NHL teams are always a little worried at this time of year, as they are forced to make decisions on prospects who are now waiver eligible. There are players who come available at this time of year who have value, and miles of track left on their careers. For the Oilers, two players may be vulnerable this season and the next few days will offer some challenges for management.
MUCH OF THE ROSTER IS SET
Although Dallas Eakins is keeping many prospects around for a final glance, we can safely list 11 players as making the opening night roster:
- Taylor Hall
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- Jordan Eberle
- David Perron (if healthy)
- Leon Draisaitl
- Benoit Pouliot
- Nail Yakupov
- Boyd Gordon
- Teddy Purcell
- Matt Hendricks
- Mark Arcobello
Fair? I imagine those who don’t agree have some difficulty with Arcobello, but for the sake of our conversation let’s include him in. That leaves the following players trying for the final three spots (and Gazdic who is injured):
- Jesse Joensuu—26 years old, signed by MacT and has over 100 NHL games experience.
- Anton Lander—23 years old, attached to org only by scouting department, did not blow away competition during 27 games under Dallas Eakins a season ago.
- Tyler Pitlick—22 years old, caught the eye of the coach a year ago, called up and played well until injury. Solid training camp, waiver eligible for the first time.
- Steve Pinizzotto—Acquired by the GM last year for a failed draft pick, he might be the most impressive of the group during training camp. Waiver eligible, but perhaps the least likely to be claimed among the top group.
- Kevin Westgarth—Fits a very specific need. Oilers will either run with an enforcer—Westgarth—or wait for Gazdic. There is no other competition for the job.
- Will Acton—Overlooked by many, he fills a lot of needs, including center, penalty killer and physical player. Coach is familiar with him, and he is waiver eligible.
- Bogdan Yakimov—Impressive camp has him legitimately in the mix and that’s a big news item. On the downside, they can safely send him out without a waiver worry, and 20 or 30 AHL games is the right move with this player.
- Jujhar Khaira—He’s here on merit and like Yakimov is in the mix. I feel the same way about Khaira, this is a guy who won’t be hurt by a short minor league audition. Miles better than we thought he’d be at this point in development.
I think you can make a really compelling argument for sending Yakimov and Khaira down this weekend. They look ready, but TC is a small sample size and you want at least 100 at-bats (about 20 games) to see how they run at NA pro.
Westgarth is also an easy choice, despite an effective fight last night, and I think Acton is sent away with the knowledge he could easily be back soon.
That’s four cuts.
THE FINAL FOUR
So it comes down to keeping three of Pitlick, Pinizzotto, Lander and Joensuu. Here’s how I see it:
- The only C in the group is Lander and he’s also a penalty killer and can play wing on a shutdown line with Gordon and Hendricks. The one thing he can’t do—score—isn’t vital if he’s getting own-zone starts and penalty killing. Despite the lack of offense, he can help.
- Pitlick is 22 and still a prospect of note. I’m not suggesting he’s Kris Draper (famously sent away for one dollar) but the Oilers could be waiving a useful role player. They asked the scouting department for effective two-way players, what if this guy is one? I think he stays.
- Joensuu was signed by Craig MacTavish and looked good in the fall of last year (and game one) before injury. Have the reasons they signed him changed? Is he still able to score a little and play (as coach Eakins called it) a big man’s game? Yes.
THE ODD MAN OUT
Which leaves us with Steve Pinizzotto to be the final cut. It is TERRIBLY unfair to this player, as he’s done everything asked, but sports is rarely fair. He’s the most likely to clear waivers and the least likely to earn another contract.
I don’t like it—I would flush Joensuu and make him earn his way back to the NHL—but Oilers management probably plays the odds and sends Pinizzotto down.
We’ll know soon, maybe by Monday.