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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Pontus Aberg Stuck In No Man’s Land

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.

THE NUMBERS

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.

THE RESET

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 

Mar 31, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Mark Jankowski (77) and Edmonton Oilers left wing Drake Caggiula (91) fight during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Previously by Dustin Nielson:

  • Sammy27

    I think Pontus has many of the elements to his game to succeed….Hopefully this young man will realize this may be one of his last opportunities before heading back to Europe.

  • Cowboy Bill

    I couldn’t agree more . Give Leon two speedy wingers , it will force him to move his feet , that’s when he plays his best hockey . Aberg can fire the puck from his off wing (LW) while Rieder will be the Nuge of the second line on the (RW) .

    Yes … Aberg & Caggiula should be battling for this spot , unless they just give it to Lucic .

    • Kneedroptalbot

      Putting a Spike Belt with Driasaitl makes no sense to me at all? Speed is Leon’s #1 weapon, why would you want to take the flow away from that line?

  • “Aberg will need to come into camp focused on what is probably the best crack he’s ever had at becoming an NHL regular.”
    As a player who had done absolutely nothing to establish himself as an NHL regular with Nashville, I’d argue Aberg’s “best crack” to establish himself came when he was put alongside the best player on the planet, McDavid. What better opportunity to make a first impression with a new team could anybody ask for? He plays well, but blows it by going out on a toot and missing practice. Aberg is in no-man’s land because he put himself there.

    • Ryan Jones Is Still My Hero

      Obviously a terrible first impression to make, but hopefully the fact that last season was a dumpster fire essentially from start to finish, and the fact that all the assistants are new, will make it easier to just write off what happened and move forward with a clean slate. I think that would be the best for players like Lucic, Talbot, Sekera, and Aberg as well. Maybe start him with a shorter leash than most, but you can’t take away his opportunity because of one idiotic mistake. The Oilers don’t have enough depth to exile a guy that can put up numbers like Aberg. If he doesn’t meet the challenge, fine, but I think dwelling on the past serves no real purpose at this point.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      You had fun with all those references to the perceived problem, didn’t you Robin? I counted four….. Good one!!!
      Everyone deserves a second chance. But not a third, if it’s going to take a roster spot… He can get that third chance somewhere else in my opinion.

  • 18% body fat

    The thing is the coaching and management don’t look at result or stats or analytics when it comes to caggulia. Any player fighting for a winger job is screwed. Caggulia has it and no matter how bad he is that is the case.

    • A-co

      I don’t understand the love fest for Caggullia with in the organization…he’s not super fast…he doesn’t have a great shot…he’s not a bruiser..he’s not great defensively…maybe he plays board games with katz’s son….is he good st laundry??? I just don’t understand

      • Glencontrolurstik

        He works hard… For all of his lackings, he works hard & does what the trainers & coaches ask of him… I’m not saying it’s right, but the coaches are rewarding him by example… I guess they are seeing improvement, I don’t know? But it’s the old adage, “if you work really hard & try something out of your comfort zone & fail once, you’ll succeed twice & that’s O.K.” Not that I agree with it, but Todd always seemed to reward & punish those that worked or didn’t hard. He insinuates this all the time in interviews… It’s another example of Todd carrying training camp far too long into the season, like U.S. Thanksgiving last year.

          • Glencontrolurstik

            I know. I have the same questions about the teams decisions…
            It’s not just with Caggiula. It’s weird actually that some developing players are evaluated not by their skill & stats, but by their work ethic? It seems that way anyway? I would say that Khaira has for more potential than Drake… He’s young & could be turned into an Iginla like power forward in my opinion…

  • The Immortal

    I have no idea why Calligula has been gifted the opportunities he has.

    I miss Slepy…alas TM certainly plays his favorites and that to an extent is the reason for last years debacle. Not saying Slepy was the saviour but there is a pattern with TM in that certain members of the roster seem to be granted more opprtunity than others in the lineup, regardless of their effort/results..

    • 18% body fat

      Neither player has much value. But considering how they performed last year I would say waiving caggulia and giving slep the time instead would have kept slep around which would have believe it or not been better assetangment. Slep 1m or caggulia 1.5.

      Opportunity is part of asset management. Not sure how JPfeels about opportunities he should have as a right handed shooter on the pp that went to caggulia. JP will have his value dropped and ask for a trade. Oilers will get nothing back and it will be all because they insist caggulia is an NHL player. Which by the way he is at best a replacement level player.

    • DARYL G

      I agree thought Todd’s comment that they were rushing JP was ridiculous he was not Todd’s favorite never got any real PP time and everytime he made a mistake Todd would bench him. Calligula tries he really does but he is at beast a 4th liner and he does hit.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      From a coaching perspective, it’s pretty easy to get behind a player like Cagiula. So long as as he’s not hurting you defensively, a fast little buzz saw who throws everything he has at opponents does more than turn fans heads.
      I know it’s near sacreligious to point out intangibles as opposed to the dogmatic fervour of Corsi…but intangibles are far more tangible than many back seat fan will ever realize. Those little habits and examples of both hard work or conversely lazy even cowardly plays add up to a coach. And the narrative is written. Ice time is rewarded or taken away.
      But how can any organization prosper by having things done another way. It lends itself to mutiny otherwise. You cannot reward lazy players as a coach unless it’s the last game and youre going on a hunch that it pays off. Barring that, the message is all too clear. Different treatment for different players and ambiguity reigns.

