When the puck drops on the Edmonton Oilers’ play-in series against the Chicago Blackhawks, things will be very different than they were in March. For one, the games will be held in hub cities with no fans. For another, rosters will be expanded to handle potential injury and illness.
The expectation is that teams will be allowed to carry roughly 27 skaters and unlimited goalies. Although nothing is set in stone, this appears to be the direction that the NHL is headed in.
Oilers GM Ken Holland met with the media on Wednesday, and gave his opinion on what his roster could look like in July or August. According to Reid Wilkins of 630 CHED, Holland said the team will carry ten defensemen into the playoffs.
When it comes to forwards, the expectation is 16-17. Holland also made sure to note that teams are still waiting on exact roster size instructions from the league and the NHLPA.
So, going by Holland’s guidelines, what will the Oilers look like come playoff time?
Let’s say Holland elects to go with 17 forwards for the postseason. The list is pretty easy at the top, but there are some serious questions for the last few spots. Let’s start by looking at the projected top-six forwards for Dave Tippett.
James Neal – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
All six of these skaters are locks to make the playoff roster. That’s obvious. Also locked into the roster are Josh Archibald, Riley Sheahan, Andreas Athanasiou, Jujhar Khaira, Alex Chiasson and Tyler Ennis.
That brings us to 12 forwards, leaving five spots.
Bob Stauffer, host of 630 CHED’s ‘Oilers Now’ and color commentator for the club’s radio broadcasts, named Joakim Nygard and Gaetan Haas as two of the 14 forwards on his depth chart. When Stauffer speaks, it is wise to listen. Both of these European additions will be on the playoff roster.
Three spots left.
Tyler Benson made his NHL debut this season and got two cups of coffee with the Oilers. He’s one of the top forward prospects in the system, and has experience in the NHL. He has been an impact AHL player for two seasons now, and could make a push for a roster spot in Edmonton in the fall. He’s likely the first Condors player to get the call.
Markus Granlund signed on July 1st with an eye towards playing in the bottom-six and earning penalty killing time. He was strong on the PK, but Granlund never did stick with the Oilers. He ended the season with the Condors, but is very likely to be called up for the postseason. He’s proven he can play in the NHL, and should provide the Oilers with depth should injuries hit.
That leaves one last spot. There are numerous options top fill it. If the club wants to go with skill, Cooper Marody makes a lot of sense. When healthy, he has clearly been the most dangerous center on the Condors roster. Joe Gambardella, more of a depth player and grinder, could also fight his way onto the roster.
My pick? Patrick Russell. Russell seems to be a forgotten player, but he carved out a role in the NHL this season as a grinder and a penalty killer. He won’t provide much offense, if any, but Russell plays a hard game and can survive in the NHL. He makes a lot of sense for a bottom of the roster forward.
Roster Picks: Connor McDavid, James Neal, Zack Kassian, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto, Riley Sheahan, Josh Archibald, Joakim Nygard, Andreas Athanasiou, Jujhar Khaira, Alex Chiasson, Gaetan Haas, Tyler Ennis, Patrick Russell, Tyler Benson, Markus Granlund.
There are eight defensemen who are locked into the playoff roster for the Oilers. Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse, Ethan Bear, Kris Russell, Caleb Jones, Matt Benning and Mike Green will all make the roster and very likely see time in the play-in series.
Klefbom, Nurse, Bear and Larsson played top-four minutes for the club for most of the season. Expect them to once again be leaned on heavily. Russell is a fine third pairing defender and can kill penalties, while Jones is developing into a terrific young defenseman in the NHL.
Both Benning and Green are reliable depth options on the right side that can play on the powerplay.
The final two spots will be interesting to determine. It’s very likely that Evan Bouchard will fill one of those spots. He’s the top prospect for the club and would greatly benefit from the experience of being around the team in the playoffs. If needed in game action, Bouchard brings powerplay ability and can move the puck better than arguably any defenseman currently on the roster. He’s a certain NHL’er, and is likely a lock to be on this team.
The final spot, like with the forwards, could go a few different ways. Philip Broberg’s name has been tossed around. The club wants Broberg to get the experience of being around the team and going through the training camp, but odds are he won’t play. The Oilers likely don’t want to risk burning a year off of his entry-level contract. Not only that, but Broberg simply is not ready for the rigors of the NHL game. Adding him to the roster could be a risk.
Other than Broberg, prospect Dmitri Samorukov could be in line for a recall. Samorukov isn’t quite ready, but played well in Bakersfield and earned a bigger role as the season progressed. Puck-mover Logan Day didn’t have the season he hoped, but he’s on an NHL contract and could be a candidate as well.
In the end, I think the Oilers will go with a more veteran options. Keegan Lowe, who has played in NHL games and has proven to be a steady AHL defenseman, will join the roster.
Roster picks: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse, Ethan Bear, Kris Russell, Matt Benning, Mike Green, Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard, Keegan Lowe
There isn’t much debate here. Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen were the NHL goalies all season long and are locks to make the roster. Stuart Skinner improved as the season went on and earned more AHL playing time while injury plagued expected starter Shane Starrett. Expect Skinner to get the nod as the third goaltender in camp for the Oilers.
As for the fourth goaltender, it comes between prospects Dylan Wells, Olivier Rodrigue and Starrett. Starrett’s season was thrown off by injury, but he was an AHL all-star a season ago and got a look in training camp last fall. He should be healthy, and as a result should be on the roster for the club this summer.
Roster picks: Mike Smith, Mikko Koskinen, Stuart Skinner, Shane Starrett