As proven by Dustin Nielson’s 20 line combinations in 20 days, the Oilers lineup is far from set in stone and there are plenty of possibilities when it comes to who could make the team out of camp. By my count, there are 17 players who are competing for 13-14 NHL jobs this fall.
We know who the players are, but exactly which jobs will be up for grabs when training camp opens? Well here is my best guess:
Below, I’ve placed the players who I think are locked in at certain spots and which positions in the lineup are up for grabs:
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Connor McDavid||OPEN|
|OPEN||Kyle Brodziak||Zack Kassian|
The centres are in stone, Nuge will start with McDavid and the Kassian/Brodziak duo will be stapled to the fourth line. After that? It’s all wide open.
TOP LINE RIGHT WINGER
FRONT RUNNER: Ty Rattie. In 14 games on the 97/93 line last season, he produced nine points. That’s fairly solid production, but we know Rattie is still an unproven NHLer so I’d be surprised if he manages to continue playing an effective role on the teams top line for a long stretch.
Still, he’s their best option and he’ll likely start the year there.
DARK HORSE: Kailer Yamamoto. He won the job last year out of camp, but his youth started to show more in the regular season. Another season of junior and another summer of training could propel him into the spot this year.
His ceiling is much higher than Ratties, if he comes close to reaching it this fall, he could grab the job.
SECOND LINE LEFT WINGER
FRONT RUNNER: Milan Lucic. He was horrendous last season, we don’t need to dissect it any further. If he comes to camp with better foot speed and a little more motivation, then a spot in the top six is his to lose. If he can simply get some better puck luck, and be more of a disturbance in front of the net on the powerplay, we should see his numbers bump up as well.
We’ve seen him have success with Draisaitl before, and the two of them could really punish opposition with their strong cycle game.
DARK HORSE: Jujhar Khaira. I really hope the coaching staff gives Jujhar a look with Leon. He’s strong, goes to the net and when he gets there, he knows how to finish off plays.
He played 168 minutes with Draisaitl last season had a GF% of 53% and a SCF% of 55%. They made things happen in the offensive zone together and controlled possession. I think they could be a really solid combo if given the chance.
SECOND LINE RIGHT WINGER
FRONT RUNNER: Tobias Rieder. They’re only paying him $2 million, but I think the team wants Rieder to be their safety net if none of the young kids can grab spots.
He’s never been a go-to offensive guy, but he’s spent lots of time on skill lines. Last year, his most common centre in Arizona was Derek Stepan and in LA it was Jeff Carter. No reason to suggest he couldn’t come into camp and click with fellow German Leon Draisaitl.
DARK HORSE: Jesse Puljujarvi. The dream scenario would be for the 2016 4th overall pick to step in and show he’s figured it out at the NHL level. The coaching staff has shown that they’re going to make him earn all the ice time he gets, but there’s a long list of European prospects who find success in their 20- year-old seasons (Rantanen and Ehlers to name a pair).
We’ve seen flashes, and now it’s time to see consistency. If that happens, he could snag the job.
THIRD LINE LEFT WINGER
FRONT RUNNER: Drake Caggiula. Most of his even strength time last season was spent with Ryan Strome as his centre, and one would imagine that this is his spot to lose once again this year.
Both players possession numbers got much better when they were together, but their goal shares dropped. That’s probably because they started 61% of their shifts in the offensive zone. They did a good job holding onto possession, but couldn’t capitalize on their chances.
Still, Caggiula is a safe play on the third line, and I suspect that’s where he’ll start.
DARK HORSE: Josh Currie. That guy they just signed to an NHL deal? YUP! Currie has spent three seasons in Bakersfield and has seen his point total increase by at least ten in each season. He’s also proven he can score in the junior level. He posted 104 (57 at 5v5) in his final season in the QMJHL which put him 3rd in the league.
He hasn’t proven himself as an offensive producer at the pro level quite yet, but he has seen his point total jump in each of his four pro seasons, so maybe a jump to the NHL is the next logical step.
THIRD LINE RIGHT WINGER
FRONT RUNNER: Jesse Puljujarvi. The only way he doesn’t start the season next to Ryan Strome is if he’s in the top six. His numbers next to Strome weren’t out of this world last season, but I thought he looked more comfortable on the third line. That might have been because he got softer matchups, was allowed to carry the puck more or a bit of both.
It would be great if Puljujarvi could jump onto one of the teams top scoring lines, but if he doesn’t make progress, it’s safe to assume he’ll start 2018-19 where he ended 2017-18.
DARK HORSE: Cooper Marody. The 21-year-old signed with the Oilers as a college free agent and made the leap to pro hockey at the end of last season, where he scored three points in three games with the Condors.
I would imagine the organization thinks he’ll be an NHL player sooner rather than later, and they may have already promised him NHL playing time this season, but Marody could surprise and crack the lineup on his own merit. He has some offensive punch and while he lacks size, he isn’t afraid to get dirty in order to win puck battles.
Caggiula cracked the lineup in 2016-17, I could see Marody doing the same thing this year and sticking on the third line.
FOURTH LINE RIGHT WINGER
FRONT RUNNER: Jujhar Khaira. I think he needs to be a winger this year, he looks more comfortable there and he produced better numbers as a winger compared to a centre.
Similar to Puljujarvi, it would be nice if he could steal a top-six job out of training camp, but if he ends up comfortably slotted on the team’s fourth line, there should be no problems with that. He can be an effective energy player, who brings a little offensive bite to the bottom six.
DARK HORSE: Pontus Aberg. His time with the Oilers was inconsistent, to say the least. He got hot for a quick stretch with Leon Draisaitl but also got healthy scratched for office reasons at one point. In the end, eight points in 16 games is nothing to scoff at.
If I listed more dark horses for some of the spots open on scoring lines, I would have mentioned him up there because he has shown some nice flashes. At the end of the day, there is a lot of young skilled talent and I wonder if Aberg’s lack of consistency will hurt his ability to win a roster spot.
FRONTRUNNERS: Pontus Aberg & Brad Malone. Young guys like Kailer Yamamoto and Cooper Marody will either make the team or be sent to junior, they really aren’t candidates for the role of extra forward. Other than that, any one of Drake Caggiula, Jujhar Khaira, Ty Rattie or Zack Kassian could be swapped out without much hesitation.
I listed Malone as a favourite to be an extra forward because I think the team likes his versatility and he comes cheap. The type of player can be depended on to give you solid minutes in a pinch.
Aberg is also cheap but doesn’t come with the same dependability that Malone does. I think the Oilers could keep him around and keep him in the lineup when he’s hot and simply pull him out when other players are performing better. It’s obvious, but as a pending RFA at just 650k, you aren’t too worried about getting him regular playing time.
So with all that being considered, if all the “Front Runners” were to grab their jobs, this would be my assumed Oilers roster for opening day.
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Connor McDavid||Ty Rattie|
|Milan Lucic||Leon Draisaitl||Tobias Rieder|
|Drake Caggiula||Ryan Strome||Jesse Puljujarvi|
|Jujhar Khaira||Kyle Brodziak||Zack Kassian|