      I don’t know if that’s true for Pontus or not. The kid looks like a player to me. But if Todd favours Drake over him then there’s probably something to it.

  • Edmonton Eulers

    I think Aberg can be a useful player if he plays to his strengths and doesn’t make any more off ice mistakes. Unfortunately I don’t think he’ll get much of an opportunity to showcase his ability while stuck in the bottom 6. I’d like to see him play with Leon for a while and see where that goes.

  • TKB2677

    To me, Aberg and Yakupov have a lot of similarity. Obviously Yakupov was WAY more highly touted and potentially had more talent. But where I see the similarities is fit. Just like Yakupov, Aberg skill set is to be an offensive player. If you look at all his stats, he’s a scorer. I assume he was drafted in the second round to be a top 6 guy. I wouldn’t think a team uses a second rounder to get a 4th line plugger. The problem is he hasn’t been given the opportunity/ had enough success at the NHL to garner playing him in the top 6. So just like Yakupov, his skill set doesn’t mesh that well with playing in the lower lines. However, just like Yakupov, if he wants to play in the NHL and wants to get more opportunity, he has to figure out how to be effective in a bottom 6 role and hopefully by playing well, he will get more opportunity.

    The one difference between the 2 players is Yakupov was a high pick and was gifted top 6 time early on, he just wasn’t good enough to hold on to it.

  • camdog

    Only in Edmonton would fans complain that a guy like Aberg hasn’t been given a fair shot. He comes here, gets promoted to play with the best player in the world , instead of embracing the role he goes out on the town and disrespects the franchise. Aberg has been given a fair shot, it’s up to him too prove he deserves another shot in the top 6.

  • Daryl Katz

    guys like Aberg, Caggiula, Jesse, Khaira and the like drive me crazy because there is more to see from these guys but we never seem to see it and they are supposed to be our depth players. lack of production from these guys is one of the reasons why Brodziak and Rieder were brought in. maybe we didn’t need to if we could have gotten more from these guys?

  • Cowbell_Feva

    I love the idea of Aberg-Drai-Rieder
    Speed to burn and a deft passer in the middle on both forehand and backhand.
    When Aberg had his little offensive surge I thought we picked up a real player. Had confidence with the puck and is probably the fastest skater on the team not named Connor.

    As far as Caggiula, I think management loved being able to sign a coveted NCAA free agent and so he has been given a much longer leash than he should. Same goes for Matt Benning to my eye. Chiarelli signed him and he has been rolled out shift after shift after shift, when clearly he is over his head. He is a stride slow and undersized to defend in his own end. When his confidence goes into the gutter, he’s AHL at best, yet playing in the NHL. GM’s fall in love with their signings and it shows

    • camdog

      In respect to Benning I don’t recall anybody saying anything negative about his first season as an Oiler. Granted he wasn’t as good last year, I thought his game improved near the end of the year. Caggiula is a coach favourite because he works harder than any other winger on the team, it’s as simple as that.

      The only forward on last years team that I would liked to see more was Slepyshev. I know people wanted see more from JP, but I think he needed more work. Reality is with the exception of the penalty kill, there were no forwards deserving of additional even strength ice time, that’s more on the GM for not bringing in better players than the coach.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Aberg made a big mistake last year (missing practice) and had to deal with the consequences (healthy scratched, lost trust of coaching staff, lost opportunity on the top line).

    In my opinion, that should be done and over-with. If McLellan is going to “hold a grudge” because of last year’s incident then there is no reason to have Aberg on the roster.

    Its time to move on and let Aberg compete for a lineup spot on merit. To me, Aberg is a faster and more skilled Caggulia. His 1.99 P/60 is first line territory. It did come over a very shot heater and is likely not indicative of his overall offensive contribution but he should be explored in the top 6 (middle 6 at least).

    From what I can tell, he’s got the skill and the speed to succeed but his issue has been consistency and that is exactly what we saw last year. If he can find consistency, there is a place on this roster for him and he can be a huge value contract at his near league minimum cap hit. He may be one of the many that just can’t ever find the consistency to stick.

  • Chopwoodcarrywater

    He had decent chemistry with Leon at the last stretch of the season. Reider, Aberg, and/or Puljujarvi next to Leon, and we got our selves a speedy top 6, may not be the best top 6, however it at least fits the modern day NHL

  • Everyone seems to be saying that if Rattie or Aberg can’t crack the top six, then they’re out.

    So that means, for them, it’s this:
    Nuge – McDavid – Rattie
    Lucic – Draisaitl – Aberg
    Rieder – Strome – Puljujarvi
    Khaira – Brodziak – Kassian
    Caggiula

    or Caggiula slots in for one of them. I’d prefer Puljujarvi next to Draisaitl or McDavid.

    • sweatyballs2

      I think our 4th line should be our 3rd line this year, puck possession/physical/net presence. Play JP with Draisalitl and Lucic and if Lucic falls off move Rieder in the spot quickly

  • Kneedroptalbot

    A Rieder-Draisaitl-Aberg line give the Oilers speed and skill for a 2nd line.
    They need that to compete with todays top teams. Look at the Final Four in this years Playoffs: Tampa Bay, Washington, Winnipeg, Vegas. All 4 had tons of speed and very good goaltending.
    Recipe for success in todays NHL.