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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Is Connor McDavid’s coveted wingman available this offseason?

Finding a player fast, smart and skilled enough to skate alongside the best player in the world is never an enviable task. And it’s not the fact that No. 97 needs any help in the production department, but that you want to maximize the output from the guys who play with him.

The Oilers have lived these perils first hand over the past couple of seasons, realizing just how tough it is to outfit Connor McDavid with a winger that doesn’t just elevate the play and compliment the skillset of their captain, but who also boasts the ability to consistently retrieve loose pucks, find McDavid in open space, and who can finish, finish, finish.

It’s a tough mix to obtain, and wingers with some or all of these abilities are extremely hard to find. Naturally, experimenting with a few options before finding the right fit — just as the Penguins had to do during the first few years of Crosby’s career — is an expected and necessary part of the process.

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Over the past couple seasons, McDavid has seen the most success with Patrick Maroon and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins (who should, in my humble opinion, be a permanent fixture alongside McDavid going forward), but there’s been no indication yet of whether or not The Nuge will remain on the No. 1 unit with Leon Draisaitl slotting into the permanent 2C spot for the long haul. He definitely should, but that doesn’t mean he will.

Despite the fact that the back-to-back scoring champion is clearly doing just fine without that elite piece beside him on a consistent basis, finding that guy who will help bring McDavid to even greater heights while taking a bit of the load off of No. 97’s plate is a top priority for Edmonton this offseason.

The team still has to find another guy to fill out the line whether RNH sticks with Connor on the top line or not, and Chia and Co. have a few options to consider this offseason. This isn’t a shot against Ty Rattie at all, but the blender comes out a lot in Edmonton and it would be nice to have more than one option for when slumps and injuries inevitably occur.

(Note: Most of these would be subject to salary cap implications that would have to be resolved — top-line wingers don’t come cheap)

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May 30, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Vegas Golden Knights left wing James Neal (18) celebrates with left wing Erik Haula (56) after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals in the first period in game two of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

James Neal, 30.

2017-18 Cap Hit: $5M 

A left-handed shot with a quick release from his off-wing, Neal is one of the better high-slot shooters in the game and has shown with his run of ten straight 20+ goal seasons that he can absolutely bury the puck — finally giving McDavid a pure finisher on his wing. He’s fast enough to keep up with the kid, too, and the physical presence he brings without sacrificing any of the offensive upside makes Neal extremely valuable in multiple areas of the game.

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James Van Riemsdyk, 29.

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2017-18 Cap Hit: $4.25M 

Arguably the most lethal guy in the league from the hashmarks down, James Van Riemsdyk is pretty one-dimensional — but when that one dimension is something as coveted as proven, consistent goal-scoring ability, it’s a lot easier to swallow. He would open up tons of space down low for McDavid because of the attention he draws in front of the net, and is clearly able to light the lamp when the puck finds his stick. JVR would add a whole new dimension to the Oilers power play, too.

Patrick Maroon, 30.

2017-18 Cap Hit: $2M 

Bringing back Patty isn’t a game-changer for McDavid or the Oilers, but with Maroon clearly benefiting from playing alongside No. 97 with the best year-and-a-half stretch of his career during his time in Edmonton and Connor producing the way he did with Maroon by his side, tossing $2.5-3 million at the 30-year-old with the intention of slotting him alongside RNH and McDavid wouldn’t be a terrible risk.

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Michael Grabner, 30.

2017-18 Cap Hit: $1.65M

Grabner brings a ton of speed (he’d instantly be one of the team’s 2-3 fastest), and has traditionally scored at a high rate, especially 5-on-5, despite never really finding consistent minutes in a top-six role. He’s posted back-to-back 27 goal seasons, and is likely come cheap after struggling the last chunk of the season after being traded to New Jersey. And, if he doesn’t work out on the top unit, Grabner slots very nicely in the bottom-six and can provide secondary scoring along with a heavy presence on the penalty kill.

Andreas Athanasiou, 23.

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2017-18 Cap Hit: $1.4M (Would have to acquire VIA trade with Detroit)

The Red Wings can’t seem to figure out exactly what to do with this guy — and maybe it’s a sign of something — but at just 23 years old and as one of NHL’s fastest skaters with the puck on his stick outside of McDavid, Athanasiou is definitely one of those guys who could benefit from a change of scenery — and a move to the wing. With the Oilers stacked down the middle, taking a flyer on AA and converting the natural centreman into a winger and slotting him alongside RNH and No. 97 would give Edmonton the most explosive first line in the Western Conference.

