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Monday Musings…

The weather is warming up and the snow is melting. Soon you’ll be golfing, firing up the BBQ, wearing shorts and enjoying the summer scenery, but before that, playoff hockey is all around you. Oilers fans will once again be watching from the outside, but if you want to experience playoff hockey firsthand you can watch some AJHL or WHL playoffs. The Sherwood Park Crusaders, Fort McMurray Oil Barons, Bonnyville Pontiacs, Spruce Grove Saints and Camrose Kodiaks are in the second round of the AJHL playoffs. The Edmonton Oil Kings open their WHL first round series at home this Saturday v. Medicine Hat, while the Red Deer Rebels face the stacked Prince Albert Raiders.

Playoffs in any sport are awesome. I love it. You can feel the heightened energy, and while you won’t get to experience it with the Oilers, I’d recommend taking in an AJHL game or WHL playoff game. You won’t be disappointed.

Here are some thoughts on the hockey things related and unrelated to the Oilers.

1. I wish the NHL would adopt the WHL tiebreaker rule. The Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers were tied for the final playoff spot in the BC division with 64 points. They will play a one-game playoff tomorrow in Kamloops. The winner moves on to face Victoria and the loser goes home. I’d love to see the NHL adopt this rule, instead of the current one where regulation wins or head-to-head matchups decide who moves on. Imagine the viewership for that game. You would play it on the Tuesday. It wouldn’t matter which two teams are playing diehard hockey, fans would tune in. Major League Baseball already has this, so you can’t tell me a professional league can’t do it. I think this would be an easy decision for the NHL. Everyone wins (except the team that loses).

2. The Oilers AHL affiliate Bakersfield Condors are on fire, going 21-2-1 over their past 24 games. They’ve outscored the opposition 100-44. Unlike previous seasons when the Condors or recent Oilers AHL affiliates were competitive, this year’s team has some legit offensive NHL prospects. Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody and Kailer Yamamoto have real offensive skills while blueliners Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and William Lagesson, along with goalie Shane Starrett all have potential to be NHL players in the future. For how long and how productive they will be is still up in the air, but at least the players leading the team are young, and not AHL veterans.

3. Benson and Marody are both top-four in rookie scoring in the AHL. Over the 24 game hot streak they have been the offensive catalysts for the Condors and have have become a very dangerous duo. Benson has 9-22-31 in 24 games with 57 shots on goal and is +22. Marody has scored 8-21-29 on 53 shots and is +26. On the weekend, due to a string of injuries, offensive defenceman Logan Day played on their wing. I’ve watched Benson since he was 14 playing Bantam AAA. His work ethic and consistency has always been there. He has enough skill and smarts to play wing with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl in the NHL. Maybe he will be ready next year, maybe not, but he is trending in the right direction. He will be 21 with a full season in the AHL and, hopefully for the Condors, a long playoff run under his belt, and should come to camp next year believing he will make the team.

4. I can’t remember the last time the Oilers had a young, offensive winger developing in the AHL. Benson’s success illustrates how badly Edmonton screwed up Jesse Puljujarvi. He should have played a full season in the AHL. They are the same age and it makes little sense to me how people want to write Puljujarvi off as a bust, because he hasn’t lit up the NHL yet. He wasn’t ready. He shouldn’t have been in Edmonton. Don’t blame the player.

5. Kailer Yamamoto is injured again. He’s had a tough year battling injuries, playing 26 games in Bakersfield (10-7-17) and 17 in Edmonton (1-1-2). The fact Edmonton auditioned him last season and this year was another example of them not planning properly. He was never a valid option in my eyes, mainly because he wasn’t strong enough. Again, not a knock on the player, but more the organization’s handling of him. I wouldn’t expect a 19 or 20 year-old who weighs 150 pounds to be able to produce against NHL players. He needs time to add strength, and he should have started this season in the AHL rather than doing very little in the NHL.

6. Yamamoto should start next season in the AHL. Play him a lot on the first line. There is nothing wrong if he spends the entire season down there, but if he is at least a point-per-game player midway through the season then they could look at recalling him. Bob Nicholson said the organization will not be rushing players anymore. I sure hope they abide by it, and don’t look at where a player was drafted, but instead focus solely on whether he is NHL-ready or not.

7. Marody looks like he could be the the third line centre the Oilers need in the future. He isn’t going to be a top-six centre in Edmonton with McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins here. He might need more seasoning in the AHL, but he has enough offensive acumen that he should be able to chip in offensively, and be reliable defensively at the NHL level. He wants to get a bit quicker, but Marody is confident he will play in the NHL, and having that internal belief is a must.

9. The Oilers should have a few more young players make the jump to Bakersfield next season. Evan Bouchard has 16-37-53 in 45 games for the first place London Knights in the OHL. I’d start him in the AHL and let him get used to playing against men. His offensive play and puck moving abilities are likely NHL ready, but his defensive game will need some work. The Oilers should plan to start him in the AHL, and the only way that changes is if he blows the doors off in preseason. Even then, I’d still lean towards being cautious and start him in Bakersfield.

10. Dmitri Samorukov has really blossomed with more offensive opportunities in Guelph after they traded Ryan Merkley. Samorukov finished the season with 45 points in 59 games, but after Merkley was traded Samorukov produced 30 points in 30 games. He’s been good defensively, very physical, but has added some offensive flair. He will need a few years in the AHL, similar to Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones, but at least the Oilers are getting some prospects with legit NHL potential when they enter the farm team.

