Oilers add forward depth at trade deadline, but leave open opportunities

The Edmonton Oilers had a relatively quiet trade deadline,
shipping out Brandon Davidson and Taylor Beck and bringing in David Desharnais
and Justin Fontaine. How does this situate the team’s forward lines as it gears
up for the playoffs?

The arrival of Desharnais will allow head coach Todd
McLellan to keep doing what he’s shown he wants to do for most of the year:
play Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid together, likely alongside current left
wing Patrick Maroon.

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It’s a reasonable bet that the second line will stay intact
for the time being, too. Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle are
all big-money players who will be vital to Edmonton’s postseason aspirations.
Perhaps more importantly, despite difficult seasons there really aren’t a lot
of challengers capable of unseating them.

That leaves the bottom two forward lines, and there are a dozen
potential candidates for the six jobs there, including the two newcomers:

  • C David Desharnais: Peter Chiarelli indicated that
    Desharnais would be the team’s third-line centre, and he should be a decent fit
    for the role. He’s fast, experienced, and capable of producing offence at
  • LW Benoit Pouliot: Another expensive veteran suffering
    through a nightmare of a season, Pouliot (once he gets healthy) should get the
    first crack at third line left wing. His speed should be a fit for Desharnais.
  • C Mark Letestu: He shouldn’t be given too much work at
    5-on-5; he just isn’t suited to it. Instead, he’ll centre the fourth line while
    providing quality minutes on both the power play and penalty kill.
  • RW Zack Kassian: Kassian will lock down one of the wing
    positions in the bottom-six. My guess is that he slots in mostly with Letestu
    given their effectiveness together this year, but he could also end up on the
    Desharnais line for stretches.  
  • RW Iiro Pakarinen: Pakarinen is another clear favourite of
    the coaches, and it’s not hard to understand why. He does a little bit of
    everything and can slot in anywhere. There’s always room for guys who can hit
    and like to shoot the puck.
  • LW Matt Hendricks: We’re approaching the end of the line for
    this player, but I wouldn’t be even the slightest bit surprised if he was a
    regular on the fourth line when the playoffs roll around. Coaches love
    experience, toughness and brains in the defensive zone and Hendricks has all
    those things.
  • C / LW Drake Caggiula: The Oilers clearly love this player,
    but on a lot of clubs I expect he’d be in the AHL. He is the worst 5-on-5
    scorer on the team this season and it isn’t close, and his shot metrics are
    totally unremarkable. He’s 22 and absolutely should improve; there’s no shame
    in a rookie pro looking like an AHL’er. Could wind up anywhere in the
  • LW / RW Anton Slepyshev: He’s big, fast, and somewhat less
    than the sum of his parts in terms of results, though he and Caggiula have done
    each other no favours. I’d like to see him put with Pouliot/Desharnais on the
    third line to see if he can produce there.
  • C / LW Jujhar Khaira: Khaira was assigned to the AHL in a
    paper transaction today, making him eligible for the playoffs down there. When
    everyone’s healthy he’s probably the team’s 15th forward, though he’s been
    quite competent when used.
  • RW Jesse Puljujarvi: Currently in the minors, Puljujarvi has
    a reasonable but somewhat unspectacular 16 points in 20 games. It wouldn’t be
    even a little bit surprising if he got a shot at third-line minutes at some
    point in the next month and a half.
  • C / LW Anton Lander: He can kill penalties, he can win
    faceoffs and he has 38 points in 23 AHL games. He’s a really decent option as a
    No. 13/14 forward because of his versatility, but he isn’t big or fast and
    probably needs some injury help to get an opportunity.
  • RW Justin Fontaine: He isn’t special, but he’s a fast right
    wing who can chip in offensively and be trusted in the defensive zone. He also
    has 19 NHL playoff games under his belt, so presumably there’s a better chance
    of the coaches using him if it comes to that than there was with Taylor Beck.
    Chiarelli called him “a depth player” and specifically mentioned the AHL when
    talking about him today.

Ultimately, it’s an approach that gives Edmonton a very good
first line and a second unit that is strong on paper but has been shy on
results this season. The third line is somewhat incomplete. If we take
Pouliot/Desharnais as the likely duo around which that unit will be built, the
Oilers still need to find a scoring right wing internally.

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The fourth line, at least, shouldn’t be a problem. With two
new forwards in the rotation there are plenty of possibilities for those jobs.

When all is said and done, a healthy lineup looks something
like this:

L1: Maroon – McDavid – Draisaitl

L2: Lucic – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle

L3: Pouliot – Desharnais – Slepyshev or Puljujarvi

L4: Hendricks – Letestu – Kassian

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Spares: Caggiula / Pakarinen

AHL: Khaira – Lander – Fontaine

The importance of Desharnais as a stabilizing force is
obvious, and if he and Pouliot can find some chemistry the Oilers have a shot
at an effective third line that brings some needed speed to the attack.

