The Oilers play their final three preseason games at home this week against Vancouver, Arizona and Calgary. They will then fly to Germany on Saturday evening. The Oilers don’t have to announce their 23-man roster on Sunday, but the decision will be made before their plane leaves Edmonton.
There will be some tough decisions for the coaching staff this week, but remember, just because a player is on the opening night roster doesn’t mean they are a lock to remain here all season. And the reality of the final roster cuts is that waiver exemption will play a major role.
Here are who I see as locks to make the 23-man roster.
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic, Ty Rattie, Tobias Rieder, Jujhar Khaira, Ryan Strome, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kyle Brodziak, Zack Kassian, Drake Caggiula, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse, Matt Benning, Kris Russell and Cam Talbot.
That leaves five spots. Four skaters and a goalie.
Mikko Koskinen or Al Montoya? The salary cap doesn’t change regardless of who makes the team. The Oilers will have a $2.537 million cap hit, unless Montoya is claimed off of waivers, then it will be $2.5 million for the backup position.
Koskinen looked better yesterday, but he has allowed eight goals on 37 shots in the preseason in 100 minutes of playing time. He allowed three goals on 16 shots in Calgary and five in 21 shots in Winnipeg. Montoya has only played 20 minutes and stopped 13 of 14 shots in the third period in Vancouver. It will be interesting to see how Todd McLellan handles ice time for his goalies. His main priority is to ensure Cam Talbot is ready for opening night. I presume he starts the game in Germany next Wednesday, so the question is: will he get one or two starts this week? If it is two, that leaves only one start for Montoya or Koskinen. If they give it to Koskinen, it shows they want him to be the backup and will give him every opportunity to find his game. Or do they give Montoya a start to see how he fares? If he plays well it would make sense to start Koskinen in the AHL and give him some games to get comfortable.
I still think best plan would be to give Koskinen more time to adjust to the smaller ice, faster pace of game and shooting angles in the AHL. He might only need five or six games. And he might need two months to play five games in the NHL.
Ethan Bear, Evan Bouchard, Jason Garrison and Jakub Jerabek are battling for two spots, although the Oilers could keep three if they want to start the season with eight defenders. Jerabek hasn’t done much. I’ve seen him make some subtle smart plays, and he’s had a few head-scratching turnovers, but I think he is here to start, likely because they don’t have a lot of depth. But he is far from a lock.
Bear doesn’t require waivers, while once Bouchard is sent to junior he can’t be recalled until his junior season is over. We could see Bouchard get a few NHL games and if they like what they see, they can keep him. Garrison makes the right decision most of the time — my concern is his foot speed. They could sign him to a deal worth $700,000 (same as Kevin Gravel’s contract) and the Oilers cap space wouldn’t change.
My sense is Bouchard will make the trip to Germany and Bear could start the season in the AHL, but soon find himself in Edmonton.
Kailer Yamamoto, Alex Chiasson, Ryan McLeod and Pontus Aberg are battling for one, possibly two forward spots. McLeod has opened a lot of eyes. I just don’t see him beating out any of the Oilers top-four centres, so he will go back to junior. He will likely sign his ELC before going, and get a nice reward for training camp — half of his signing bonus. He will get the second half on December 31st, at least that is how most signing bonuses are handed out.
Yamamoto has put himself in the conversation to start the season in Edmonton. I see him pushing Tobias Rieder for his spot on the second line. They could play him on the LW on the fourth line, and bump Caggiula to the press box, but I think they’d rather he play his natural wing if he is going to start in the NHL. Put him in the best position to succeed. Yamamoto has done enough in my eyes to start the season here.
Chiasson and Aberg are battling for the 14th forward spot, as I see it. If the Oilers choose to keep 14F/7D one of them will be here, but if they go with 13 both of them could be in the minors. Neither has done anything to really get noticed thus far, while Yamamoto is doing something every game that grabs the coaching staff’s attention.
I think Yamamoto would have to really struggle defensively this week not to make the opening 23-man roster. Chiasson and Aberg need to have strong games this week if they hope to be on the plane to Cologne this Saturday.
It is interesting to note Kevin Gravel was put on waivers today. He was signed much earlier than Jerabek, yet he is the one going to the AHL. They are very different types of players, and I think Gravel was signed to be a depth #7/#8 guy. With Bouchard still here, he was expendable. If Bouchard gets sent back to junior — and I still think he will before burning a year of his ELC (10 games) — we might see Gravel back in Edmonton as a depth defender.
Cooper Marody has had a good showing in his Oilers training camp. He will start as the #1 centre in Bakersfield. I see him as a bottom six player in the NHL, but he makes a lot of smart plays. I won’t be surprised if he gets recalled at some point this season if the Oilers run into injury issues up front.
Scottie Upshall was released from his PTO. His knee just didn’t respond well enough to play in any games. He tried his best, but he likely needs another three weeks before he could play in a game. When healthy to play, don’t be surprised to see him sign a potential tryout with Bakersfield and get in some games. Don’t rule him out catching on with an NHL team at some point this season.
Brad Malone and Keegan Lowe were placed on waivers today and will be heading to Bakersfield. They are good veterans to have on your AHL team, but I don’t see them making an impact in Edmonton this year.
Strome didn’t skate today, but Todd McLellan said he expects him to be ready for the start of the regular season. He played 16:34 last night, second-most among forwards behind Puljujarvi (18:16). He tweaked his groin according to McLellan, but the coach is confident he will be ready to start the season.
The lines at practice were:
The D pairs rotated a bit, at least the bottom five guys, and right now the one spot up for grabs is the third pairing RD.
And one thing to watch for on Oilers PP. When they get a 5-on-3 they had Rattie on instead of RNH today in practice. And I had a good chat with McDavid about the PP and the new options they are using. Will have more from that conversation tomorrow.