The trade of Sam Gagner for Teddy Purcell was a positive one for the Oilers in a lot of ways. It added a useful top-six forward to the mix, someone with a history of strong possession numbers and good scoring totals. As an added bonus, it added a 6’3” winger who has missed all of three games in four seasons.
It also signaled, more convincingly than the words of management or the reports from those privy to inside information could, that Edmonton is committed to running three scoring lines at forward next season.
Purcell has played both left wing and right wing over his NHL career, but he’s a right-handed shot and is probably best-suited to the starboard side. At that position the Oilers currently have Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov; neither of whom is well-suited to a line tasked with heavy defensive responsibilities.
Over at left wing, the situation isn’t much different. Taylor Hall is a dynamic offensive player, even if he has a history of being used against quality opponents; ditto for David Perron, albeit in a lesser capacity.
So: Either Edmonton plans to burn a winger with legitimate offensive ability in a defensive zone role (as it did last year with Ales Hemsky) or the team really does intend to use its fourth line as a defensive unit in the same way that the Blackhawks and Rangers did last year, the way that the Canucks pioneered under Alain Vigneault. The Oilers have the personnel to employ the fourth line that way, and it would free up the top-nine to have more offensive focus.
What Does This Say About Free Agency?
Still see the #Oilers looking for another top 9 C and a LW as well as another D. Nikitin’s ability to play RD gives Oilers options
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) June 30, 2014
As I see it, the Oilers’ current roster needs at least one more quality forward to make three scoring lines work, and in a perfect world, two more. Aside from the five wingers named above, Edmonton has a trio of centre candidates for scoring line work: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Mark Arcobello. The addition of a left wing would round that group out to nine players, while a further centre addition would allow the Oilers the luxury of either using Arcobello as a spare or not rushing Draisaitl to the majors.
In other words, Stauffer’s comment reconciles rather well with what the Oilers have done to date and what Craig MacTavish has said in interviews.
Of course, as Jason Gregor noted earlier today, it’s important to be realistic about free agency. The goals outlined above for the Oilers are reasonable ones, but even so it’s possible that the vagaries of circumstance could prevent the team from attaining them.
A couple of other things…
- The Oilers would be well-advised to put themselves in a situation where they are not banking on Leon Draisaitl to make the team out of training camp next season (particularly since, as the Gagner departure nicely demonstrates, immediate elevation to the NHL is not always in a player’s best interest). A nine-game audition would seem to be the best case scenario for both player and team, after which a more permanent decision could be made, but of course training camp will help determine that as well.
- Purcell’s shot metrics look awfully good, and while he’s played a significant bit with Stamkos he’s actually fared better with players on other lines in that department.
- Scott Howson was on Oilers Now on Monday and gave a nutshell bio of Purcell: “He’s got good hands, he’s a good skater, he’s got good size… I don’t think we’re getting an overly physical, abrasive player; I think we’re getting a skill player who has some size and can skate.”
- Liam Coughlin is the fourth overage BCHL’er taken by the Oilers in the last six drafts. Kyle Bigos was taken 99th overall in 2009 out of Vernon as a 20-year-old; he’s now an ECHL’er in another organization. 5’9” Kellen Jones went 202nd overall in 2010 (again out of Vernon) and is currently with the OKC Barons on an AHL deal after finishing his college career last season. Evan Campbell went 128th overall in 2013 as a 20-year-old BCHL’er; he had an underwhelming first season in Hockey East in 2013-14 (11 points in 33 games). So while I can’t say that drafting a 20-year-old who couldn’t crack the point-per-game mark in the BCHL (in Vernon, again) is a wasted pick, it’s very fair to say that the Oilers haven’t done very much with the overage BCHL’ers they’ve grabbed and that Coughlin’s offensive totals are flat-out terrible given his age and the league he’s playing in.