One thing that Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes doesn’t do is be cautious for the faint of heart, as evidenced by his penchant for big trades.
Whether it be Kirby Dach, Alex Newhook, Ben Chiarot, or Tyler Toffoli, Hughes has a mission, and nothing will stop him. Hughes has shown a particular interest in acquiring younger players who have yet to break out and are falling out of favour with their current organization.
As mentioned above Hughes wanted Dach and Newhook and left no stone unturned to acquire both assets. Generally acquiring valuable assets could be costly, and the draft has proven to be the best way to do so, but sometimes teams give up on a guy early. This can be a huge benefit for a team willing to take a chance, and Hughes might have another viable option to take a swing on. Jesse Puljujarvi is the player in question, as he remains unsigned after a season that saw him split time between the Edmonton Oilers and Carolina Hurricanes.
Puljujarvi was selected in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft with fourth overall, by the Edmonton Oilers. The 6’4″ Finnish winger played 317 games for the Oilers, and minus his final season in Edmonton, he has been a sure bet to hit the 20-point mark. This isn’t exactly something to call home about, given where he was selected in the draft; so it wasn’t a huge shock when he was dealt to the Hurricanes in exchange for forward Patrik Puistola.
His lone season in Carolina came during the second half of the 2022-23 campaign, and through 17 games he managed just two points. He would suit up for seven playoff games for the Canes, and he recorded a single assist. Currently a UFA, he is yet to be tendered an offer, and with training camp fast approaching the time is now for a team to take a chance on him, as Carolina doesn’t look to be interested.
Why Hughes Should Consider Puljujarvi
The package is intriguing when you discuss Puljujarvi and it is concerning that he hasn’t yet put it all together, but it’s not unknown that bigger players sometimes take a little more time. Tage Thompson and Roope Hintz serve as two examples of players who didn’t find their footing right away but they have developed into studs. I am not comparing Puljujarvi to them, as that wouldn’t be fair to them, nor him, in having unreal expectations for the former Oilers selection.
There is a ton of young talent coming up through the rankings, and with a good amount of them still needing some seasoning in the AHL, Puljujarvi could take advantage of his NHL experience. With expectations for the Canadiens to stay healthy, and move forward with their development, less pressure could allow Puljujarvi to find his footing. In Edmonton and Carolina, making the playoffs is the expectation and anything less is a disappointment.
If Puljujarvi doesn’t work out, then you cut your losses and move on, but if he does, Hughes could make out like a bandit, and just extend him next summer if he wishes to. A low-risk, one-year pact could give Puljujarvi some running room to try and get back to growing into a solid NHL player. Like Lias Andersson, who I forgot to mention earlier, Puljujarvi was a high first-round selection, and has disappointed so far, but if you can get third-line potential from two guys that cost so little, why wouldn’t you take a chance?
Hughes has proven to be a guy who manages his assets extremely well, he knows what he is doing, and his interest in developing a winning culture is his number one priority. Low-risk, solid potential moves have benefited the Habs in a big way, Arber Xhekaj is another great example, yes it was a Marc Bergevin move, but it has worked out great to this point. Young talent, and developing players the right way is the philosophy in Montreal, and giving players a boost of confidence by giving them another chance, could blend nicely with it.
Puljujarvi needs a team to believe in him and give him another chance, and Hughes likes to bring in players who are willing to work hard to get the results they’re seeking. This could be a great move, and the Habs have nothing to lose by bringing him in. Internal competition is best for a rebuilding team, iron sharpens iron, and the energy from the young guys could bring the best out of the 25-year-old. Training camp is almost here, and another 6’4″ player on the ice with top-nine potential has a nice ring to it.
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