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Fighting For Spots

We’re at the point in training camp where the roster has been trimmed down significantly and it’s clear which spots are filled and which spots are still up for grabs. Some players have won jobs and cemented their place on the team, like Ty Rattie, while others are still fighting and the competition for those last few jobs is rather direct.

These are the spots on the roster that I believe are locked up:

Forwards:

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Connor McDavid Ty Rattie
Milan Lucic Leon Draisaitl Kailer Yamamoto
OPEN Ryan Strome Jesse Puljujarvi
OPEN Kyle Brodziak Zack Kassian
OPEN OPEN

Defence:

Oscar Klefbom Adam Larsson
Darnell Nurse Matt Benning
Kris Russell OPEN
OPEN

Goalies:

Cam Talbot OPEN

Out of the 23 spots available on the team, there are 16 spots that I believe are cemented. That means seven spots are still open for taking. Here is my take on those eight competitions and what I would like to see happen:

THE LEFT SIDE

Both left wing spots in the bottom six still aren’t solid in my mind. We saw Tobias Rieder get a look on the third line in the most recent game against the Vancouver Canucks, but Ryan Strome wasn’t in the lineup for that game and Jujhar Khaira was playing centre.

If Strome was healthy, I think there’s a chance we see Jujhar Khaira move to the left side on that line with Strome and Jesse Puljujarvi. In fact, if I had to pick between Khaira and Rieder based on the preseason, I would rather have Khaira playing on the more skilled line, which would leave Rieder to play on the fourth line.

But there’s one name we’ve forgotten about: Drake Caggiula.  In past years, he’s been Todd McLellan’s golden boy but he hasn’t been very good during the preseason, keep in mind neither has Tobias Rieder.

OPENING DAY: There’s no doubt in my mind that Khaira will be in the lineup on opening day, so that means the final spot will either go to Caggiula or Rieder. Right now, I would give the edge to Rieder.

THE EXTRA FORWARD

Mar 31, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left wing Pontus Aberg (46) skates against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

For this roster projection, I’m assuming the Oilers will carry two extra forwards and one extra defenseman. In reality, there is a chance that they bring eight defensemen to Europe and that would result in another forward being left over on this side of the pond.

But for the bulk of the season, I would expect the Oilers to have two extra forwards on their roster. Competing for those two spots are Alex Chiasson, who’s in camp on a PTO, Pontus Aberg, and then whichever one of Tobias Rieder and Drake Caggiula don’t make the starting lineup.

The way things are looking right now, I would say that Alex Chiasson has a leg up on Pontus Aberg. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Chiasson thus far in the preseason. He brings more speed to the teams bottom six and has a physical edge that you don’t get with Aberg.

If I had to choose one guy to play in the team’s top six, it would be Aberg, but I think Chiasson brings more to the teams bottom six and he has more NHL experience, which I value when considering a player who will be in and out of the lineup.

OPENING DAY: As I said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oilers carry eight defensemen when they go to Europe, but if they do go with 14 forwards, I suspect Pontus Aberg will be the odd man out. I think Chiasson has been better than him during the preseason and is better suited for the role. The team won’t cut Tobias Rieder either. I also suspect that the organization would rather risk losing Aberg on waivers compared to Caggiula.

THE SIXTH DEFENSEMAN

Sep 23, 2018; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ethan Bear (74) celebrates his first period goal against Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

The top four is set for the moment, and Kris Russell will surely be in the starting lineup. That leaves one spot and based on their play in camp I suspect it will go to one of Ethan Bear or Evan Bouchard.

Bouchard has struggled a little bit in his own end, but he’s been moving the puck up the ice better than most of the Oilers veteran blueliners. That actually makes him a decent candidate to play with someone like Kris Russell.

Bear has been fantastic on the power play in my mind. He has an absolute bomb from the point and he isn’t afraid to use it. The Oilers have been lacking that in recent years. At 5v5, I would say it’s close between him and Bouchard, but I might give the edge to Bouchard.