If Edmonton is going to make playoff noise, it’s going to
need both its second and its third units to be better than they have been this
season. Desharnais helps with that, but it’s clear that the greatest progress
will need to be made by players already in the organization.

Lucic, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Pouliot have all been much
better in the recent past than they have showed this season. Either of
Slepyshev or Puljujarvi could conceivably button down a regular role on that
third unit over the next month, and with the Oilers opting not to add a cheap
veteran right wing it’s clear that Edmonton is banking on one of them getting
the job done.

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Both Chiarelli and McLellan have described the Oilers as a “growth”
team in the last month, and this deadline approach reflects that. Desharnais
was needed because there wasn’t a realistic candidate for the third line centre
job. Everywhere else, there are either veterans that need to get on-track or
younger players with a legitimate shot at proving themselves ready. 


  • Muddy

    For those who didn’t think Chia did enough today just remember what he has done over the last year. Lucic, Maroon, Kassian, Russell, Talbot, Desharnais, Larson, Caggiula, and Benning. That’s 9 players in just over a year. Those new additions have turned this from a 29th place team to 2nd in the Pacific. Maybe just maybe this guy knows what he is doing.

    • Serious Gord

      It is not just a case of doing enough. But doing enough right.

      And the verdict early on is that he has done more good than bad. But it hasn’t hurt that some of the core players have made big advancements in their careers – mcdavid, drai, klefbom.

      And if we are going to use stats to make a case, let’s do it right:

      Last year the team finished 29th overall – currently this season they are 9th. Alternatively they finished seventh (last) in the pacific last year and this year they are currently second.

      That is excellent progress – no need to torque the data.

        • I am Batman

          It wasn’t to replace Talbot in the series it was to be able to give him 6-9 games prior to playoffs to have talbot rest and injury free and in case he needed to be pulled, some insurance that someone could come in and steal one.

          I think there were quite a few out there , don’t know the price though.

          • Not a First Tier Fan

            I think you can assume that Chiarelli was looking at what back-ups were available. Obviously the asking prices were too high. Petes shown that he isn’t afraid to make an unpopular trade if he thinks it will benefit the team. Have a little faith that he didn’t do that here for a reason.

          • I am Batman

            I really like the optimism and will try to embrace it.

            It concerns me that all teams surrounding us in the west improved, at least a bit. We did lateral moves at best and it wasn’t that we were looking for a number one goalie and a number one centre… we had needs that should have been affordable.

            All there is left is to wish for the best and enjoy the picks we didn’t spend on making our team a bit better.

          • Hemmercules

            If you read into Chias comments from the other day, he doesn’t see this current team beating Minnesota or Chicago or SJ in the west. It’s hard not to hold onto that 2006 magic and have the attitude that anything can happen in the show but chia still thinks that its a pretty big long shot and I agree with him. His goal at this point was playoffs and he will likely achieve that.

            With the exception of Budai and Bishop, not many goalies got moved that are big upgrades on Broissoit. The oil weren’t giving up what LA had to for Bishop just for a backup goalie. Sometimes its better to make no move than a bad one. Going off the rumours, chia was trying to get Halak but obviously didn’t want to pay his full cap, moving ferences cap didn’t work out so maybe that was the deal breaker? Broissoit will get some games this month I think, not many because talbot likes to play, but with some home games against lesser opponents I think he will get a couple and do fine.

      • Hemmercules

        Why even say something like this? Why worry about a tragedy that hasnt happened or very likely won’t?

        Lots of teams will be down and out if they lose their main guy in net. Brossoit isn’t garbage either but he’s no talbot obviously.

        Very good article Jon btw.

  • freelancer

    This time last year we were a lottery team. We are now second in our division and not only almost 100% guaranteed a playoff spot, but could also push for home ice advantage.

    But the reality is 50% of this roster has never seen a playoff game. Draisaitl, Nuge, or even McDavid could struggle. I don’t think this is the year we should be selling off the farm so I have no issues with this deadline.

  • BlueHairedApe

    Playoffs change everything. I remember Gretztky’s first or second year in the league didn’t the Oilers sweep the mighty Canadiens? Veteran experience was obviously more in the Canadiens favour.

  • hags437

    On the Mantha signing. I heard a few times today that the Rangers gave up on him etc which caused some concern. This is a quote from an article I read online tonight from the Welland Tribune. Tells a different story than what I saw going around today. Anyhow, seems like a reasonable bet to sign this kid. Get him skating with 97!

    New York offered Mantha a contract after he attended Rangers training camp for a second time, but he found the offer wanting and left it on the table.

    “I just thought I was worth more as a player, and I knew the potential that I had,” he said.

