Barring a shocking trade or a minor free agent signing, the Oilers roster we see now will be the same one we see come September. With minimal changes to the roster, it’s clear that the organization is banking on some best-case scenarios from players this year in order to return to the playoffs.
Over the next few weeks, you’ll see me go through every player who should have an impact in the Oilers organization and try to guess what that players “ceiling” is, and also what their “floor” would be performance wise.
In doing this, I’ll be making a few assumptions. The first being that the player stays healthy for the entire season. Obviously, the worst case scenario for any player would be to miss a significant amount of time with injury. The other is that the player will spend the entire season with the Oilers. It would be easy to say that the best case scenario for some names is that they’re traded away from Edmonton.
For the high end of things, I tried to be realistic yet optimistic. Of course, it’s POSSIBLE for someone like Jujhar Khaira to score 35 goals this year… but c’mon.
One other note to consider when reading this piece, although I have these players listed at bottom six wingers, it doesn’t mean that I believe they’ll be bottom six wingers all year. That’s just where I’m assuming they start training camp.
Now that I’ve explained my thought process, here is part two of my “Highs & Lows” for the 2018 Oilers: The Bottom Six Wingers:
THE CEILING: The word “bust” was being thrown around a bit the last year. Let me start by saying that is absolutely insane. I wouldn’t even call this a make-or-break year for the fourth overall pick, I just want to see some steps forward.
With that said, we’ve seen players like Mikko Rantanen and Nik Ehlers breakthrough in their 20-year-old seasons, so maybe we see that with Puljujarvi. Yes, this is his third season in the league, but not all prospects develop on a straight line. It’s ridiculous to have to continually explain that.
If he clicks in the top-six and FINALLY starts getting used properly on the powerplay, I’ll say Puljujarvi can score 30 goals this year. It’s a high number, but he has the raw talent and if it all clicks this year, look out!
THE FLOOR: Well, he hasn’t been able to stick on a line with either McDavid or Draisaitl so far in his career, so we probably shouldn’t just assume that will happen this year.
He did look pretty comfortable on the wing with Ryan Strome last year, and it allows him to not only face sheltered minutes but also carry the puck through the neutral zone more, which he loves to do.
If he spends all year on Strome’s wing, and can’t get a spot on either powerplay unit, I’ll say his floor is 12-10-22, a two-point increase on last year. A year like that could end his career as an Oiler.
THE CEILING: The fan base is absolutely split on Drake Caggiula. Some look at him as a young, bottom six forward with offensive upside. Others see him as a fringe NHLer who is massively overvalued by his coach.
Both of those are actually true, and in his third year in the league, it’s time for Caggiula to shut the haters up.
While he is 24-years-old, he only has 127 games of NHL experience. There’s no doubt he’s still learning a lot, and I believe he has room to grow. Last year, we saw him increase his goal total from 7 to 13, despite having to battle through a tough facial injury.
If Caggiula continues to get chances on the powerplay and can stick in the top six for extended periods of time, I could see him once again increase his goal total by six. 19 goals and 15 assists is my ceiling for the Pickering, Ontario product.
THE FLOOR: Well, the battle for jobs in the Oilers bottom six will ramp up if Kailer Yamamoto makes the team. If you factor in Brad Malone, or if the Oilers go sign another fringe NHLer, there could be as many as seven players competing for five spots on the roster.
That could leave Caggiula either buried on the fourth line, or out of the lineup entirely.
If that situation comes to fruition, I could see Caggiula only playing about 50-60 games and scoring somewhere between five and seven goals. That number would make it his $1.5 million cap hit an overpay, and would only increase the pressure from parts of the fan base.
THE CEILING: As one of the few bright spots on last year’s team, I have high hopes for Khaira heading into this season and I believe he might even find his way into the top six on a more regular role. I would also love to see him used more on the powerplay.
Last year we saw him score 11 goals, if he’s stapled to the wing of Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid, it could be a big year for the former 3rd round pick.
20-20-40 is my ceiling for Khaira.
THE FLOOR: I think he’s got a spot on the team locked down, but there’s a chance he’s nothing more than a fourth line winger. Another thing that might derail his season is an injury to either Ryan Strome or Kyle Brodziak which could force Khaira to the middle of the ice, where he isn’t as effective.
I’ll set his floor at 8-8-16 with no impact on either special team’s group.
THE CEILING: Kassian has played in 387 career NHL games. At this point, we know what he can bring to the table, it’s just a matter of whether or not he does it on a nightly basis.
In 16/17, he was fantastic at running over the opposition and wreaking havoc on the forecheck. I think that element of his game brings value to the Oilers lineup, and we saw that during their playoff run.
Last year, he didn’t have the same physical edge, and it showed. I believe that lack of physicality hurt his ability to create offensive chances. His scoring chances for, and high-danger scoring chances both dropped last year.
A great year for Kassian would see him bring back his nasty, physical edge which would help turn their fourth line into a real source of energy. I could also see him hitting the 12 goal mark with some offensive luck. I would love to see him help the penalty kill as well.
THE FLOOR: The same bland game I saw from Kassian far too often last year simply won’t cut it this year. He needs to earn his $1.9 million cap hit.
That’s not a guarantee though, and the one thing we know with Kassian is the negatives can snowball in his game. When he isn’t for checking and playing physical, it leads to less scoring chances which usually frustrates him into taking a bad penalty.
My floor for Kassian isn’t about numbers, although if he scores less than seven goals I’d consider it a very poor season. But if he appears uninspired and is noticed more for taking lazy penalties than forcing turnovers and bringing energy to the fourth line, this season will be a bust.
THE CEILING: His half-season in Edmonton was rather eventful. He saw time in the teams top six, but there was also some unknown drama surrounding him that led to him being scratched and a great mini-rant from Todd McLellan (which starts at 1:25 of this video).
He’s been a streaky offensive player at times, he scored seven points in four games during a hot stretch last March and also had four points in a four-game stretch during Nashville’s 2017 playoff run.
If he gets on one or two hot streaks this year, I could see Aberg pumping home 12 goals and 15 assists this year, which would be more points than he has so far in his entire NHL career combined.
THE FLOOR: While the Oilers are wicked thin on the wings, they have a rather clogged bottom six. If Kailer Yamamoto makes the team out of camp or gets called up at any point, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Aberg get placed on waivers.
He’ll likely stay in the bottom-six all year, and I doubt he’ll even have an impact on either side of the special teams. That would result in him either leaving Edmonton or going to Bakersfield.
My floor for Aberg is being placed on waivers before the season even starts. Simple as that.
NOTE: Kailer Yamamoto did not appear on either “The Top-Six” or “The Bottom Six”. That’s because I have him included in a group I called “The Fringe” which will be part six of the series.