One thing that will actually work in Bouchard’s favour is the fact that he either has to play in the NHL or go to the OHL for the remainder of the season. Since Ethan Bear can play in the AHL and doesn’t require waivers, the organization can send him up and down as much as they please. If the Oiler’s send Bouchard back to junior, there is no reversing their decision.

That fact alone gives Bouchard an edge because even if the two are close, the organization will likely prefer to keep Bouchard until they know for sure he isn’t NHL ready.

OPENING DAY: I think it will be Evan Bouchard in the lineup when the puck drops on the regular season. I like his ability to move the puck at even strength, he can contribute on the power play, and I want a better look at him against NHL competition. If they bring eight d-men to Europe, I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s both Bouchard and Bear heading overseas.

THE SEVENTH DEFENSEMAN


Mar 24, 2018; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Washington Capitals defenseman Jakub Jerabek (28) shoots the puck as Montreal Canadiens forward Logan Shaw (49) defends during the third period at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Again, this is a two horse race at this point. It will either go to free agent addition Jakub Jerabek or Jason Garrison, who’s in camp on a PTO. I’ll start by saying this: neither one of these guys have done enough to win the job in my opinion.

Jerabek has made a few nice plays with the puck, and at his best, I think he’s an everyday NHL defenseman. The problem with Jerabek is consistency, and if he going to make this team, I need to see him play at least one game without making a grade ‘A’ mistake.

Garrison, on the other hand, has been pretty vanilla in my eyes. He doesn’t skate very well, which is an area where Jerabek has a clear edge, but he makes smart decisions with the puck. He hasn’t been perfect, but he hasn’t made as many mistakes as Jerabek.

While Jerabek is under contract and the team could place him on waivers, there have been rumblings that he would head back to Europe if he isn’t with the NHL club. The expectation is the same with Jason Garrison. The Canucks broadcast team mentioned that he has no interest in playing in the minors, and would likely head overseas if he doesn’t make the Oilers.

OPENING DAY: Neither guy has done enough to win this job in my opinion, but Garrison hasn’t lost it with his play. If Jerabek can’t get a solid game under his belt before the preseason ends, I think it would be fair to say that he lost the job. This one is still a coin flip, but if I had to choose one, I would go with Garrison simply because I think he’s more reliable.

THE BACKUP GOALIE

Mar 31, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Al Montoya (35) guards his net against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s obvious that Cam Talbot is going to be the starter and the idea heading into this year is that Mikko Koskinen would be able to push him and potentially take 25-30 starts throughout the year.

Well, Koskinen hasn’t lived up to his $2.5 million price tag. Through two preseason games he’s faced 40 shots and only stopped 32 of them, that’s good for a 0.800 SV%. That just isn’t going to cut it.

Montoya has only spent 20 minutes in the crease during the preseason, but he stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced in that span. He’s a proven backup goalie as well. In talking to the media, which we know he loves to do, he seems very confident that he will be starting the year in Edmonton. Hearing him talk like that is interesting to me.

I suspect the reason we haven’t seen Montoya very much is that the club knows what they have in him and want to give Koskinen every opportunity to prove he can be a competent NHL goaltender.

OPENING DAY: If Koskinen doesn’t sharpen up, I could see him going to Bakersfield to start the season. Montoya is the more proven option and I would rather have him coming in to relieve Cam Talbot if he falters early, he was very good in those situations last season.

Given the fact that the team doesn’t play back-to-back games until November 5th and 6th, I suspect the organization will tell us that they’re sending Koskinen down to get him more starts and allow him to get more comfortable with the North American game.

      • Aendayana777

        whoever the hell wrote this article*?

        actually I thought it was a pretty nice read summing up the camp. Perhaps we could also just appreciate the time and effort it took the author to write it too. ( and I suspect as all of us here gobbled up said content with glee as we can’t see our beloved team start this year already by beating the s..t out of the Devils and some so-called MVP there)
        His name is Tyler I think btw.

