After Anton Slepyshev stuck his foot in the door last season and kicked it open with three goals in the Oilers playoff run last spring, there was well-placed optimism for the Russian winger going into this year.
It was equal parts reasonable expectations and an inherent need for the Oilers to find scoring down their right wing on the cheap. That optimism was borne in part of necessity. This team needed Slepyshev, among others, to take significant steps forward.
An ankle injury Slepyshev suffered in training camp prevented the second-year NHL’er from finding his footing to start the season, and he’s had a hard time getting set since.
To this point in the season, Slepyshev’s played just 15 of the Oilers 38 games and has produced a lowly three points (one goal and two assists). It’s fair to suggest Slepyshev’s spent more time on the rumour mill than in the Oilers lineup this season.
With a mostly healthy forward group, Slepyshev’s been out of the Oilers lineup since a 4-0 December 14th loss to the Nashville Predators. As recently as December 18th, the Oilers sent Slepyshev to their farm team Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, an option that’s not going to be available to them for much longer — Slepyshev can play one more game before he loses waiver ineligible status.
At some point, this situation is going to come to a head, and the Oilers are going to have to decide what the plan is with Slepyshev or if he’s even worth the effort.
It’s inarguable that the lanky Russian has made significant strides. This year hasn’t been what anyone has expected, certainly not from an offensive perspective. There are signs though that the worm could turn for Slepyshev, though we’ve said that for a lot of Oilers this season — in some cases, it did and unproductive players started getting a little puck luck, others less so.
In the case of Slepyshev, though, we can see plausible reasons to expect his production to pick up if he gets the opportunity. In terms of process, there’s ample evidence to suggest Slepyshev’s grown from last season to this one, but the results haven’t followed.
Across the board, Slepyshev is shooting the puck more often per hour, generating more scoring chances per and more high-danger chances per hour — he’s even generating considerably more rebounds per hour, for whatever that is worth!
|Slepyshev||Ind. Corsi/60||Ind. Scoring Chances/60||Ind. HD Chances/60||Ind. Sh%||On-Ice Sh%|
Some of this is sampling. Numbers are subject to bounce all over the place in small samples like the 15 game one Slepyshev has to his credit this season or even the 41 games from last year. But still, there’s consistent growth at generating offence — doing the legwork to generate offence, anyway.
What’s more, Slepyshev’s two-way growth has been substantial. There’s a worthwhile argument to make that Slepyshev is an everyday NHL’er just based on the fact that when he’s on the ice, the Oilers are highly unlikely to come out in the red by goal differential. At the very least, he’s not harming you.
|Slepyshev||Corsi For%||Rank on EDM||Expected Goals For%||Rank on Edm|
I’m almost certain some of what we’re seeing is a mirage, due to Slepyshev’s small sample. I look at these numbers and think that Slepyshev’s benefitting from having spent most of his year on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins flank and that he suffered last year playing on Drake Caggiula’s. He’d probably settle somewhere in-between those two extremes with a regular role in the middle of the lineup.
All this is to say, the Oilers likely have a useful, cost-controlled player in their midst, whether their usage suggests they’re aware of it or otherwise.
Putting Slepyshev on waivers, or even trading him really, seems ill-advised. The Oilers need cheap contributors with the contract extensions that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl signed last off-season, and there is ample evidence to suggest that Slepyshev can be just that.
At the very least, it seems unlikely that the Oilers can recoup value on Slepyshev relative to what he can theoretically bring to their lineup. They’re now in the stage of their competitive arc that they can’t settle on lottery tickets in the form of draft picks, and in this case, they’d be lucky to get a late pick at that. They need to actualize on the talent that’s readily available to them.
Players like Anton Slepyshev, that is. Not only should they keep him. They should find a way to get Slepyshev back into the lineup, on a night-to-night, game-to-game basis.