What’s the best way to change the makeup of the Oilers’ forward corps?


It’s a concern that comes up every year and goes something like this: The ‘Oilers forward corps’ isn’t big enough, isn’t defensively-oriented enough and lacks the ability to win hockey games. There are counterarguments – Chicago isn’t much bigger and they do fine, a better group on the blue line will make everyone look better, better goaltending will make everyone look better – but let’s acknowledge that nobody would complain if Edmonton’s forwards could get bigger and be more attentive to defensive detail.

How, exactly, might that happen?

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The Oilers’ Top-Nine

The future up front

Complaints about size and defensive competent on the fourth line are pretty rare; Boyd Gordon, Matt Hendricks and Rob Klinkhammer/Tyler Pitlick all have decent size and a reputation for playing a responsible game. So we’ll confine our focus to players with a real shot at top-nine work next year in Edmonton:

Player Height Weight NHL Experience NHL PK TOI
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 72 190 258 1:38
Taylor Hall 73 198 299 0:14
Jordan Eberle 71 183 356 0:04
Connor McDavid 73 195 0 0:00
Benoit Pouliot 75 193 429 1:08
Teddy Purcell 74 198 483 1:06
Anton Lander 72 186 132 0:51
Nail Yakupov 71 197 192 0:00
Leon Draisaitl 73 210 37 0:00
Derek Roy 69 184 738 0:06

I’ve used four criteria here: height, weight, NHL experience and usage on the penalty kill. If we imagine that a 6’2”, 200-pound forward with five full seasons of NHL experience and at least 30 seconds of penalty-killing time per game is a good baseline for a big, defensively responsible forward, how many players does Edmonton have that hit those four criteria?

  • Four-for-four: Nil.
  • Three-for-four: Benoit Pouliot (H, E, PK), Teddy Purcell (H, E, PK)
  • Two-for-four: Nil
  • One-for-four: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (PK), Anton Lander (PK), Leon Draisaitl (W), Derek Roy (E)
  • Zero-for-four: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Connor McDavid, Nail Yakupov

It’s not hard to figure out why Craig MacTavish valued Pouliot and Purcell; both bring size, experience and defensive acumen to a forward group that lacks those qualities.

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We have 10 candidates for top-nine work here, so we have to start by dumping one from next season’s roster and then any big, experienced, defensive addition to the group will require further cuts. Who should go if Edmonton wants to change its makeup?

Making Cuts

Peter Chiarelli2

The first obvious casualty is Roy. He’s undersized and despite a long NHL career isn’t really regarded as a defensive asset. After that it gets harder.

Pouliot isn’t going anywhere; he was a nice fit in Year 1 and helps with a lot of these issues. Purcell is a popular buyout candidate because he’s seen as a soft player, but he’s also an experienced hand who plays a two-way game; he can be dumped but he’s more solution than problem if the question is size and two-way play.

McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins and Hall obviously aren’t going anywhere. The Oilers can hope for development there; Nugent-Hopkins is already a defensive stalwart and it’s not hard to imagine McDavid as a 200-pound two-way threat given that he’s currently 195 pounds and the best junior prospect since Sidney Crosby. Hall isn’t small, plays a fast, aggressive game and has elite offensive ability.

It doesn’t make sense to dump Draisaitl. His only issue is experience; he’s already the biggest guy in the top-nine and shows clear signs of developing into a two-way forward with sufficient experience.

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Lander is a possibility, despite his obvious defensive value and the fact that he plays bigger than he is. He’s also dirt cheap, coming in at less than $1.0 million per season. He’s a hard candidate to nix, though he could be pegged for fourth-line duty at evens once Boyd Gordon is moved on down the line. If we cheat and bump him outside the top-nine and into the Gordon role (with an added power play element) we can open up one spot.

Is one spot on the third line enough, or do the Oilers need to make room in the top-six for a big, experienced, responsible forward? If they do, there are really only two options: Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov.


Yakupov isn’t really that small; at 197 pounds he’s close to our 200-pound baseline and he hits to hurt. He’s also on a reasonably cheap deal ($2.5 million for each of the next two seasons) and it’s debatable how much trade value he has. All of those are arguments for keeping him. On the other hand, there isn’t much question that he has defensive issues.


Eberle is more experienced, and while not a shutdown guy he’s better defensively than Yakupov. He’s also a far more proven offensive producer. He is small, weighing in at less than even Roy, and he’s not a physical player. He’s getting paid $6.0 million for each of the next three years, so he’s expensive; he’s also accomplished enough that he will have real trade value for some team out there.

