The biggest issue, in my mind, during the 2017-18 season was the complete lack of offense from the wings in Edmonton. The Oilers may have found a solution on the left side with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but it won’t be enough.
Even if Ty Rattie pans out on McDavid’s right side, the Oilers are still two wingers short of a top-six. Bottom line is, Milan Lucic simply wasn’t good enough last season to play in the top-six, while Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto have yet to prove they can handle the role over the course of an 82-game season.
Adding a low-risk veteran option has to be appealing to Peter Chiarelli, who has mentioned that adding skill on the wing is a priority this coming summer. Thomas Vanek, a natural goal scorer, could be exactly what the doctor ordered for Edmonton.
Why Is He Out There?:
After a tough post-deadline run with Florida in 2017, Vanek hit the free agent market and didn’t garner much interest last summer. He signed on with Vancouver late and played a complementary role to the Sedin twins, posting solid numbers. He garnered enough interest at the deadline to be shipped to Columbus, where he played very well in 19 regular season games.
With some young players pushing through the system and some key guys needing extensions, it’s more than likely that Vanek will end up being nothing more than a rental for the Blue Jackets. That would set him free on July 1st for the third year in a row.
What Does He Do Well?:
Vanek is a goal scorer, plain and simple. He’s scored at least 15 goals in every season since entering the NHL in 2005-06, and has hit the 20 goal mark eleven times. Vanek isn’t a perfect player, he has warts defensively, but he’s a very talented goal scorer who will complement your stars quite nicely.
After posting 17-24-41 in 61 games with Vancouver, Vanek was shipped to Columbus at the deadline for the final 19 games. He didn’t disappoint, posting 7-8-15, just shy of a point-per-game. In six playoff games, Vanek recorded just one goal and one assist for two points.
A right-shot forward, Vanek mostly plays on the left-side but can shift over and play right wing if needed. That allows him to be an option for both the McDavid and Draisaitl lines, giving Todd McLellan some flexibility when it comes to the lineup.
Here’s a look at the 34-year old’s scouting report via The Hockey News:
Assets: Is a natural goal-scorer with plenty of size who can do a lot of damage in front of the net. A superior shot tipper, he owns the hands of a true sniper and is usually in the right place at the right time. Can really shoot the biscuit. Passes well, too. Can also line up on either side of center.
Flaws: Is not a great skater, so he tends to struggle when his positioning leaves him. Could stand to play a more abrasive game, which could provide him with more space on the ice, but that is simply not his style (and never will be). Takes a few too many shifts off at this point in his career.
Career Potential: Veteran scoring winger in decline.
Where Will He Play/Where Should He Play?:
Vanek’s best days are certainly behind him, but he’s still a viable option as a complementary piece in the top-six. His scoring touch isn’t what it was during the late 2000’s, but he’s still a threat to score 20 goals. Edmonton doesn’t have many guys like that.
He’s a top-six forward that would play that exact role with the Oilers, likely on the second line with Draisaitl.
Vanek will be eligible for a Seattle expansion draft, but it won’t be a factor. Expansion is still likely two-to-three summers away and I can’t see Vanek getting a three-year deal at his age.
What Will He Cost?:
Vanek is coming off of a one-year contract that paid him $2,000,000. I think an identical contract could get the deal done with him on July 1st. This contract won’t break the bank.
Peter Chiarelli has to add a veteran top-six winger this summer, I really don’t think there is any argument there. After losing Anton Slepyshev to the KHL and disappointing years from Drake Caggiula and Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton needs cover.
Vanek isn’t a long-term solution, but he’s a plug-and-play for the next year or two that should contribute 15-20 goals. That has value, especially on a team that is dying for offense from the wing.
If the price remains around $2,000,000 per year, the Oilers would be foolish to not place a call on Vanek. He could help the team today and provide cover for promising youngsters like Puljujarvi and Yamamoto.