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  • E-Mac

    Extremely bullish on Athanasiou. He would be a perfect fit and put up ~30 goals on McJesus’ line. It is time we buy low for once. Stop chasing has-been 30 goal scorers and fine a talent on the cusp. Skating is the new NHL and he can fly.

    Everyone seems to love Yamo, and maybe that is rightfully so. But Athanasiou also lit up Junior but on top of that has been productive in the AHL and NHL. Buy low!

    To me Neal is coming down from his peak. I recall him having a mediocre second half last year. Granted he is still a great goal scorer but at what cost. Some team is going to regret paying him $7M as his production continues to slide.

    • Jaxon

      He’s basically a young Grabner. They had very similar scoring in junior and are both extremely fast with some character/consistency issues. I’d be happy with either and suspect Athanasiou will be a smaller cap hit but will cost some assets.

  • Daryl Katz

    i don’t believe Maroon is going to sign here again as he was here just a few days ago selling his house so that tells me he’s signing elsewhere. AA would fit in here very well and if we can get him we should. Neal would be a good fit here too but i don’t know if Edmonton is high on his list of places to sign long term. JVR? i’d be shocked if a place like Edmonton is even on his list ! Captain America is going to re-sign somewhere in the U. S. again pretty much guaranteed ! perhaps even back in Philly with rumblings there that Simmonds could be on the block? Grabner would be good but has made noises about wanting to stay in the New York area and perhaps even going back to the Rangers? so i’m not so sure he’d trade the New York Metropolitan area for a place like Edmonton? my opinions on these guys.

  • @S_2_H

    I think the top line is fine. Nuge has meshed beautifully, and Rattie appears to think the game at a high level (we’ll see how he does with an extended look) Besides, I don’t even know if McD really needs an actual ‘trigger man’ – I kinda just want him to shoot always! Spend the money on a right shot dman who can get out of his own zone if you can, that should still be their top priority dammit.

  • Justeen Trudope

    Edmonton is the last place any free agent wants to sign. The claims of having the best player in the world while still finishing as a bottom feeder is far from appealing. Edmonton jumped the gun and blew there wad on an over rated Draisaitl and the only free agent who would sign there (who has now requested a trade). I hope they can turn it around it’s been a decade of darkness and the prospect pool is very shallow. Chia needs to get creative

    • Daryl Katz

      because he was fast enough to be able to end a game quickly with an empty netter, something the Oilers seem to have trouble doing, and that has value too. and if he got 16 even strength goals not playing with a McDavid type player then 20+ should easily be within reach playing with either McDavid or Leon.

  • TKB2677

    Why is this an article? The Oilers found his winger, his name is Nugent- Hopkins. He played the last 1/4 of the season together and they lit it up. They played in the World Champs and did well. If you look at the NHL these days, you see more pairs than set lines. When you have one player making 12.5 mill, you can’t afford to have 2 high priced wingers flanking him. It’s simple math. When you have a player like McDavid and then you compliment him with a heady, really good player like Nuge, you don’t need another high end winger. You need to find a dirt cheap guy that has enough skill to be able to finish off the odd chance or clean up the garbage. I hope and pray that McDavid learned from this past season that it is in the teams best interest that he becomes a dangerous shooter and goal scorer. He should be flirting with 40 goals every year. I personally think that his reluctance to become a goal scorer until the second half of the season, hurt the Oilers. He passed up WAY too many golden goal scoring chances to try to set someone up. So if McDavid is scoring 40. Nuge had 24 goals in 62 games and played less than 1/4 of the season with McDavid. I think he scores more than 30 easily. If you are getting 70 goals from McDavid and Nuge which I don’t think is unrealistic, all you need is 15 from the other guy. I think Rattie has good enough hands and instincts that he can easily get 15 goals just being on that line.

    As someone else said, they need to find a goal score for Leon. Maybe they have that internally i.e JP or Yamo. But if you get a legit goal scoring threat for Leon and have 2 dangerous lines, teams will have difficulty handling them.

    • TKB2677

      Completely agree. People complain about the Oilers cap situation all the time but people need to understand the Oilers are paying McDavid 12.5 mill. He’s worth it. However, 12.5 mill for 1 guy is what it would cost for a team to put together a fairly decent entire second line or at least 2/3 of a second line. So to even suggest they should throw a Neal or JVR with McDavid who are going to make over 6 mill, is insane. You physically can’t afford it. Plus you have to have someone to play with Leon.

