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Oilers’ Draisaitl on Jesse Puljujarvi: ‘It seems like he doesn’t want to be on our team’

Leon Draisaitl hopes Jesse Puljujarvi has a change of heart.

If he doesn’t and snubs a potential return to the Edmonton Oilers’ fold, that’s also fine.

“You want guys to pan out and you want guys to help you on your team,” Draisaitl said. “It seems like he doesn’t want to be on our team as of right now.

“Maybe that changes.”

Puljujarvi has failed to gain much traction with the Oilers since being selected fourth overall at the 2016 NHL draft, registering a paltry 17 goals and 37 points in 139 games over parts of three seasons.

The 21-year-old restricted free agent has requested a trade out of the Alberta capital, and signed a deal for the upcoming campaign with a Finnish club that reportedly includes an opt-out clause until Dec. 1 should he get the deal he wants in North America.

Puljujarvi underwent surgery on both hips in March after putting up just four goals and five assists in 46 games in 2018-19. He’s added 15 goals and 37 points in 53 contests with Edmonton’s AHL affiliate since 2016.

Choosing his words carefully on the topic Wednesday at the annual BioSteel camp, Draisaitl said he didn’t get any indication Puljujarvi was unhappy in Edmonton.

“He’s a young guy that obviously doesn’t feel like he wants to play for us anymore,” said the 23-year-old German. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Draisaitl, who scored 50 goals and 105 points last season, was more candid about the Oilers’ hopes moving forward as the franchise looks to turn the page following an especially tumultuous 12 months — even by Edmonton’s standards.

The team fired head coach Todd McLellan and general manager Peter Chiarelli before the all-star break, and wound up missing the playoffs by 11 points despite Draisaitl finishing fourth in league scoring, two spots back of Oilers captain Connor McDavid (41 goals, 116 points).

All told, Draisaitl, McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins provided 52 per cent of the Oilers’ goals (119 of 229), but it wasn’t nearly enough to drag a top-heavy roster into the post-season.

Turning things around

“Really frustrating,” said Draisaitl, the first member of the organization to score 50 goals since 1986-87. “It’s a team sport and we all play the game to make the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup. We don’t play games to break records.

“You play the game to be successful as a team and we haven’t been doing that. Hopefully we can turn things around.”

With that in mind, Edmonton hired Ken Holland as GM and Dave Tippett as head coach in an attempt to bring some semblance of calm to an organization that’s missed the playoffs three of the last four seasons, and 12 of the last 13 overall.

Holland took a scalpel to his roster, dealing Milan Lucic’s albatross contract to the Calgary Flames for fellow underperforming winger James Neal, a former 40-goal man coming off a season that saw him put the puck in the net just seven times.

“Hopefully he can get back to producing,” said Draisaitl, the third pick in the 2014 draft.

Veteran goalie Mike Smith jumped from the Flames to the Oilers in free agency, while depth forward Markus Granlund did the same from the Vancouver Canucks. Edmonton also has some intriguing defence prospects, including 2018 first-round pick Evan Bouchard.

McDavid wouldn’t say if he thinks the Oilers are good enough to make the playoffs when speaking here Monday, but Draisaitl was more definitive in his belief with training camp set to open in two weeks.

“We made some good changes,” said the six-foot-two, 208-pound Cologne product. “Hopefully we can change a few things and get over the hump.”

Draisaitl has split time between McDavid’s wing and centring his own line in recent years, and said he’ll be fine with however Tippett chooses to deploy his forwards.

“It’s up to the coach,” said Draisaitl, who’s entering the third season of the eight-year, US$68-million contract he signed in August 2017. “I’ll play my best wherever that is.”

Draisaitl is taking part in the BioSteel camp — held this year at the University of Toronto — for the first time. The high-performance showcase brings together a number of NHLers, including McDavid and Oilers teammate Darnell Nurse, as players ramp up preparations for the season.

McDavid focused on injury recovery

McDavid is skipping this year’s event, choosing instead to skate and rehab on his own following a scary knee injury suffered at the end of last season when he tore his posterior cruciate ligament.

While the superstar centre said Monday he’s “working towards” being ready for training camp, Draisaitl isn’t overly concerned about his status.

“It’s a major injury that needs to healed fully to get back into contact,” said the German. “He has people around him that know exactly what schedule he’s on and know exactly what he needs.

“He will make the right decisions.”

After setting career-highs in goals, assists and points, Draisaitl decided to spend the summer focusing on other aspects of his game with an eye towards getting the Oilers into the post-season.

He hopes it’s enough.

“There’s always things that you can improve,” Draisaitl said. “I would like to be productive again and get to those numbers, but at the same time there’s things I can work on or get better at away from the puck.

“It’s a team game.”

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