Hockey begins today. The Edmonton Oilers will see their rookies report this afternoon ahead of Saturday night’s game against the Calgary Flames rookies in Red Deer. It will be the first of two rookie games prior to the open of main camp next week. For the first time in years, Edmonton Oilers training camp is going to be interesting.
The bad news is the team still has a number of holes in the lineup. The good news? The club has a plethora of options, both veterans and youngsters from Bakersfield, fighting for roster spots. That means we will see a handful of training camp battles over the next month.
There is also a chance that GM Ken Holland is not yet done making moves. The Oilers are a candidate to bring in a player or two on a PTO, while the club is still appealing to free agents because of the opportunity they can provide.
If you predicted a full roster for opening night today, it’s almost a lock that you’ll get multiple skaters wrong. This is a fluid team that will see lots of competition prior to October 2nd.
What battles will take center stage in the coming weeks? We can dissect that by looking at the locks on the roster currently.
The Roster Locks:
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
James Neal – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – XXX
Markus Granlund – XXX – Josh Archibald
XXX – XXX – XXX
Darnell Nurse – Adam Larsson
Oscar Klefbom – XXX
Kris Russell – XXX
Among locks up front, expect Sam Gagner, Alex Chiasson and Jujhar Khaira to join the group listed above. Why aren’t they listed on the depth chart? Their role on the team is very much up for debate.
As an example, both Gagner and Khaira will fight for the third line center job, but if they come up short the expectation is both will land on the wing. Will Chiasson start in the top-six? My bet is yes, but he is far from an ideal candidate for that job.
Forwards like Gaetan Haas, Joakim Nygard, Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, Joe Gambardella, Tomas Jurco and Colby Cave will all have a shot at the NHL roster. Marody is applying for a skilled forward job, and the competition in front of him isn’t very good.
Haas is another candidate for the third line center job, but also will fight Cave for the fourth line center job. He scored 15 goals in Switzerland a season ago. Nygard, who finished second in the SHL in goals last season, brings speed and skill to the table. He could earn a top-six job.
There are a number of battles that we will see in camp. I count the third line center position, fourth line center, second line wing, second pairing right defender, third pairing right defender, seventh defender and both extra forward spots as up for grabs.
In fact, one could argue that both fourth line winger spots are up for grabs too. I’d suggest that Khaira and Gagner will slide into those roles if they miss out on the third line center gig.
The Oilers are likely going to miss the playoffs this season, but they could find some long-term solutions to key roster problems. The journey to those answers begins next week in camp. There are plenty of battles to be won and plenty of candidates fighting to keep their NHL dream alive.
It’ll be a fun few weeks, and over the next few days we’ll break down each of the pending battles.