The Connor McDavid-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins combination that fans and analysts wanted for weeks, if not months, was finally given a chance and it clicked.
They’ve only been together for a handful of games but it’s clear that #97 and #93 have chemistry. The duo’s success, to some extent, has ended the conversation about needing to find a winger to play with Connor McDavid for next season.
Could the team still use a skilled volume shooter to ride shotgun on their top-line? Sure, but you could argue that a more glaring need is finding a competent line mate for Leon Draisaitl who, if all stays the same, will be centring the teams second unit next season.
Draisaitl has been getting a fair amount of criticism for his play this season, very few of it deserved in my opinion (he’s 12th in even-strength points!), but no matter how you feel about his play, there’s no arguing the fact that a better linemate would do wonder for Leons’ game.
He’s spent a good amount of time with players like Drake Caggiula, Pontus Aberg, and Mike Cammalleri and when he’s been on the ice with them, they’ve all seen their goals for percentage increase. He makes the players around him better, and now it’s time for the team to simply give him better wingers.
With the team being tight up against the cap, there are really three options for how they could go about filling, what I believe, is a big hole.
It doesn’t cost any assets to go grab a winger on the free agent market and although the team doesn’t have a lot of money available to spend, there are some intriguing names that shouldn’t cost too much.
Following his hat-trick on Tuesday, the name Thomas Vanek has been thrown around a fair bit. He’s an interesting case because while his reputation is one of a perimeter player who shies away when the games get important, the numbers suggest that he is a skilled winger who consistently produces points.
I would be hesitant to give Vanek any term on a contract, but I think he might fit in with this Oilers group. He can score at even strength, and could even help out their power play.
Michael Grabner is probably the best fit in my opinion. Leon Draisaitl has had the best success as a centerman when Taylor Hall was on his wing, so why not just find another fast winger who can score goals, right?
I’m not suggesting that Michael Grabner is close to a fraction of what Hall is, but he’s a free agent and shouldn’t be more than $4 million. He’s eclipsed 25 goals in back-to-back seasons and I believe he could do it again with Draisaitl as his centerman.
Patrick Maroon would also come cheap and the organization is familiar with him. I would be against bringing back “The Big Rig” because I think this team needs more speed on their wings, but he’s probably a pretty safe bet and we’ve seen him have success with a skilled centerman.
Some intriguing names, but none are really game-changing players. If the team wants that, they’ll likely have to rely on the trade market.
The Mike Hoffman rumours have been beaten to death and although he’s probably the best option on the market, there are some other intriguing names.
Mats Zuccarello’s name was thrown around at the trade deadline and there’s no doubt the Rangers will look to find him a new home in the offseason. The 30-year-old has one year left on his contract with a cap hit of $4.5 million, something the Oilers could certainly afford.
Zuccarello has scored at least 49 points in each of the last five seasons and has continued to be productive on a dismal Rangers team. I think he’d be a great fit and if memory serves me correctly, he even spent some time on a line with Leon Draisaitl at the World Cup of Hockey, so there may even be some familiarity between the two.
Another name that interests me as a buy-low candidate is Richard Panik. The 27-year-old scored 20 goals last year with the Blackhawks but has struggled this year, scoring just 12 times.
The Coyotes acquired him earlier this year as part of the Anthony Duclair trade, but you’d have to imagine the Oilers could pry him loose pretty easily. He hasn’t done it consistently, but he proved last year that he can play with skill and with a cap hit of just $2.8 million, it might be a decent addition for the Oilers. Coyotes forward Max Domi has also been the subject of trade rumours, but I think the cost would be too high for the Oilers liking.
Fans have been harping for Jesse Puljujarvi to get a long-term look on either Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid’s wing, and it would be reasonable to expect that he’ll be ready to assume that role next season.
There’s also Kailer Yamamoto, who hasn’t been lighting the WHL on fire like he was last year but is still a decent candidate to make the Oilers in 2018-19. He looked good during his nine-game trial at the beginning of the year, he just simply wasn’t ready for a full-time NHL job. An extra year of maturity, both physically and skill-wise, should do wonders for his game.
There isn’t much of a doubt that the two youngsters will be impact NHL players, but going into the season without solid, proven NHL options on the wings would be a colossal mistake.
Looking at the depth chart now, hoping that one of the young kids has a breakout season won’t be enough. This team needs to add two NHL level wingers in my opinion and it all starts with finding skill to put next to Leon Draisaitl should be one of the top priorities for Peter Chiarelli this summer.