Jesse Puljujarvi returns to the Edmonton Oilers a more confident player, and thus more confident he can be a regular in the lineup.
The fourth overall pick in the 2016 entry draft by the Oilers did not re-sign with the club last year. Puljujarvi instead played for the Finnish elite league's Karpat last season while Edmonton continued to own his NHL rights.
The Oilers have the 22-year-old under contract again with two-year deal worth US$2.35 million, for an average annual value of $1.175 million, according to CapFriendly.com.
The six-foot-one, 204-pound forward split his first three professional hockey seasons in North America between the Oilers and the club's American Hockey League affiliate.
The 2020-21 NHL season isn't expected to start before Jan. 1, 2021, so Puljujarvi (pronounced poo -lee -AHR -vee) remains with Karpat on loan from the Oilers.
"This one and a half year here, I think it made me more confident," Puljujarvi said Thursday on a conference call from Helsinki, where Karpat faces IFK on Friday.
"I feel like it's going to be a new start. I've grown up as a person and a player. It's really exciting to be back there. I'm ready."
The Oilers hired general manager Ken Holland and head coach Dave Tippett last year. The duo conducted relationship-building conversations with Puljujarvi and his agent this summer to gauge the player's interest in returning to Canada.
"They liked how I'm doing here," Puljujarvi said.
"Those calls that I had with Holland and Tippett, it feels like they really want me to be there and help the team. I feel I can do that."
The winger led Karpat in scoring and ranked fourth in the league in 2019-20 with 24 goals and 29 assists in 56 games.
In four playoff games, Puljujarvi contributed two goals and two assists.
"Sixty games and tried to be every night the best player on the ice," he said. "It helped me a lot be a better player."
Puljujarvi compiled 17 goals and 20 assists in 139 games with the Oilers over three seasons. He totalled 15 goals and 22 assists in 53 AHL games in that span.
He's played two games and scored once for Karpat to kick off this season.
Puljujarvi says the Finnish league will give him a head start on Oilers training camp, whenever that happens.
"If everything goes well, I can have 28, almost 30 games," he said. "For sure it's helping. Get good minutes and there are good teams too."
Born in Sweden to Finnish parents, Puljujarvi grew up in Finland from the age of four and represents that country internationally.
He won gold at both the world junior championships and world under-18 championships in 2016.
Puljujarvi was named the most valuable player of the world junior tournament that year. He led the tournament in scoring with five goals and a dozen assists in seven games.
Puljujarvi says he's been practising his English with Karpat teammates Cody Kunyk of Sherwood Park, Alta., and defenceman Shaun Heska of Melville, Sask.
"I feel it's worked," Puljujarvi said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2020.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press