Nikita Nikitin is back with the Edmonton Oilers. The team recalled the veteran defenceman on Wednesday.
The only question is: Why?
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) February 18, 2016
I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming. When I wrote yesterday about Eric Gryba being out for a month I assumed that Edmonton’s first recall choice would be one of its younger prospects. Griffin Reinhart is on the cusp of NHL duty, while prospects David Musil and Jordan Oesterle are both logical candidates for a late-season recall.
Failing those three, Brad Hunt seemed the logical recall, because he can sit in a pressbox while only adding $600,000 to the cap, increasing the Oilers’ financial flexibility.
Instead, the Oilers went with Nikitin, a veteran of 255 NHL games on a $4.5 million contract who has spent most of the year in the AHL.
It Has to be the Trade Deadline
The answer has to lie in timing. The NHL trade deadline falls on Feb. 29, just 11 days from now.
From a team perspective, at this point in the year it makes more sense to get a look at a player who might be on next year’s roster – Musil and Oesterle are both still waiting for their first recalls this year – than it does to take another look at a veteran who isn’t in the long-term plans. That is unless Nikitin somehow can be shipped out as a third-pair insurance option to a team in need of a depth defenceman.
Nikitin would seem to be on a bit of a roll. He has four points and a plus-three rating in his last three games with Bakersfield and 14 points in 27 games all season. Edmonton can play him on the right side (where he’s had his best NHL seasons) and could also plausibly give him minutes on both special teams, slotting him in as Gryba’s replacement on the penalty kill and on a power play still searching for a point man.
It strikes me as incredible that Christian Ehrhoff and David Rundblad could clear waivers but that Nikitin might be a trade target, but stranger things have happened. Fans will remember that Nikitin arrived in Edmonton in trade for a fifth-round pick – the same pick the Oilers got from Columbus in exchange for a struggling Nick Schultz.
Nikitin is big, he’s actually pretty good on the penalty kill, and he can both shoot the puck and make a pass. He’s also gaffe-prone and gets killed in transition because he can’t keep up. If he shows well late this year, I wonder if a team with strong defensive systems (imagine New Jersey) might take him on. The Oilers in recent years have had a tendency to make slow-footed defencemen look awful, but on a more rigid defensive team those sorts of players often look significantly better.
The key element here is cost. It doesn’t cost Edmonton much to give Nikitin another cameo, and maybe the team gets something out of it. If not, I imagine he’ll be down on the farm again soon enough.