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:
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Connor McDavid||Ty Rattie|
|Milan Lucic||Leon Draisaitl||Kailer Yamamoto|
|OPEN||Ryan Strome||Jesse Puljujarvi|
|OPEN||Kyle Brodziak||Zack Kassian|
|Oscar Klefbom||Adam Larsson|
|Darnell Nurse||Matt Benning|
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
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
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
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
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.