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If the Oilers’ top-six needs to be bigger and better defensively, it probably comes down to a choice between Eberle and Yakupov.


  • hagar

    The whole idea of a trade is to give up something you can live without, for something you cant.

    The oilers can live without Hall, they can live without Eberle, they can live without Yak or Leon.. they can NOT live without a number one and 2 dman. It’s just not possible.

    Kick and scream all you want that every good player on the team can’t be traded, that’s fine.. but don’t complain when it’s not possible to aquire any quality dman or goalies via trade.

    It never should have taken this long to talk about trading valued oilers picks and assets. We wasted every single year since the first overall pick for absolutely zero improvement, and really actually got worse the more we got.

    Trading is part of the game.. the idea of taking the Best player available is because you are maximizing the value of your pick. It doesn’t mean you collect them like hockey cards that can never be traded. The oilers collected number one picks with zero care about building the rest of the team with those assets.

    • Truth.

      The hockey card analogy is quite funny and accurate. It always amazes me how many fans get emotionally attached to certain players. Very few see them as commodities that need to be traded for the things that are missing.

      Fortunately, none of us guys are making the decisions. There’s a calculating GM in pace that will do what needs to be done, with zero regard for fan favorites.

      The thing is, most of the Oilers fan base have been screaming for the heads of MacT/Lowe/Tambo for years. now that they have them, they expect PC to do the same thing as his predecessors did, get high end talent without trading any “core”.

      I’m with you that I’m sitting back and waiting for the big moves to happen. And they’re going to happen. I Know it.

      • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

        So you still want to be the team that develops players for other teams, thats what im hearing, what team really wants to trade there core players, i think you need to have something to eat go have a big mac.

        • What a team wants to do and what a team must do are two different things.

          8 years of suck has led us to this point. I am only interested in the team being better against the other 29 teams in the league.

          If that means we trade the best player we have, to get back what we’re missing, then so be it.

          And I do like a Big Mac.

        • hagar

          It isn’t running players out of town trading proven players of one position, for proven players of another position.

          It is trading developed players, for developed players. This team will instantly have a WAAAAAY better chance at wins with a number one and 2 dman. It does not become WAAAAAAY better when one single current forward is in the lineup.

  • Zarny

    Why are the fans here kept running players out of town?

    Let’s McLellan coach the team with players he has and see what happens after 20 games.

    Petry played well for the Habs, now they want to sign him.

    Cogliano is playing well in Anaheim.

    Dubdyk turned The Wild season around.

    Tyler Johnson is 5’8 and 184 lbs but he is a force in playoffs for Tampa.

    Small forwards but if they play hard and determine each game, it does not matter the size.

    Trading Eberle or Yakupov will be big mistake in the future, they will be a force years to come.

    Russians can train bears to skate and play hockey, watch Red Army documentary, so a good coach can teach players perform hard.

  • Jaxon

    Sign Blake Comeau. He’s fast. He can contribute on offense. He can play with elite talent (Crosby last season at times). He hits, a lot (188 hits in 61gp). He’s from north-western Saskatchewan, so Edmonton is his hometown team. He is only 29. He is 6’1″, 202 lbs. He is defensively responsible. He has 483 NHL games under his belt. He has won a Memorial Cup and World Junior Gold. Best of all, he is most likely available for cheap (1.25m to 1.75m range). He’d be a great 3L who could play 2L or even 1L to mix lines or in case of injury.

  • Jaxon

    The only forwards I would consider letting go to make room and get some return at this time are Matt Hendricks and Teddy Purcell because they are too expensive. Gordon is too valuable to let go even though he is a bit expensive too. I woukd hope the Oikers can re-sign him to a cheaper contract in his final year. I think you can easily replace Purcell and Hendricks with Blake Comeau (see previous comment) and maybe someone like a Scottie Upshall who will definitely come cheap and probably willing to go short term.

    Pouliot / Nugent-Hopkins / Eberle.

    Hall / McDavid / Pakarinen.

    Comeau / Draisaitl / Yakupov.

    Lander / Gordon / Upshall.

    Take back prospects and picks in your trades. The Oilers are going to need those cheap entry level contracts in a few years.

    If big Lawson Crouse drops to #16 (big if?), I think they have to take him.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins


    Can you do an article looking at Halls number with Eberle vs. without ebs?

    These two seem to play very well together, almost Sedin like, in the way they seem to know where each other are on the ice without looking. If Eb’s gets traded, what do you think it will do to Hall’s number and attitude here?

    I know they’re professionals, and they’ll “get over it”, but they are people too, and generally seem to come in a pair.