Over the course of the next few days, I’m going to ramp up the “How To Fix The Edmonton Oilers” series by taking a deep dive into the roster. Fixing hockey operations and the coach is imperative, but getting a better roster is going to be the biggest key. If the Oilers want to return to the playoffs next season, they’ll need to acquire more speed and more skill.
Today, we will take a look at what the Oilers can take from this year’s roster and comfortably pencil in on next year’s depth chart. That will tell us what the holes are, and what the next GM needs to accomplish.
Let’s get started, shall we?
It’s amazing, really, how Peter Chiarelli absolutely scorched Edmonton’s forward ranks. When he arrived in Edmonton, the Oilers had the makings of a special group up front that was just waiting for Leon Draisaitl to come into his own and for Connor McDavid to arrive. Now? It’s those two and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doing their best to drag an overmatched group on a nightly basis.
The Oilers severely bled talent out over the course of Chiarelli’s tenure and it shows. Up front, the club is in a far worse position than they were at the end of the 2014-15 season and that is saying a lot. It’s grim up front, no two ways about it.
I’d argue that, as of this writing, the Oilers only have three top-six forwards at the NHL level. They are McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins. All three should be considered untouchable this summer, as they are huge parts of this team. McDavid is arguably the best player in the world, while Draisaitl is now a proven top line forward in this league. RNH as your second line center? Perfect.
I’d argue the Oilers have a pair of third line wingers on the roster and a fourth line winger that could be brought back next season in the form of Jujhar Khaira, Sam Gagner and Zack Kassian. After that, I believe every NHL veteran is expendable.
There are two wild cards within the system, Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi. The fact of the matter is, both of these players have yet to establish themselves as NHL players and should not be counted on to play major roles next season.
The Oilers might not have a choice, but Yamamoto’s best spot might be to start next season in Bakersfield. Puljujarvi? I think he’s destined to be traded this off-season as part of a package for a more established forward, likely a top-six forward.
Based on this year’s group, here is what the Oilers have to work with heading into the summer. Of course, this could change in the coming days but I wouldn’t hold my breath on a meaningful addition.
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – XXX
XXX – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – XXX
Jujhar Khaira – XXX – Sam Gagner
XXX – XXX – Zack Kassian
Colby Cave, XXX
I’d wager that as many as three of those vacant spots will be filled by internal options. Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody could both force their way onto the NHL roster, while both Yamamoto and Puljujarvi remain wild cards heading into the summer.
I’m not willing to pencil any of those four onto the NHL roster right now, but I’d bet at least one and as many as three of them are with Edmonton on opening night. That still means multiple forward additions, including at least one impact player.
There’s a lot of work to do up front.
The Oilers’ situation on defense, interestingly enough, is far less dire. Will it be an ideal group next season? No, it will not, but there is a lot bubbling under here.
Edmonton has two proven top-four defenders in Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson. Both of these players are part of the solution and both have shown chemistry together since Larsson came over in 2016. They should be written into next year’s depth chart in pen.
Darnell Nurse is a popular trade piece among Oiler fans, but he’s a decent second pairing defender who is only getting better. He’s close with McDavid and part of the young core, so you can pencil him into next year’s group as well.
If healthy, Andrej Sekera is the wild card. He’s going to need the rest of this season and the World Championships to get up to speed, but Sekera is a really steady defender and the Oil have missed his on-ice play and veteran leadership. If he’s good to go, I keep him around for next season.
Kris Russell is likely to be back, although I would explore trading him. He’s a real nice third pairing D, but he’s vastly overpaid for that role. Matt Benning, Alex Petrovic and Kevin Gravel are likely playing their final games as members of the Oilers.
Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse – Andrej Sekera
Caleb Jones – Kris Russell
I don’t love these defensive pairings, but they make sense. When healthy, we know what Klefbom-Larsson is capable of, while both Nurse and Sekera are top-four defenders when healthy.
I don’t love Russell with Jones, but in a sheltered third pairing role they should be fine together. I also think by this time next season, we will have seen or be seeing Jones emerge in a big way.
The Oil could re-sign Gravel, but I think they’ll change out their seventh defender.
Whether it is Keith Gretzky, Laurence Gilman or Kelly McCrimmon, the man named GM of the Edmonton Oilers will have his work cut out for him. The Oilers have a lot of needs and not a lot of cap space or assets.
By my count, here is what the next GM will need to acquire before the start of next season:
- Three top-six forwards. The most likely solution is a trade to fill one spot, Yamamoto/Puljujarvi for one spot and a free agent for the other. It’ll be a tight squeeze.
- A third and fourth line center. Kyle Brodziak very well could return as 4C but I’d look to upgrade.
- A fourth line left winger. Tyler Benson anyone?
- A seventh defender. Could be Gravel or any bargain UFA.