      • positivebrontefan

        ^^^^This all day!!! Connor and Nuge are 18.5 mill a year, you cant afford to spend another 6 mill to add to that line. Anyone needs help it’ll be Drai. If he doesn’t get decent wingers he’s gonna flounder and eventually pout that he isn’t skating with Connor. He’s a gem of a passer and maybe a JVR would be a good winger for him. Leave Connor and Nuge and a bigger body on that top line, get Drai some help on the second line would be my priority, hopefully if Lucic comes back he’ll have a bounce back year. Fingers crossed on that one.

      • Spydyr

        Not one person on here has ever said Connor is overpaid. It is obvious he took less than market to help the team. Pretty well every other contract Chia has been involved in has been an overpay.

        • TKB2677

          He’s not overpaid. He’s worth every penny but it doesn’t change the fact that you could get 2 or 3 really good NHLers for what McDavid makes. So it’s because he makes that much that you can’t afford to be paying too many guys on his wing much to play with. You can afford to have one guy making decent coin but the other guy has to be dirt cheap and McDavid has to take that dirt cheap guy and turn him into a player. Basically do what Gretzky did when Semenko was on his line. Bounce it off the guys stick and in if you have too.

  • Kepler62c

    I think it’s more about finding a winger for Drai than McD.

    Nuge – McD – WhoeverIsHot/WhoeverNeedsABoost

    Give Rattie the shot out of the gate, he earned it, but if things slow down for him you can try literally anyone willing to go hard to the net and get the puck to Nuge or McD.

  • Hemmercules

    Seems like you have to overpay UFA’s a little bit more than other teams to get them to sign in Edmonton unless its bargain basement players that are leftover from the initial free agency day rush.

    Neal is major long shot for the oilers. I dont see him wanting to come to Edmonton and there will be a bidding war for him that the Oilers likely cant afford anyway. He would take less to stay in Vegas than come north I would guess.

    JVR is good but again, he wont be a cheap pickup. Probably more likely than Neal to play north of the boarder though.

    Sounds like Maroon will have some options closer to home so I would expect him to go that route unless Chia is looking to majorly overpay him on a 2 or 3 year deal.

    I say take a shot at one of the other two or a guy like Vanek. This team needs to hold off on overpays and long term deals to UFA’s. Unless of course they manage to trade Lucic and not take any cap space back. Then I could see Chia maybe take a run at Neal or JVR. Probably not wise to do so but Chia needs this team to win now or he’s done for.

  • All above are over priced slugs but Athanasiou who would fit in well with McD speed. The question is who or what would the Oilers have to give the Wings in order to get him? The Wings wouldn’t want any old retreads.

  • Chris Prongers Rake

    They could afford more by removing paying 2.5 million on a back up goalie we didn’t need and money on a defenseman from a Swedish league. Money poorly spent in my opinion.

    • @S_2_H

      Totally. That goalie signing still baffles me. Sure take a chance on an nhl unproven goalie if you have a stud D corps, and your starter isn’t coming off a less than average year. This guy is bound to fail and it’s not even his fault. Throw in the overpay and this is just another terrible signing in a growing list of terrible Chia signings.

  • OilersGM

    I have all day for Athanasiou but the cost will be at least Strome or a prospect like Benson, the question is would you do that deal?
    As for JVR and Neal I wouldn’t touch them with a 10 foot pole. Lucic 2.0.

  • ROILYDoGG$

    Yes teams are really realizing the high priced UfA at 29-30 years old for a long term contract is a bad idea. Getting burnt and watching that the young kids coming in to the league have had better development and it’s looking like the league is making a big transition.

    Oilers have a solid young core with a few vets like sekera and russel. We need to round the bottom pair up with kids ready to break out like Vegas did or other teams gave up on a bit to early such as :
    Duclair
    Andreas Athanasiou, 23.
    And a rh dman. In the 24-26 range. If they can sign Brodziak for the bottom pair centre roll with these other additions and we are set.

    Nuge. Mcd Rattie (Super skill line)
    Lucic. Leon. Pj. (Big, puck possession)
    Athanasiou, strome. Aberg (speed and Mobile )
    Jjk /Cadjula . Brodziak. Kassian (vet & youth)

    Klef. Lar
    Nurse. Ufa
    Sekera. Benning
    Russel (2nd, 3rd pair option)or 7th
    THis adds depth and gives room for competition at every position

  • Yakupov for $600K scored 9 points in 10 games with McDavid when McD was still 18 and had to learn the NHL.

    Used to have multiple strong chances per night.

    The cheapest solution with the most potential. Yes, I think he’s a project, but with 3 assistant coaches one of them can help him.