The Edmonton Oilers are 6-3-1 heading into tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild. This week has potential, as the Oilers will play two teams on the second half of a back-to-back and arguably the NHL’s worst team in the Detroit Red Wings. With expectations being raised a bit, I don’t think asking for a 2-1-0 week is asking too much.
If the Oilers can do that, they will sit at 8-4-1 and be in very good position early in the second month of the season. I still don’t know if this team makes the playoffs, but their performance in the season’s first ten games has firmly put them in the conversation.
If they are going to make a push for the playoffs, they’ll need to address their biggest roster weakness right now. No, it’s not the defense. The biggest weakness on this Edmonton roster is the right wing depth chart.
The Kids Aren’t Alright:
Jesse Puljujarvi dominated the preseason, but has sat in each of the last three contests after starting the season 1-0-1 in seven games. Kailer Yamamoto, meanwhile, has just 1-1-2 through ten tilts.
I’m a huge fan of both of these players and firmly believe that they are both part of the future in Edmonton. In fact, I don’t think this organization can win a Stanley Cup without both of these players emerging as legit top-nine NHL’ers in the coming seasons.
The future is bright for both of these guys, but the present is a time of development. Yamamoto plays hard and earned his spot in the preseason. He’s a smart hockey player and is getting to the right spots more often than not. That being said, he’s still learning the pro game and is still trying to figure out how to consistently provide offense at this level.
Puljujarvi, meanwhile, is still working on the consistency of his game. I don’t think the big Finn gets nearly enough credit for how good his two-way game and hockey IQ are. The coach isn’t using him in a prime spot right now, and JP is being punished for not being able to generate offense on a lesser line.
His confidence is shot right now, and I think the best thing for him is a trip to the AHL where he can play a major role, work on some areas of his game and dominate.
The Oilers need both of these players to produce and be big parts of the lineup not just right now, but moving forward. Their development is a major key into a potential championship window for this club.
I think both are close to being impact NHL’ers, but right now both look like they could use a month down in Bakersfield under the watch of Jay Woodcroft, who has Cameron Hebig and Tyler Benson off to great starts.
I feel for Ty Rattie. He got the chance of a lifetime and dominated the preseason. He was good, not great, to open the season and then got hurt in game four. He’s still out of the lineup, and is likely at least two weeks away from returning.
Zack Kassian, meanwhile, has simply been ineffective for the Oilers so far. He’s not playing his trademark style and has been liable to take dumb penalties at bad times for this hockey club. On top of that, he’s been give permission to seek a trade out of Edmonton, indicating that the end may be near.
What Could Be Next?:
If the Oilers keep winning games, I think Peter Chiarelli will tinker with the roster. He knows his (and Todd McLellan’s) job status hinges on if this team can make the playoffs this season. I firmly believe that Chiarelli will address roster holes during the season to ensure this team has at least a prayer of playing meaningful games in April.
A Jesse Puljujarvi assignment appears to be a matter of time, perhaps a matter of hours at this point. He has no confidence right now, and it appears his coach doesn’t have the confidence in him to perform at the NHL level at this time. There is a lot of smoke surrounding JP heading out at this moment, and I think the smart money is on exactly that happening at some point this week.
A Kassian trade is also possible, but I think unlikely. The ideal situation, as I wrote yesterday, would be that Kassian regains his 2016-17 form and emerges as a solid bottom-six player for the Oilers. I still believe he is capable of doing just that. On top of that, Edmonton likely isn’t going to be willing to eat salary on the veteran both this year and next.
Edmonton should be looking at teams like Detroit, the Rangers, Islanders and Senators for rental depth at right wing. This team has a chance to return to the playoffs in the spring. In order to do that, they’ll need to address the right wing position. The first dominoe is likely to fall this week with the assignment of Jesse Puljujarvi to Bakersfield.