The Edmonton Oilers are roughly 24 hours away from opening a 2020-21 season that carries with it the expectation of a playoff appearance. On Tuesday, the club finalized their opening night roster and their six player ‘Taxi Squad’.
The Oilers have not yet formally announced their opening night roster, but it was due to the league at 5:00 pm est today. General Manager Ken Holland confirmed to Bob Stauffer that the Oilers will carry 12 forwards, nine defensemen and two goaltenders to start with cap purposes in mind. That can, and will, change.
With only 12 forwards on the roster, the lineup for opening night against the Canucks is pretty clear and obvious. There are really no surprises among the group to make the team’s opening night roster.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Dominik Kahun – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
Josh Archibald – Kyle Turris – Jesse Puljujarvi
Tyler Ennis – Jujhar Khaira – Alex Chiasson
The Oilers do have Devin Shore in town on a PTO. He wasn’t signed as camp broke, but also has not been released at this time. The expectation is still that Shore will sign a one-year contract with the club somewhere in the $750,000 range.
Forwards Joakim Nygard, Patrick Russell, Alan Quine and Khaira cleared waivers on Tuesday morning. Only Khaira was kept on the active roster.
Two notable absences? James Neal and Gaetan Haas. Hass, after testing positive for COVID-19, can resume on-ice activities on January 13th, aka tomorrow. He’s not ready to go, however. Neal, meanwhile, has been dealing with an injury and although he is skating, he too is not yet ready for game action.
I’d suspect both will return to the lineup sometime before early February.
The Oilers will have three scratches on defense Wednesday night. Who they are, however, is anyone’s guess. We know there are two pairings set in stone for the opener against the Canucks. They feature four returning defensemen.
Darnell Nurse – Ethan Bear
Caleb Jones – Adam Larsson
We also know that Tyson Barrie will dress and make his Oilers debut on Wednesday night. His partner will either be Kris Russell or the newly acquired Slater Koekkoek. Most expect Russell to get the nod, but Koekkoek has worked with Barrie in practice recently and is a more mobile option than Russell. Not only that, but Koekkoek has better underlying numbers and honestly may be the better defenseman at this point in time.
Also on the roster? Evan Bouchard and William Lagesson. Both are likely to sit on Wednesday night, but don’t be surprised if we see one or both in the lineup soon. Both are close to NHL ready.
We knew that Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith would be on the NHL roster come opening night. It’s also a pretty good bet that Koskinen will make his first career opening night start as an Oiler. He’s the starter this season, there isn’t much debate about that coming into the campaign.
The bad news? The Oilers lost their insurance policy on Tuesday. Goaltender Anton Forsberg, signed on October 9th, was claimed off of waivers by the Carolina Hurricanes. Forsberg was slated to join the Oilers’ ‘taxi squad’ when clearing, serving as their number three goalie.
That honor now belongs to Stuart Skinner, who has underperformed since turning pro.
The Taxi Squad:
With nine defensemen on the active roster, the Oilers have elected to go with five forwards and a goalie on their ‘taxi squad’. NHL teams are allowed to carry six players on the ‘taxi squad’, which was formed this season.
Tyler Benson, Ryan McLeod, Joakim Nygard, Patrick Russell and Alan Quine will be the forwards, while Skinner is the goaltender. As part of the NHL’s new rules for this COVID-19 season, Skinner will need to be with the team at all times. That includes road trips.
The expectation is that the Oilers will add another goaltender prior to the AHL season starting on February 5th. The Condors still have roughly two weeks before getting into the swing of things practice wise, so the Oilers can wait to assign Skinner back to California. He’s likely to be the Condors’ starter this year. That job would serve him better than serving as the third goalie in Edmonton. He needs to be playing games.
The Hurricanes are carrying three goalies on their active roster, and could place Forsberg on waivers again. If they do, Edmonton can claim him back and assign him right to the practice squad. If that doesn’t materialize, the Oilers will either need to sign or trade for a third goalie.