    Mantha said he never felt rejecting the offer from the Rangers would leave him forever stranded on the dock while his ship sailed away without him.

  • GK1980

    I’m happy either the “non” moves chia made. Look, the Oilers are in the playoffs and will be in the playoffs for many years, they are a good team as is. Good but not contenders, yet. Why sell the farm now?

    Let the team get a taste of playoff hockey and then build from there. Chia will be more aggressive at the trade deadline in the coming years once he feels they have become legit contenders.

    But hey, we all know what happened in 2006. I can’t wait to cheer like hell for these guys. The city will be rediculous!

  • O.C.

    A bunch of random notes:

    Sometimes, the measurement of being a good manager is if he is willing to stick his neck out and trade a fan favourite for a lesser known need.

    Sometimes, the measurement of being a good manager is if he resists pressure and refuses to make a bad deal.

    You don’t need to win the trade. You just need to make your team better. Or not make them worse in the long haul.

    Winning and Losing at the deadline is not easy to predict. Washington hit a home run. Minnesota a double. A few singles were hit. The expansion draft made this a weird Trade Deadline.

    MSM (TSN and SportsNet) say Canucks had a real good deadline week. I don’t get it. They were not good and will be worse for the next few years.

    The Entry Draft is weak. Should be an amazing Free Agency season.

  • oilerjed

    I wonder if 2-3 years from now the Mantha acquisition looks even better. A 6’5″ 223lb, 20yr old, right shooting Dman with 51pts in 58 games in junior is a very good addition into the farm system. Only cost some $$ also. Very nice indeed!

  • slats-west

    A few thoughts….

    – trade deadline hype is exactly that …..a lot of hype. You can tweak or address an injury but for teams which are not close to Cup run its best to sit tight rather than wreck the organization on one day.

    – Can we go on 2006 Cup Run with this team?… I would say the odds are against us. The biggest intangible for all Playoff teams though is goaltending … think Murray in Pittsburgh so it’s possible for any team to get this lightning rod …. so why not Dadbot???!!!

    – I did not see any Team make a big splash today that I would say….”That’s going to make a difference to win them a round or two”….

    – Lazar is somewhat interesting but he plays in the East and has 1 point in 33G …. he’s more likely to be A bust rather than another version Tkachuk 2.0 ….which is what fLames are hoping for.

    – Chia resisted over payment and kept our picks (read currency) for July 1st to trade for RH dman … that’s a good move in my books

  • dsanchez1973

    Desharnais is obviously a clear upgrade on Caggiulia, but he’s still far from “capable of producing offence at five-on-five.” He has 1.35 P/60 at 5v5 this year, lower than Matt Hendricks or Mark Letestu (or Lander for that matter).

    That Caggiulia has lasted in the NHL this long while Lander (or pretty much any alternative) has been in the AHL has been a major clue why there have been so many articles recently bemoaning the lack of secondary scoring.

  • D'oh-ilers

    I’m hoping Reinhart and Puljujarvi get a couple of games up north before the end of the season, just to see where they’re at, assuming it won’t risk the team’s chance at the playoffs.

  • Hockey123

    I’m sure Chia is crossing his fingers hoping Talbot does not get hurt. He know he has no #2 goalie at this time.

    This is a bad mistake , he made it with Draft last year getting a questionable back-up high did bite him and Gus is now in the AHL.

    If Talbot does not get hurt this is still a big mistake. I count 4 big mistakes by Chia.

    • Hemmercules

      Dude, just get over it. Chia has faith in Brossoit as the backup. Sometimes a goalie you wouldn’t expect gets the opportunity and shines, why not B?

      Name a backup that got moved yesterday or in the last 2 months thats a huge upgrade on Brossoit.

        • Hemmercules

          Good luck with what?? Watching Talbot lead the Oilers the playoffs for the first time in 10 years and enjoy it the whole way? Absolutely I will!!

          Talbot is not hurt and he’s not going to be. Brossoit has a save percentage over .900 in his 4 games so I’m ok with him. I dont watch practice but I assume he does well enough there to warrant being backup, no?

          • Hockey123

            Since you don’t follow Oilers hockey I ill give you something you don’t know Oilers were tyring get rid of Ference contract probably because they were going to trade for Halak.

            Oilers are worried about their backup at the moment.

          • Hemmercules

            Haha thank for pointing out my hockey knowledge, you know, since you know me personally and all.

            “probably because they were going to trade for Halak.”….this is knowing Oilers hockey??….”probably”. Yes, there were rumours of going after Halak, rumours.

            You dont know anything other than rumours from the sounds of it. Chia said right in his post deadline interview that they decided not to go after a goalie yesterday.