    • Spoils

      I don’t think Tyler is suggesting Khaira doesn’t have a spot locked up, for sure he does. I think it’s where he plays that isn’t set. In that regard, I’d like to see Puljujarvi play with Draisaitl. The second line has not been where it needs to be and while it is great to have someone push the river on the 3rd line, increasing the quality of the 2nd line is more important. I have it like this:

      RNH-McDavid-Rattie
      Lucic-Draisaitl-Puljujarvi
      Reider-Strome-Yamamoto
      Khaira-Brodziak-Kassian
      Caggiula/Chaisson

      would it be possible to trade Aberg (and maybe a sweetener) for a better depth DMan?

      • bwar

        I think the Oiler’s have depleted any potential value that Aberg had through their treatment and management of him. So no, there is no trade swapping Aberg for a depth defenseman.

          • bwar

            No but, I think he’s been more than punished for that error at this point. He made a mistake, was punished and now instead of moving forward the Oiler’s are just continuing to punish him.

          • Glencontrolurstik

            No Bwar, Auberg is invisible on the ice… no hustle, he’s not entitled by any means & is just punishing himself through lack of caring & effort… No other team in their right mind would look at him twice with that type of work ethic.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    While it’s true that Koskinen hasn’t stopped 8 of the 40 shots, 5 of them were goals that he didn’t have a chance on, or weren’t his fault to begin with. But sure, write him off after 2, count that T-W-O preseason games

  • Spydyr

    Neither Jakub Jerabek or Jason Garrison have impressed me much. The next week or so would be the perfect time for a waiver wire acquisition or dare I say it to win a trade for a defenceman.

  • I think your assessment is spot on.
    Your last hot take on Lowetide this morning was also spot on.

    Everyone thinks Sweet Potato makes the team. I think he and Puljujarvi should switch spots though as Pulj has been outstanding. That said, perhaps it balances the 2nd and 3rd lines more. Draisaitl has got to step up more.

    And the majority think Khaira has earned 3LW.

    What about the Kassian trade rumours since Chaisson is right-shot too? Was it only for Faulk, but since the ask is now way too high, that’s a dead rumour? I think if they can move Kassian for a draft pick, they’d have to in order to free up cap to sign RFAs Rattie, Puljujarvi, and Khaira.

    And then, say Rattie scores more than 20 goals, heck 30. What’s he worth? $3-4m AAV for 3 years or more? Look at the Kunitz contracts for reference.

      • jesse says yep

        Would Yamamoto’s style of play work on the 3rd line? Having Jesse play in the spot gives him more shelter to really find his game while putting up some much needed points. Yama will be a plus player on a line with Drai and Looch and provide better balance in the lineup IMO.

    • I mentioned elsewhere today that I’d hate to see Kassian go. Love the guy. Heck, even bought his sweater. But he’s looking more and more like an extra piece, somewhat redundant. Khaira continues to improve. He’s a step faster, has more confidence. He can crash and bash like Zack, score a few more goals, and maybe stay out of the box a little better/smarter. Reider can help kill penalties. If moving Kassian gets us a nice pick, and shaves even a million off the cap, then, well…maybe that’s what has to happen.

    • toprightcorner

      I think at this point I would rather trade Caggiula and keep Kassian, even with Chaisson. Kassian gives you something but I have no clue what Caggiula gives you.

  • bwar

    I’d just like to say that I don’t think any defenseman on the roster has done enough to prove they deserve a spot on an NHL roster right now. We are basically just giving Bouchard an NHL audition because absolutely no one has done enough to force him off the roster. Klafbom and Larsson are locks but neither has looked amazing so far. Nurse is a lock and really had one decent game in preseason. Benning, Bear, Bouchard, Garrsion, Jerabek, Russell just haven’t done anything to show me they even might be NHL quality players. The part that is really terrifying is that one of those players has to play on the second pairing. I think Benning probably gets first crack at the job but I really have no clue why. He failed as a second pairing man last year and just defaults back to that spot this year due to lack of options for the Oiler’s. We desperately need Bear and Bouchard to leap frog the rest of the group on the depth chart and right now it just doesn’t look like they are ready for that jump.

    • I agree that Benning is still not enough of a difference maker on the 2nd pairing.

      Just think, if Sekera wasn’t injured, would the defense be:
      Klefbom – Larsson
      Nurse – Benning
      Sekera – Russell
      Jerabek

      And Bouchard gets 9 games, so Benning or Russell sits?

