By Rob Tychkowski
Don’t forget about me.
If Jesse Puljujarvi wasn’t saying it, he must have been thinking it after being reduced to spectator status for all but one of the Edmonton Oilers’ first four pre-season games.
But the fourth overall draft pick from a year ago finally got a chance to unwind Saturday and he made the most of it, scoring two goals and an assist in a 6-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
Centre Brad Malone also had a big night, scoring the Oilers first and fifth goals.
“Good game, whole team played good,” said Puljujarvi, who waved off teammate Jussi Jokinen’s translation offer and took the media questions on his own. “Now that it’s my second game I feel more confidence.”
Puljujarvi was actually in spectator mode for much of the first two periods thanks to an endless stream of power plays that thoroughly disrupted the flow. He saw some time on the man advantage but had to cool his heels for long stretches of time while the Oilers were killing penalties.
Head coach Todd McLellan finally bumped him up to the first line with Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon for an opportunity to show more of his stuff and the chemistry was immediate.
“The fact that we’d taken four penalties in the last 12 minutes of the second period took a lot of players out of the game and Jesse was one of them,” said McLellan. “And I thought (Ryan Strome) had to get a little bit harder and a little more competitive, so I was sending him a bit of a message, letting him understand how we do things.”
He set up McDavid for a classic McDavid goal on their first shift together and then pounced on a loose puck after a bad bounce on the end boards to make it 4-2 Edmonton five minutes later. He chopped his second one in off a Jets defenceman to make it 6-2 late in the third.
“Good for him to find those pucks,” said McDavid, who had a three-point night himself. “It takes a good goal scorer to be able to find the puck in traffic and get a shot away.”
It was a much-needed night for the 19-year-old.
“As a young guy, confidence is everything, feeling like you belong in this league, knowing that you can compete and be successful against these guys. For any young player that’s the true battle and hopefully this gives him a little confidence.”
The league is clamping down hard on cheating — forcing players to set up legally and hold their position or else face a penalty — and he, like most centres, is scrambling to reinvent the way he takes a draw.
“You try and adjust as smoothly as possible but you’re so used to the things you’ve been doing the last couple of years it might take a little time,” he said. “It’s definitely harder. You’re not allowed to really get in there and dig. You’re a little farther away so you’re strength is on different points now.”
Having to keep his feet behind the faceoff lines has already forced Mark Letestu to change the way he tries to win a draw.
“Right now the guys with the longer reaches and the big wingspans, it’s easier for them to get over the dot,” he said. “They have a bit of an advantage. For me, a little shorter and further away, I’m still trying to figure out the timing of it and a strategy that’s going to work best.”
No wonder some centres are screaming blue murder about the changes. For some, their faceoff percentage represents a major chunk of their value as a player. Anything that might mess with that has to be a little disarming.
“For every centreman, faceoffs mean ice time,” said Draisaitl. “You want to play as much as possible and if you keep losing draws the coach likely won’t put you out as often. You have to adjust, that’s just how it is.”
To a player, being cut might seem like the biggest setback of his life. But to the organization, it’s simply called development.
So with the final cuts approaching this season, and some high-profile players on the bubble, a guy who’s been there before has these words of advice for anyone who has to make that lonely drive to the airport.
“The biggest thing is dealing with it mentally,” said Darnell Nurse. “You have to continue to carry that belief in yourself and that can be hard. I’ve been through it, being sent down. You’re kind of in the dumps for a bit but you have to get over it. You’re not the first guy to go through it and you definitely won’t be the last.”
“No matter what, for whoever goes through that process it’s going to sting,” said Nurse. “There’s no real easy way to take it. But you see guys bounce back quick because they adjust fast. They go back, put their head down and go to work. It challenges you to be a better player and grow as a person.”
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Source : http://edmontonjournal.com/storyline/puljujarvi-lights-it-up-in-oilers-pre-season-win-over-jets