When the Edmonton Oilers traded Mark Letestu at the deadline, it signaled that the club was making a change on the fourth line. After a tremendous 2016-17 campaign, the trio became a liability last season, with Letestu showing real signs of decline in his game.
While Jujhar Khaira filled in admirably, a good case can be made that Khaira is a better fit for Edmonton on the left wing. In that case, the Oilers could do two things. They could give minor-leaguer Brad Malone the job, or they could add an external option in free agency.
Former Oiler draft choice Riley Nash checks a lot of boxes, is coming off of a strong year, and will hit free agency on July 1st. Perhaps he’s an option for employment with the Oilers eleven years after the club called his name in the first round of the 2007 draft.
Why Is He Out There?
The Bruins are developing NHL players at a terrific clip right now. Although Nash posted a strong season in Boston, the case could be made that the right move is to let him walk.
Nash will be in line for a raise, and the Bruins have a number of key young players coming up for extensions in the next 18 months. With multiple internal options to fill his role, Nash could be a luxury the Bruins decide they can’t afford.
What Does He Do Well?:
Nash had a career year for the Bruins, posting 41 points in 76 games while filling a bottom-six center role. Nash’s 15 goals were a career high, and only the second time he has ever hit double-digit goals. His 26 assists were also a career high, and the first time he’s hit 20 in that regard.
The 29-year old Nash exploded in Boston this past season, but a lot of that has to do with a career high shooting percentage of 13.3%. While Nash played well, he certainly rode some good luck this past season with the Bruins.
Possession wise, Nash was strong for the Bruins. He posted a 51.7% Corsi For while spliting time on Boston’s third and fourth lines. He also averaged 15:25 TOI-per-game last season, indicating once again that he is a bottom-six option.
Here’s a look at Nash’s scouting report via The Hockey News.
Assets: Has decent size and the ability to play both wing and center. Displays some two-way acumen. Is pretty good on face-offs. Can kill penalties. Scores goals in bunches.
Flaws: Lacks consistency in all areas of the game, and he has a tendency to disappear from time to time. Isn’t a great point producer in the NHL, so he needs to do the little things.
Career Potential: Inconsistent, versatile depth forward.
Where Will He Play/Where Would He Play?:
Nash is a bottom-six forward at the NHL-level. Even though he had a great season in Boston, his career is large enough now that we know he played over his head in 2017-18. He’s still a good player, and is best served as a fourth line center on a club.
In Edmonton, with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Strome ahead of him, that’s exactly the role he would play.
Nash would be eligible for a Seattle expansion draft, which could be a bit of a concern should he sign a longer term deal. That said, protecting depth players probably isn’t a smart move for any team, and giving a fourth line center term probably isn’t a good bet either. It really shouldn’t be an issue.
What Will He Cost?:
Nash is coming off of a two-year deal that paid him $900,000 a season on the cap. After posting 41 points, he’s going to be looking for a raise. Odds are, he’s going to get said raise.
I think a fair contract would be two-years at $1,500,000 per season, but suspect Nash could break $2,000,000 with a team that thinks his ’17-18 production is the new norm. That’s a little too rich for my blood.
The Oilers are in need of a strong bottom-six center who is defensively aware, can play on the penalty kill and contribute a little offense. Even when Nash regresses to his normal levels, he’s still that guy.
For me, it all comes down to contract here. If Nash is willing to accept a $1,000,000 – $1,500,000 per year AAV, then there could be a fit in Edmonton. If not, well money is too tight to overpay for depth options like Nash.
The Oilers should place a call on this player, but absolutely should be careful when it comes to the price paid.