For a player (more specifically, a winger) looking to establish himself as a legitimate NHL regular, there may not be a better opportunity anywhere in the league than here in Edmonton. Enter, Pontus Aberg.
There is a glorious opportunity sitting right in front of Aberg. He’s a member of one of the thinnest groups of wingers in the league and, at some point, will likely get a look with a dynamic offensive centre.
Oilers P.O.H.O. Peter Chiarelli will be the first to admit that the depth in this organization was awful when he took over. One of the things Chiarelli has made clear, with both words and actions, over the past couple of seasons is that he wants assets that are close to contributing. It was the main reason Mark Letestu wasn’t moved for a pick prior to last years deadline. Letestu was sent to Nashville in exchange for a 24-year old tweener in need of a fresh opportunity elsewhere.
Aberg had an up and down late season experience with the Oilers. After slowly working his way into the line up he eventually got a very brief opportunity on the top line with McDavid. Unfortunately for Aberg, he completely wasted the opportunity by missing practice in Florida, getting healthy scratched and certainly pissing off his Head Coach. “He came out for reasons beyond his play . . . it’s serious. The coaching staff isn’t pleased, the organization isn’t pleased and I’m sure his teammates aren’t pleased,” is what Todd McLellan had to say back in mid-March.
With Aberg healthy scratched, Ty Rattie got a look on the first line and made the most of it.
THE BOUNCE BACK
In the game before being scratched, he played over 17 minutes on the top line and picked up an assist in an overtime loss to the Sharks.
Six days later he returned to the lineup and had an opportunity to ride shotgun with Leon Draisaitl against the Carolina Hurricanes. He scored once and added two assists in a blowout win over the Canes and would follow that up with three points in his next two games.
After picking up six points over a three-game stretch, Aberg would go -2 against the Ducks and fall out of favour with his coach again. He played 18 minutes in that game against the Ducks but would not get more than 14 minutes in any of his final four games of the season.
Thanks to one nice offensive stretch, Aberg finished with eight points in 16 games with the Oilers. Once again, this a small sample size, but his numbers look somewhat positive.
Shots For % – 53.38 – Second on the team among regular returning forwards behind only Draisaitl
Goals For % – 56.25 – Second on the team among regular returning forwards behind only Draisaitl
Points Per 60 (5X5) – 1.99 – Fourth on the team behind McDavid, Rattie and Draisaitl
I feel like Aberg has the skill set needed to become one of those important value contracts that can contribute when given opportunity alongside a big-time centre. I don’t like bottom six Aberg, but I think we could eventually dig a top-six Aberg.
Opportunity with the Oilers should be waiting this fall, but a couple of things will have to happen. Aberg will need to come into camp focused on what is probably the best crack he’s ever had at becoming an NHL regular. Todd McLellan and his new coaching staff will need to be willing to give the guy a clean slate and look past what was an obvious mistake made by the player last spring.
If Aberg gets a fresh start and some offensive opportunity, he may become the second line’s version of Rattie.
ABERG vs CAGGIULA
As many of you know, I’m in the middle of my Line Combinations Extravaganza right now, and Aberg’s name has only popped up a couple of times.
The way I see it, and rip me if I’m wrong, Pontus Aberg will basically be fighting with Drake Caggiula for a spot in the top 12. If that ends up being the case, it’s probably bad news for Aberg. Based on the opportunity that Caggiula has received since day one with the organization, it’s pretty clear to see that he already has a significant head start in this race.
If the job they end up battling for is on Draisaitl’s wing, Aberg may have a chance. Caggiula’s points per 60 (5×5) last season was 1.19, a far cry from Aberg’s 1.99. If Pontus can’t land a job on the second line he’ll likely be on outside looking in to start the season. If Caggiula can’t land a job on the second line I’m sure the staff will find a spot for him in the bottom six.
I’d be somewhat intrigued by a Rieder-Draisaitl-Aberg line. What if Aberg outshines Ty Rattie in training camp? That changes everything.