Edmonton Oilers: A tale of two players still trying to find their way

Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images) /

Prior to last night’s Edmonton Oilers against the Toronto Leafs game, Zack Kassian was demoted to the 3rd line and Jesse Puljujarvi was moved up to 1st line RW full time in his place.  Talk about a tale of 2 players.  Kassian technically has the better boxcars, but even by the eye test, he’s a shadow of his former self.  Other than the 1 goal he scored, I literally can’t remember a time he’s ever made an impact in the early going of this season.

I have yet to see or hear of him making a big hit on anyone.  I have yet to see him making the highlight reel passes he’d become synonymous with ever since he developed chemistry with Connor Mcdavid to score a goal.  He set a new career-high in points and tied a career-high in goals just last season but has been largely invisible this season.  Even the 1 goal he’s scored was after his demotion.

The same thing happened to him last season in the latter half of the last year, and he’s picked up right where he left off, which is not a good thing. It’s still early in the season so there’s still time for him to recover, but don’t expect Holland to keep him around forever if he continues to struggle.

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After all, Kassian is not being paid $3.2 million a season for this season and the next 3 to play on the 3rd line. It’s also important to remember he’s only 30 so age is not a factor with him yet.

And in this cap day and age, $3.2 million is still not that much for a top 6 forward.  He could be a valuable commodity at the trade deadline – which this season will likely be around the 42 game mark – and be a trade chip someone would pick up for a playoff run.

If he’s still struggling at that point, I’m willing to bet a 3rd round pick would get a team to take him off our hands.  We could certainly use the cap space, after all.

Contrast this with the performance of Puljujarvi, and it’s not even a contest, anyone with a brain would’ve made this same decision.  Puljujurvi’s been using size and speed to move around the ice, and while he hasn’t lit the lamp yet and has only 2 assists in 9 games, he was flying around the ice and creating chances on the 3rd line.  This was in spite of his linemates, not because of them.

He’s not the same power forward type of player that Kassian is, but he plays a speed and forechecking game that still works with Connor McDavid and Nuge.  After all, if the opposition keys in on Mcdavid, and Nuge is closely guarded, he can always pass the puck to a wide-open Puljujarvi who can put it home.

Puljujarvi is starting to live up to the #4 draft spot we drafted him in and showed that Ken Holland was right to ask for the moon in return for this player when he asked for a trade 2 seasons ago.  Good thing we didn’t trade him and convinced him to come back.

The youngster is only 148 games into his NHL career, so although we don’t completely know what kind of player we have with him yet, by the end of the season we will.  Puljujarvi was well deserving of his promotion, in part because of his own play, and in part, because Kassian’s struggles were welling deserving of a demotion.

Puljujarvi has only played 2 games full time on the 1st line so far, but I like the looks of what I’m seeing.  If Puljujarvi can succeed in keeping that spot, that’ll be the 1st time in many years the Oilers have had a complete top 6.

Something you may not know – Puljujarvi is also tied with Yamamoto for 5th on the team in hits with 13 over the 1st 9 games.  Zack Kassian is 4th with 18, but paradoxically that’s not as impressive because you expect Kassian to be a hitter, you don’t expect Puljujarvi to.

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Also, because Kassian’s hands have gone cold, fat lot of good those hits have done him. The Oilers might – might – keep him for their playoff run this year, but in the offseason, at the latest, he’ll be moved if he struggles the entire season, bank on it.  We watch faithfully and see what happens.