Jesse Puljujärvi must have been smiling after he had two goals and an assist to lead Edmonton to a 4-1 victory over Vancouver on the first day of the YoungStars Classic tournament. Fellow Finnish high 2016 draft picks Markus Niemeläinen and Olli Juolevi also helped the Oilers and Canucks, respectively.
The Columbus Blue Jackets’ loss could be the Edmonton Oilers’ gain if an early game in the YoungStars Classic is an accurate indication.
The big Finn began paying the Oilers back Friday night with two goals and an assist in a 4-1 victory over Vancouver, which is hosting the weekend tournament for young prospects from the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Oilers and Canucks in the Interior city of Penticton.
In another Friday game, Calgary downed Winnipeg 4-1.
The 6-3, 203-pound Puljujärvi demonstrated a range of offensive skills, potting one goal on a back-door tap-in, making no mistake on a one-timer and helping to put the game away by assisting on an empty-net score. He did all this after minor knee surgery in March.
So far, knowing barely any English and learning the North American game are being trumped by pure hockey talent. Finns typically play a more physical game than in other European nations, so this can’t hurt his transition.
Ditto for Markus Niemeläinen, a sky-scraping 6-6, 205-pound blueliner who opened scoring with a shorthander just 4:07 into the game on a deflection past Thatcher Demko. Edmonton drafted the surprisingly mobile Niemeläinen in the third round this year, 63rd overall.
Demko, a future NHL star, had no chance on the first two Edmonton goals.
The Canucks tried to counter the Oilers’ two Finns with one of their own, their fifth overall selection in this year’s draft. Sparkplug defenseman Olli Juolevi lived up to his billing as an intelligent, trustworthy young blueliner by playing a smart, dependable game in which he demonstrated his good hands, skating and all-around sound play.
Tyler Benson, whose injury-riddled draft year dropped him to 32nd overall in the 2016 draft, missed Friday’s game due to a shoulder injury. The Oilers hope the talented left winger can put his physical ailments behind him and have a productive WHL season in Vancouver.
Flames 4 Jets 1
Winnipeg has one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, but Calgary’s young guns outshot their counterparts from Manitoba two to one.
Andrew Mangiapone, Austin Carroll, Ryan Longberg and Matthew Phillips scored for the winners, who fired 42 shots on the Calgary net. Jansen Harkins had the only goal for Winnipeg, which led after a period before the Jets took off.
Goalie-of-the future Jon Gillies played the whole game for Calgary.
- The sons of two former NHL bad boys tangled in the game.
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary’s sixth-overall selection, earned some of his 16 total penalty minutes by leveling Brendan Lemieux with a high first-period elbow, then pummeling his prone victim. Tkachuk is a son of rough power forward Keith Tkachuk while Lemieux is a son of Claude Lemieux, a notorious instigator who is still hated by Red Wing fans for ramming Kris Draper head first into the boards in the 1996 playoffs.
When not playing a tough physical game, Matthew Tkachuk displays a lot of hockey skill:
- The Flames play the Oilers today and the Canucks face the Jets on Sunday. The tournament ends Monday with the Oilers squaring off against the Jets and the Canucks taking on the Flames.
- Winnipeg’s young roster is without second-overall pick Patrik Laine because the sniping right winger is with Team Finland in the World Cup of Hockey.