          • Not a First Tier Fan

            I guess it is hard to make coherent arguments when you’re half asleep…

            Although it also helps to know what the hell you’re talking about. True story.

          • Hockey123

            Elliott friedman a hockey insider if you didn’t know

            “Not sure what Edmonton was trying to pursue in moving Andrew Ference’s expiring contract, but it sounds very intriguing. What made things more difficult is that it wasn’t insured, so an acquiring team had to be willing to spend the cash. I do think they took a look at Jaroslav Halak, and it’s possible they talked a Halak/Mark Fayne trade with the Islanders. (Both have one year remaining.) There were probably other parts to that deal, but, whatever the case, it obviously didn’t happen.”

          • Hockey123

            Not sure what Edmonton was trying to pursue in moving Andrew Ference’s expiring contract, but it sounds very intriguing. What made things more difficult is that it wasn’t insured, so an acquiring team had to be willing to spend the cash. I do think they took a look at Jaroslav Halak, and it’s possible they talked a Halak/Mark Fayne trade with the Islanders. (Both have one year remaining.) There were probably other parts to that deal, but, whatever the case, it obviously didn’t happen.

            Elliott Freidman

            again Ha ha

  • Hockey123

    I’ve only attack Chia 4 things since he started in Edmonton. All of which I consider big mistakes.

    1. Reinhart deal giving up high draft picks in the so called strongest draft in over a decade. Reinhart was not even the best D on his AHL team and he had skating issues in the AHL.

    2. No backup goalie going into this season. Gustavson as a joke no one anted him

    3. Lucic as a gamble given the NHL is getting faster and faster.

    4. No backup goalie going into the playoffs.

  • I really don’t want Pouliot’s stupid offensive-zone penalties being the difference in a playoff series. If you have Pouliot in the lineup then you also need Lander to kill his penalties.

    Letestu absolutely must be the 4th line centre.
    Caggiula to the Bake. Can’t have two small forwards on the 3rd line.

  • TKB2677

    I am OK with what the Oilers did at the deadline. They finished dead last in the West and second last in the league. This season, I was expecting them to hopefully be battling for the last playoff spot and maybe squeak in. To go from last in the West to making the playoffs is a huge jump in itself. The fact that are second in the division, have a chance to host a round and have been there all season, is beyond what I expected and awesome. If they can hold their spot, I think they can win a round. But that’s it. They are close but they aren’t ready yet. Most of the guys have never been in the playoffs before so they have no clue what it takes. Guys like Lucic can tell everyone what it’s like but you have to experience it. So in my opinion, this is not the year to “load up” by selling off assets. I believe the time to do that is next season. So I think Chia did the smart thing and not burn assets when realistically you aren’t winning this season.

    Also against them. Thanks to that beyond stupid rule about giving compensation for hiring a guy that was fired, the Oilers didn’t have a second round pick. Second round picks are usually the top asset used in trades. If you look at the Boyle trade, a guy I wanted the Oilers to get. The main asset was a second. I have heard many times that that the Oilers were in on Boyle but they didn’t have a second. Yzerman could not take a salary back so the Oilers had zero chance to get him. So I think the Oilers got what they could to get some forward depth.

    On the trade itself. I have zero issue with giving up Davidson. Unlike the stats guys who think Davidson is awesome, though I liked Davidson, he was a #7 dman on the Oilers and if you look at the depth chart, he’s not taking anyone’s spot unless there is an injury. Next season, I have to think that Chia is going to try and get another right shot dman to be an upgrade on Gryba. So assuming he gets that, with Klefbom, Sekera, Larsson, Benning, Nurse as your top 5, plus the additional new dman, Davidson is again at best #7. So in all seriousness, what is the big deal?

  • Hockey123

    Grant McCagg on the trade David Desharnais to Edmonton for Brandon Davidson:

    “I’m trying to think back to an old deal where Peter Chiarelli owed Marc Bergevin a favour, but none popped to mind, so I’m still trying to figure out why Edmonton would make this deal. Desharnais was productive a few years ago…but those days are over. The diminutive forward has seen plenty of time on the power play the past three seasons with little or no production. He would be trotted out time and again, and it was hard to comprehend, as in his past 75 games he failed to score a power-play goal and collected just three assists despite regular shifts on the first and second units.
    What was even more concerning was his constant basket hanging. A player who gets very few points should be working hard on the backcheck, especially playing center when you are supposed to protect your own slot and the opposing center, but he was regularly the last forward back, having a disconcerting habit of standing at the opponent’s goal line hoping a teammate gets a turnover until the puck was on its way back the other way and him a line or two behind the play. When an opponent was bringing the puck out of its own zone, the majority of the time Desharnais was nowhere to be seen, and more often than not would head to the bench for a change instead of trying to backcheck, leaving the next center hopelessly out of the play and often on the hook for a goal against.”