With my 20 in 20 Line Combination Extravaganza now behind us it’s time to deal with the logical next step. From what I can gather 22 spots on the Oilers 17-18 roster are pretty much already spoken for.
I know a few of you are already criticizing the 22 names I’ve listed. The two names that probably have you shaking your head are Pontus Aberg and Kevin Gravel.
I won’t be shocked if neither of them makes the team out of camp but I do believe the safe play right now is to pencil them in. Heck, the Oilers have already announced which number Gravel will be wearing this season.
Based on the list above, the team will have one spot left on the 23-man roster to open the season. Will they run with 14 forwards or will they keep eight defensemen? I believe the final roster spot will come down to one of these five guys.
The Fringe Five
He made the team out of camp last year so it’s not unthinkable that he’ll do it again and if he does it won’t be as a 13th or 14th forward. The scenario is a simple one. If Yamamoto is in the opening night line up one of Rattie, Khaira, Puljujarvi or Caggiula will be joining Pontus Aberg in the press box.
Part of me wants to believe the best thing for Yamamoto will be to start in Bakersfield and force his way onto the big club around the mid-way point of the season. The other half of me is thinking he will come into camp stronger than last year and will be ready to handle the top six minutes right away.
From what I’ve been told, from someone within the organization, Cooper Marody is likely more NHL ready right now than Drake Caggiula was two years ago. The former Michigan Wolverine can play centre or right wing so his versatility may be something the coaching staff will want around sooner rather than later.
Unlike Yamamoto, Marody won’t need to secure a spot in the top six to be effective. If he doesn’t start in Edmonton I’d definitely put him near the top of the call-up list.
Malone wouldn’t be a sexy pick to start the year in Edmonton but he does perfectly fit the role of a 13th or 14th forward. The reason most teams have a guy like Brad Malone on their roster is so players in the mold of Yamamoto and Marody don’t have to be plucked before they are ripe. I’d like to believe that’s the reason Malone is back with the Oilers this season.
I won’t be surprised if Evan Bouchard is on a plane overseas in September but I will be surprised if it’s just him and six other defensemen. If Bouchard makes the team I’d expect Gravel to be around as well, meaning the team will be carrying eight blue-liners.
Bouchard didn’t light the world on fire at last week’s World Junior Showcase but he certainly wasn’t a disappointment. If the Oilers do keep him around I’d assume he platoons in and out of the lineup with Matt Benning. When he’s in the line up he’ll be on the third pair and see a decent amount of time on the power-play. With the amount of junior experience he already has under his belt I don’t think limited minutes in Edmonton would ruin his development in any way.
In order for Bear to be on the opening night 23 he will have to drastically outplay both Bouchard and Gravel because I don’t see a situation where the Oilers keep both Gravel and Bear on the team to start the year.
Based on the glimpse we had of Bear last season another solid dose of seasoning in the minors is probably what’s best for him right now. I do think he’ll be in a position where he’s the first call up out of the minors when the injury bug inevitably hits.
The Wild Card:
I would still toss around the idea of a player currently not on the roster starting the year as the Oilers 14th forward. No, I’m not talking about a blockbuster deal to bring in Max Pacioretty, I’m talking about a player on a PTO.
Let’s just say, for example, someone like Tommy Wingels is invited to camp on a PTO and impresses the coaching staff. Management could sign Wingels to a one-year contract for the league minimum, leave Yamamoto and Marody in the minors and have Malone available as a veteran option when injury strikes.
In conclusion, I could see the Oilers carrying eight d-men until a decision is made on Bouchard and then bring up Malone or a forward they had originally brought in on a PTO.
P.S. The title of this article makes me miss the show Fringe. I loved Fringe from start to finish. Walter was an all-time classic character and how about Olivia! Sorry, I just had to nerd out.