Right Wing Needs: Making a Strong Case For Puljujärvi and 3 others

Ah the off season. That’s when hockey thirsty fans can’t get enough hockey fix but have very little to feed on. So what happens? They revert to their team and play General Managers. How can we blame them? For one, it’s fun to try to be in the most important seat on a hockey team. But also, you get to share what you feel is the value of different players… in your eyes. Some of those value can be spot on, others… well, not so much. But let it be known that those who know more about the value of player X or player Y are the GMs, the real ones. They are the ones on the phone throwing names around and negotiating. That said, it won’t stop us from speculating.

Establishing the needs for your favourite team is often rather simple. The divergence of opinions within the same fanbase often sits on the evaluation fans and media make of the team they follow. For example, we’ve touched on what I personally feel the value of Max Domi might be on the trade market and a few names of players he could fetch. Someone else will feel completely different about Domi’s value and that’s perfectly fine.

Matt Smith, a cyber friend of mine on Twitter (@Snakebite350), recently created a poll which launched a fun debate on my own Twitter timeline. Matt was asking whom, between Jesse Puljujärvi, Josh Anderson, Jake Virtanen or… Shayne Gostisbehere fans would like to see in a Habs’ jersey. Answering the poll, I struggle between Puljujärvi and Anderson, finalizing my choice on the Finnish stand out.

Top candidates

Going under the consensus that one of the Canadiens’ biggest need is a top-6 right winger to help out Brendan Gallagher, here are a few choices I feel might be available or at the very least, worth inquiring about:

Jesse Puljujärvi

DRAFTED2016 round 1 #4 overall by Edmonton Oilers

Let’s get one thing clear here: Puljujärvi not a headcase and doesn’t have an attitude problem. He left the Oilers because he was tired of bouncing up and down between the AHL and the NHL. He suffered a few coaching changes that only created confusion in his development. He is exactly the type of deal that Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin likes: a calculated risk. Depending on the price to pay to acquire him. The ceiling is still very high on him. He finished last season with Kärpät in Liiga with 24 goals, 29 assists, 53 points, 52 penalty minutes and a plus -30 differential in 56 games. Here’s what Elite Prospects, gathering scouts’ comments, has to say about Puljujärvi:

Puljujärvi is a big winger who combines size, skating and skill. A strong skater who can blast past the opposition in full speed. Able to use his size, reach and stickhandling skills to retain the puck in speed. A smart player at both ends of the ice, both on and off the puck. Great work ethic and positive attitude. More of a playmaker than a scorer and could improve his shooting skills, although already equipped with an accurate release. Doesn’t shy away from physical play, but could use his size more to his benefit.

The Canadiens already have Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen from Finland on their team. They also own the rights to Jesse Ylönen who will be making the jump to North America this upcoming season (COVID-19 permitting) and should be playing with Otto Leskinen in Laval. Joni Ikonen is still playing in Liiga. What does that change? Familiarity. No one available has the skills and the tools this guy has.

I’ve seen flashes of brilliance in his last season in Edmonton, to the point where he stood out of the crowd. But he was lost without the puck and that’s totally coachable. He would be my number one choice, depending on the asking price. It’s a risk but he’s young and the potential is definitely there for the taking. Further, we know he’s available. It’s no secret that the Oilers are trying to trade him as he won’t return to Edmonton.

Josh Anderson

DRAFTED2012 round 4 #95 overall by Columbus Blue Jackets

Big body, one season removed from a 27-goals’ season, he is as physical as they come. And he’s big. Anderson was limited to 26 games during the regular season and he was sidelined since December 14th due to a shoulder injury. He only managed one goal, three assists and was minus -8 by that time. He underwent surgery in March and didn’t get clearance to play during the COVID Cup.

So there are question marks on the severity of the injury and for physical players, shoulders are a huge part of their game. Take that away from Anderson and you don’t have the same player. Some serious medical testing would have to be done to ensure the success of the surgery in order to make a deal worthwhile. He is currently a restricted free agent with arbitration eligibility and he’s due for a substantial raise. The scouting report on him from the Forecaster is as follow:

Versatile, he was a big scorer in the junior ranks but also an accomplished role player. Works hard and isn’t shy about playing a physical brand of hockey. Owns terrific size, too. Needs to avoid taking bad penalties and must always stay in control of the situation. May not score enough in the National Hockey League to play a top-six forward role.
Long Range Potential: Big, versatile and gritty winger with some upside.

Tyler Toffoli

AGE28DATE OF BIRTHApril 24, 1992
DRAFTED2010 round 2 #47 overall by Los Angeles Kings

Toffoli is a pending UFA who had a $4.8 million cap hit on his last contract. He was traded for the first time at trade deadline to the Canucks. A perennial 20+ goals’ scorer, he reached that plateau again with a production of 24 goals, 20 assists for 44 points in 68 games this season. The Canucks would like to keep him but they are in cap problems, particularly that it’s not going up next season. They have Jacob Markström to sign and a few RFAs too. They are apparently contemplating trading Virtanen and/or Brock Boeser in order to fit everyone under their cap. Here’s what the Forecaster has to say about Toffoli:

Is highly skilled and plays with excellent anticipation and patience. Boasts a quick release and a good shot. Can get red-hot in the goal-scoring department. Skates well and is also a solid penalty-killing option. Can lose board battles because he does not have elite physical strength, so he could stand to bulk up even more. Can go through as many dry spells as hot spells in the offensive department at the National Hockey League level.
Long Range Potential: Quality goal scorer and two-way winger.

Brock Boeser

AGE23DATE OF BIRTHFebruary 25, 1997
DRAFTED2015 round 1 #23 overall by Vancouver Canucks

Boeser is a very interesting option. He has two years left to his contract which has a cap hit of $5.875 million but he’s a RFA at the end, so still belonging to the team which own his rights. He had a bit of a drop (to his standards) in goals’ production last season with 16 goals in 57 games, but he has 75 goals in 197 career games so far in his young career. From seeing him first hand here in BC, I can tell you that this guy has a deadly wrist shot and snapshot. He releases it quickly and accurately too. His issue so far? Staying healthy. Prior to this past season, he has played 62 games (29 goals) in 2017-18 and 69 games (26 goals) in 2018-19. The Forecaster has this on him:

A true offensive weapon from the wing position, he has great puck skills and a very quick release. Sees the ice well and is a great passer, too. Has above-average scoring upside for the National Hockey League. Needs to improve his overall play when he doesn’t have the puck, especially in terms of defensive-zone coverage. Must also fill out his frame and get stronger physically to win more battles at the highest level.
Long Range Potential: Talented offensive winger with good upside.

You will notice that I did not put Virtanen down as to me, he’s a quality bottom-six player who can fill-in from time to time on the top lines. At least, that’s my opinion and in Canucks’ coach Travis Green‘s mind base on his playing time.

Finding the right fit at the right price

There is little doubt in my opinion which player is the best fit for the Canadiens. I’d definitely go with Puljujärvi as my number one choice. Skills which include size, speed, hands, vision, youth, affinity with the other Finnish players and prospects on the team, he checks every boxes the Canadiens need. The question mark remains how much he will adapt to the NHL. But if this guy reaches anywhere close to the potential teams saw in him prior to the NHL Draft, getting your hands on him could be a steal. And we know how good Bergevin is at finding gems and winning trades. Go Habs Go!

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