Happy Draft Day, Oilers fans! For about a decade, this was the most exciting day on the calander. Luckily, the team has progressed beyond those days, and the draft is now just another day of rumors and potential activity. This year could be interesting, however, as the Oilers have admitted to feeling the pressure to win now.
We could see trades, or we could see the club add another key prospect to the system with the 20th (but really 19th) overall pick. There’s even the possibility that the Oilers move down in the first round to collect another pick inside the top 100 overall. Their next pick after number 20 is 116th overall.
At the NHL level, the roster complexation has changed greatly over the last two weeks. Adam Larsson is no longer an Oiler, signing a four-year deal with the expansion Seattle Kraken on Wednesday. Duncan Keith is an Oiler, coming via trade last Monday from Chicago.
There are rumors aplenty floating around as we hit the second, and hopefully final, virtual draft weekend in the NHL.
With all that in mind, here’s a look at the updated shopping list for GM Ken Holland.
Holland’s 2021 List:
Last year’s list was small compared to this year’s edition, which nearly doubles in size. The club has taken steps since Holland and coach Dave Tippett were hired, but there is still work to be done if they want to win their first playoff series since 2017 and compete for the Stanley Cup.
1. Decide on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: The Oilers ended up coming to terms on an eight-year deal with Nugent-Hopkins. The deal will count $5,125,000 against the cap for its duration. The deal keeps Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton for the long haul, and secures a top-six forward for the club.
It was honestly a good bit of business for Holland.
2. Figure out what to do with James Neal and Mikko Koskinen: Nothing yet on this front, but expect that to change soon. Holland has been trying to trade both players, but hasn’t been able to push things over the finish line. Expect Neal to be placed on waivers and then bought out over the next few days, opening roughly $3,800,000 in cap space.
As for Koskinen, the Oilers continue to search for a trade fit. There was momentum towards a Koskinen deal as recently as late last week, and the potential for a ‘creative’ trade here does still exist.
I’d be surprised if either player was still an Oiler a week from now.
3. Add a top-six winger, maybe two: Nugent-Hopkins is locked in, so the Oilers will likely only need to add one top-six forward for 2021-22. It appears that will be Zach Hyman, who was in Edmonton earlier this week meeting with the team.
It sounds like a seven-year deal will be the outcome unless the Toronto Maple Leafs are willing to complete a sign-and-trade for the player. That seems unlikely considering Toronto’s current demands in such a situation. Elliotte Friedman of ‘Sportsnet‘ is reporting that Toronto is seeking a second round pick, while the Oilers are offering a sixth.
Regardless, expect Hyman in Oiler silks no later than July 28th, and a top-six forward group that includes him, Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi and of course Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
4. Add a bottom-six center: Holland knows this is an area of need, and admitted that he will try to do his best to fill it one way or another.
The most likely outcome is a player coming via free agency, with Derek Ryan as a potential candidate. It’s also possible that the Oilers take on a bloated contract, say, Adam Henrique, in exchange for one of their bad deals like Koskinen. Another name to watch? Luke Glendening, even though he is more of a fourth line option at this stage of his career.
At the very least, expect some kind of competition to be added at this position. And yes, Kyle Turris will at least get a look come training camp.
5. Add a bottom-six winger: There are rumblings that the club could trade Zack Kassian in the coming days. There is certainly interest in the power forward, but the club would prefer not to retain any salary if possible. The Oilers also will allow RFA forwards Dominik Kahun and Jujhar Khaira to hit the open market next week. Neither will receive a qualifying offer, and it’s doubtful that either returns.
There is at least one spot for a free agent addition in the bottom-six. Holland had his eyes on Joel Armia in Montreal, but rumors have him re-signing on a multi-year deal in the near future.
One name to watch here? Veteran utility forward Jordan Martinook of the Carolina Hurricanes. He’ll be hitting the market on Wednesday.
6. Determine who plays with Mike Smith: Holland confirmed on Thursday that Smith is signing a two-year deal that will carry a cap hit of $2,200,000 per season. He’s in the fold for 2021-22 and 2022-23. Now, who will he play with?
Edmonton’s top target was Chris Dreidger of the Florida Panthers, but he inked a three-year deal with the Kraken earlier this week as part of the expansion process.
Free agents Linus Ullmark, Petr Mrazek and Jonathan Bernier all make some sense, as does veteran Jaroslav Halak. Mrazek and Bernier, however, are both priority free agents for the Carolina Hurricanes, who own their rights as of this writing.
If Holland is successful in moving Koskinen, then a new name will be coming to town.
Ullmark makes the most sense on a lot of levels.
7. Figure out the second-pairing left defenseman: Duncan Keith was the target, and Holland paid dearly to bring him in. Now, we’ll see if the bet pays off.
8. Add a second-pairing right defenseman: With Adam Larsson now in Seattle, this is a new hole that Holland will need to fill. The veteran GM is trying to do just that, and has reached back out to Tyson Barrie. TSN’s Darren Dreger also reported on Thursday that the Oilers have “kicked the tires” on Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen. Ristolainen, however, was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers earlier on Friday.
It’s unlikely the Oilers will find a player who completely replaces Larsson, but they will no doubt be adding a defenseman to at least try. Three free agent names to keep an eye on? David Savard, Cody Ceci and Travis Hamonic.