for his high-end awareness and hockey IQ, the conversation is framed in a way where it often seems easier to feel excitement for flashy Patrik Laine, the ascendant one (his current spotlighting on the international stage certainly enhances this).
Which isn't to say that Laine is less or more deserving either. Both are in the conversation for reasons of merit, and both are allowed to be excellent selections. There is simply good reason for Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to remain cagey and spread the acknowledgement around:
"Laine and Puljujarvi were phenomenal at the World Juniors." - Cheveldayoff. #Jets— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) May 1, 2016
Cheveldayoff won’t hint at Puljujarvi vs. Laine.— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) May 1, 2016
When utilizing Christian Roatis' NHLE Calculator, based on Rob Vollman's NHLE equivalencies, one comes up with the following point totals:
Auston Matthews: 41.91
Patrik Laine: 17.06
Jesse Puljujärvi: 13.32
Pierre-Luc Dubois: 34.04
Matthew Tkachuk: 49.26
This is simply a tool attempting to calculate what X point total would be in the NHL, and is of course not an exact science. And while the calculator carries enough heft where mainstream "stats guy" James Mirtle will deem it a useful tool, Puljujärvi's versatile skill set leaves plenty of room to hope for more than 13 points:
In seeking out an additional perspective to Craig Button's dulcet tones, I had the pleasure of speaking to Oliver Francies (@terpanese) of Seamore Sports, who recently watched Puljujärvi live in Grand Forks. Be sure to check out seamoresports.com, follow @SeamoreSports on Twitter and Like them on Facebook.
What might an NHL team see in Jesse Puljujärvi's game to select him over Patrik Laine?
An NHL team could see Jesse's strong hockey IQ. He was always in the right spot during the Worlds. In addition, his shot is strong and Jesse is fairly responsible in his own end as well.
The general consensus is that both Laine and Auston Matthews are NHL-ready. Would you say the same for Puljujärvi?
I think that Jesse will be NHL-ready this season. He is gifted offensively but could use more time to gain some strength and be a complete player. How he develops this summer with the Jackets will be a key determinant of where he plays. Offensively he is great, defensively he may need a month at Lake Erie to adjust to the North American game. Jesse will play in the NHL this year.
Laine's mobility seemed to improve as the season progressed, enhancing and solidifying his draft stock. Was there an identifiable equivalent for Puljujärvi, or was he almost hurt in this respect by already possessing a more complete game?
Jesse will not be hurt for his game. If anything it means that he is more NHL-ready than Laine, though Laine may have more upside in terms of goal scoring. Laine is an outstanding scorer whose game improved over the season, while Jesse was more set as a top-end talent. It seems like Jesse has top-end speed and IQ as well, especially on the power play.
A fair amount of credit for Puljujärvi's season has gone to Kärpät linemate Sebastian Aho. What was your assessment of Puljujärvi at this year's IIHF U18 World Championship (where he was without the talented Carolina prospect)?
Jesse was the best player in the tournament and he didn't play in around half of it. His pure speed was a joy to watch. Jesse did not need any of his linemates to make him better; he was the engine that drove the Finns to the gold medal. People note his strong playmaking skills but I think his shot can be just as good as if not better than Laine's one day. The way Jesse set up on the powerplay reminded me of Ovechkin.
In your mind, is there a clear separation between Puljujärvi and other draft-eligible forwards such as Pierre-Luc Dubois and Matthew Tkachuk?
I think there is. Jesse does need to work on the defensive aspect of his game, like the other two do. However, he is faster than both Dubois and Tkachuk, and has competed against older, more developed competition.
Tough year to be an independent source: go Laine - it's clickbait, go Matthews - you're a sheep. Go either & you're sleeping on Puljujarvi.— DraftBuzz Hockey (@draftbuzzhockey) May 12, 2016
As Oliver Francies' answer to the second question suggested, it remains a good bet that Winnipeg will select Patrik Laine 2nd overall, leaving Jesse Puljujärvi for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Even without a tease of Puljujärvi's shot potential, it's important to remember how Winnipeg and Columbus are each allowed to be winners here. Fans of both teams should consider climbing aboard the Finnish hype train, rather than one bound to Laine or Puljujärvi alone. At 6'4" and 207 lbs for Laine vs Puljujärvi at 6'4" and 205 lbs, even their size "difference" seems an omen of the slight distinction between them. Either player will look good in a Jets uniform next season.