      But that’s not the case.

      I think when Bouchard gets sent down to CHL, either Bear gets called up or they make a trade for a scoring defensemen somewhere. Thing is… who and where?

      • bwar

        At this point you really need to stick with Bear and Bouchard in my opinion. Yes both need more time but they are the two guys who are eventually going to be bring the offense from the back end. This season I think having one of them play on a fairly sheltered third pairing and getting first PP unit time is a good idea but once again that means that Benning is cratering your second pairing for the entire season and having him on the second pairing could be the difference for whether or not we make the playoffs. Tough spot for the Oiler’s defense group this year.

  • Spoils

    playing in europe worked for Austin Matthews. Would it be better to send Bouchard to Europe for the year over sending him to repeat WHL?

    he’s a key asset we can’t afford to mess up by rushing OR slowing down in the WHL

    • positivebrontefan

      Let’s not pile on just yet. Someone saw enough in him to give him a contract. I do think he should go down to the AHL to get more used to the smaller ice surface.

      My prediction is he plays solid but let’s in one bad one and a couple of goals he doesn’t have a chance on and in typical Oilers fan fashion everyone jumps on him as the new scapegoat because of his sizeable contract which anyone of us would have signed if given the opportunity.

  • jesse says yep

    I would say that Reider has a step up on Caggiulla, although he hasn’t been very good so far, he is a pro and his game will come around early in the season. Either way I have him on the 4th line with Jujhar taking the 3LW spot. Khaira is a reliable player that has to be in the teams long term plan for the bottom 6 for the next 5-6 years and may still find his way further up the line up if Looch gets hurt.
    Chaisson should be the extra forward, forcing Cags to force his way back on the team from Bakersfield.
    So far I have been back and forth on Bouchard. On one hand he has learned pretty much all he will learn in junior and I think that a year practicing with the big club and playing 50ish games. Yes it burns a year off his ELC but it will be a good apprenticeship for him as well. He can play as many games as he can handle all while having NHL coaches to instruct him and learning the hard way on how to be a pro for a full season. Next year he will already have the first year adjustments in his training and living habits made and be ready to really compete in the NHL. I think this will speed up his development by a year. If we send him to junior it will be two more years before he will be ready to truly compete for a top 4 spot.
    Bear is already ready to be a third pairing Dman but is probably already close to his ceiling. Sending him down will allow him to fully round out his game and be the first choice call up. He can spend a year getting used to the grind of a full year of Pro as well. Giving the Oil two really solid options for RD spots by next season.

  • CMG30

    I suspect that we see Bouchard start the season in Edmonton and Bear finish the season in Edmonton. Bouchard brings a lot to the table that the Oilers need, but the NHL is not the ideal place to work on the defensive side of his game. In the long run, Edmonton is not doing themselves or the player any favours by rushing him.

    • bwar

      If he plays a year of junior and completely dominates with no real competition, is that better for his development then playing sheltered minutes in the NHL? I think it’s extremely important to have Bouchard take steps forward this season and the Oiler’s need to determine what the best course of action to take with him is. As an organization you can’t just have blanket policies in regards to development, each player is different and every factor needs to be considered when making any decisions.

      • Freddie the fog

        He hasn’t been awful where it’s obvious that going back to London is the only choice. In fact he’s actually looked pretty good for a 19 year old . Start him here, by game #8,9 the brass will have a clearer picture what the best choice for furthering his development will be. It won’t hurt the kid.

        • Dustin Terpstra

          ***18 year old. Which makes it that much more impressive. He has some defensive issues that I still think could be helped my more time in the OHL. He will get 9 games and if he doesn’t force management to keep him then he will go down and Bear will take his spot.

  • Vanoil

    No way Lucic stays or is otherwise qualified to play @LW minutes at this point. I suspect sooner rather than later we will see Reider-Drai-Yamomoto. Problem is I don’t know if Lucic is a better option at 3LW than Khaira. I suspect we may see Lucic-Khaira-Puljujarvi or Lucic-Strome-Puljujarvi at some point out of necessity, but it may be Lucic on the fourth line with additional PP time sooner rather than later.