The Edmonton Oilers’ needs at forward seemed pretty clear-cut heading into the summer. The necessary additions to remedy those needs seemed obvious, too. Then came a lucky tumble of the lottery balls and the virtual certainty that Edmonton would be adding generational talent Connor McDavid to its stable of young talent.
In one night, everything changed.
Three Scoring Lines
As of right now, the Oilers currently have eight forwards that we can be reasonably confident will be deployed inside the top nine:
- Centre: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, Anton Lander
- Wing: LW Taylor Hall, RW Jordan Eberle, LW Benoit Pouliot, RW Nail Yakupov, RW/LW Teddy Purcell
After those eight, we can also be fairly certain that Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon will anchor a defensive zone specialty line, with some combination of Rob Klinkhammer, Tyler Pitlick, Matt Fraser and Luke Gazdic rounding out the forward group.
There’s still one spot open in the top nine, though, and the Oilers have some options there:
- Pending free agent Derek Roy. Roy has good chemistry with Yakupov and finished the season well; he could easily be bumped to left wing and perhaps played on a line with Yakupov and Lander. The downside is that he’s a) another small forward and b) another primarily offensive forward.
- Top forward prospect Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl was the No. 3 overall pick and he’s almost certainly going to make a strong push for a roster spot in camp. He could be bumped to left wing, perhaps with Lander and Purcell, and would add size and centre depth to the mix. The downside is that the Oilers would once again be counting on an unproven player to address weakness, and no matter how mature he is for his age he’s still a young forward and comes with certain defensive deficiencies.
- Promoting a depth forward, like Pitlick or Fraser. Pitlick had really solid chemistry with Lander in Oklahoma City and showed well in a brief cameo late in the year; stick him on a line with his old centre and Purcell and there’s a decent chance things turn out. The downside is that it weakens depth and Pitlick (and Fraser, for that matter) may not have the offensive ability to stick in the top-nine at this point.
- An outside hire. This could be anyone. Want size, defensive responsibility and centre depth? Let me introduce you to 6’4”, 223-pound Shawn Matthias, a centre/left wing who scored 18 goals for Vancouver. Want a clever two-way player with postseason experience? How about Justin Williams, who picked up 25 points in 26 games in last year’s playoffs and won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Feel free to scroll the UFA list at NHLNumbers for other names. The upside is that there is no shortage of options. The downside is that the Oilers also need to address defence and goaltending this summer, too, and the perfect free agent just may not be interested in joining a team that hasn’t been competitive since 2006, McDavid notwithstanding.
What Would You Do?
In the G.M.’s shoes I’d be tempted to go the discount route. Pick off whichever useful two-way winger can be found for cheap later in free agency – maybe it’s Jiri Tlusty or Blake Comeau or Erik Condra or the wonderfully underrated Lee Stempniak. Maybe St. Louis doesn’t qualify Magnus Paajarvi, who had fantastic chemistry with Lander in OKC. Maybe there’s some European pro who we’ll briefly become the centre of attention as he decides to jump to the NHL. There’s always some useful wingers available late, looking for work, and the problem can be dealt with after the big priorities (defence, goaltending) are taken care of. Worst case scenario, the Oilers end up with Roy or Draisaitl or Pitlick in the role; that’s survivable though less than ideal.
I’m going to pick Jiri Tlusty for this example because he’s reasonably big, fast and young and can do a little bit of everything. Also, he was moved at the deadline for a third-round pick and change and seems a prime candidate to be undervalued this summer. Then I’d pencil in the lines like this:
It makes sense to me to stick with Pouliot, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle as a unit given how good they looked when Hall was hurt. That leaves Hall to play with McDavid on the other big line; the third member could be any of the other wingers but Yakupov has had good success in cameos with Hall and deserves the first shot. That leaves Tlusty with Lander and Purcell as a versatile third line with players who can move up as necessary.
That’s my solution, but it’s far from the only one possible, and What Would You Do Wednesday isn’t really about my solutions. What would you do with the forwards?