Jesse Puljujarvi of the Edmonton Oilers.
When you look back to 2019, it didn’t seem likely those words would be strung together in 2021. Back then, Puljujarvi, the Oilers’ fourth overall pick in 2016, was going to play in Finland. It appeared his NHL career would resume only if he wasn’t an Oiler.
The tide turned in 2020 with general manager Ken Holland getting Puljujarvi, 22, back in orange and blue and hoping to build on a season-and-a-half in Finland.
“My strength, how I can protect back. That’s one thing for sure helps on the small ice for sure. Confidence with the puck. I can play a north-and-back game,” Puljujarvi said of his improvements in his home country.
“Jesse looks huge. He’s the biggest guy on the ice, and he has the hands to go with it,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse.
“He came back hungry to play a complete 200-foot game. You see him out there, he has all the tools and the right attitude.”
Puljujarvi said he feels like he’s fitting in with his teammates, who aren’t dwelling on the fact that he once appeared done with the organization.
“Really good. There’s not any problems. It’s been really fun. I give some jokes and they ask me many questions. There’s a good feeling,” Puljujarvi said after Tuesday’s practice. “Win games, be a good teammate.”
“I don’t think it really needs to be touched on,” said forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“I think he’s really worked on his English a lot. His attitude is he wants to be here. He wants to do what he can to be part of this group.”
While in Finland, Puljujarvi spent time with English-speaking teammates and watched a lot of YouTube to improve his language skills.
“My English is better,” he said. “Communication with coaches and players is different. You speak better, you play better.”
Watch below: Some Global News videos about Jesse Puljujarvi.
Many Oilers will spend Tuesday night watching the World Junior gold medal game between Canada and the United States.
“I got to be part of a really good team that year,” said defenceman Caleb Jones, who won gold with the Americans in 2017. “We were able to beat Canada in a shootout in Montreal. It’s probably one of the most memorable games of my career.”
“I’ve watched most of their games so far. They’ve been playing some great hockey,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who played for Canada in 2013. “Definitely looking forward to tonight. Against the (United) States is always a great rivalry.”