11. The Oil Kings host Medicine Hat Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and then Sunday at 6 p.m. The Oil Kings head into the playoffs on an 11-game winning streak, while the Tigers are 4-10 in their last 14. The other central matchup has the Lethbridge Hurricanes facing the Calgary Hitmen. I think this will be the closest series off the four in the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes have five forwards with 81+ points, including Dylan Cozens (34-50-84) who will likely be a top-ten pick in the NHL this June.

The Rebels have to face the vaunted Raiders and without the best D-man in the WHL, Alexander Alexeyev. He was injured on March 8th and will miss the start of the series and maybe all of it. Prince Albert finished the season 54-10-4 and outscored the opposition 307-156. They are really deep up front, have a big, mobile blueline and an excellent goalie in Ian Scott. They have six forwards with 29+ goals: Noah Gregor (43), Brett Leason (36), Parker Kelly (35), Dante Hannoun, Cole Fonstad and Sean Montgomery (all 29). Two play on each of their top three lines. The Raiders will be a hard out.

The Saskatoon Blades host the Moose Jaw Warriors in the other series, and Moose Jaw lost top prospect Bradyen Tracey (36-45-81) with an injury last week. The Warriors really only had one line prior to his injury, and I expect a strong Blades team to win. I don’t see many upsets in the first round, but the second round series in the East should be great. I will take the Raiders in four, Oil Kings and Blades in five and Hurricanes in six.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • vetinari

    We have always rushed first round picks too early to the big club and once we started getting top 5 picks, we assumed they should play immediately or else they were a bust (players like McDavid are excluded for being on a different level). Yakupov and Puljujarvi should have spent a few years in the minors before even seeing an NHL roster to learn the finer points of the game and to make their mistakes out of sight of fans rather than on HNIC. I understand that players and agents want to get onto the NHL roster as soon as possible– more money for both and a head start for the player towards accumulated seasons to UFA eligibility– but the reality is that a few early seasons in the minors may mean that the player has a longer and more productive career in the NHL.

    • OriginalPouzar

      Yak was drafted out of the CHL so he would have had to go back to junior for at least one more season (if not 2, I’d have to check his age at the time) if not in the NHL.

    • slats-west

      Yak (our pick) should have been traded to Columbus or Carolina or whomever was offering us a player and swap of picks. Poor intel on a player with not a lot of “hockey IQ”

  • Craig1981

    Gregor, I’m confused Drisatle was given a simular path to Puljujarvi (given around 30 games his first year, then send down). Leon has turned into an elite player. Is it not as or more likely that his hip issues have lead to his slower development as compared to where he played?

    • ed from edmonton

      Gregor is frustrating with his constant refrain that the only way for players to succeed in the NHL is to “slow walk” them. When examples that do not confirm his theory are pointed out he has no reply.

      • Jason Gregor

        Show me Ed. Those who are ready to play produce. Those who aren’t show you they aren’t. It is pretty simple. Show me who wasn’t slow walked and worked out. Please don’t mention top picks like McDavid etc…those players are the elite of elite. Players who are ready will show you with their play. Oilers have proven over and over players weren’t ready, yet kept trying to hope they were.

        • Craig1981

          Draft picks that made the NHL their draft you that worked out taken 3-10 overall that had equal or less hype than Puljujarvi. Monahan, Lindholm, Rantanen, and both Tkachuks come to mind. Now all those players put up better points, but their hype was equal or less.

          Would the Oilers of been better of not burning a year off his contract. Absolutely, but there are tons of top players that didn’t put up points their first seasons that are now top threats.

          All I’m saying is I believe you may be overstating his lack of success to his time spent in the NHL, when their may of been far greater factors

        • ed from edmonton

          I’m glad you asked. I looked at the top 10 drafts from the 12, 13 and 14 drafts. I looked at these 3 years as we have a pretty good read on how the draft class will work out.
          2012 was a really bad draft year but by the end of the D+3 year only Reinhart, Pouliot and Slater Koekoek were only in the NHL. Dumba split that year between the AHL/NHL but was in the NHL by the end of the year. Of the three only Pouliot is an the NHL. Slow walking Reinhart and Koekoek didn’t help their development to make them into NHL players.
          2013 all top 10 players were in the NHL by D+3 with the exception of Johnathan Drouin who split time between the AHL and NHL. We all know that Drouin was not seeing eye to eye with the Bolts management at that time.
          2014 by D+3 only Michael Dal Colle and Haydn Fluery were not in the NHL. Fluery is in the AHL this year and Dal Colle has split time between the NHL and AHL.
          Doesn’t this seem to say that keeping, at least a top 10 pick, in the AHL through the D+3 is not likely to make an NHL player. At least it didn’t help any of the players in this group.

          Also Gregor, DON’T CHANGE THE QUESTION, you keep doing this whenever you are putting forward a week argument. What does ” Oilers have proven over and over players weren’t ready, yet kept trying to hope they were. ” even mean. Whether they were ready or not is a different question from whether playing in the NHL before they can paly effectively in the NHL hinders a players development. A lot of the D+3 players in the group above were in no way burning it up, in many cases their box cars were nor much different than JP’s in the las two years, but they were playing and it doesn’t seem to have hurt them. It may have not helped the team win, but that is an entirely different question. Barkov would be an interesting comparable to JP, wecan hope.

          • Jason Gregor

            Comparing Dmen to fwds is odd. Only Dal Colle is a forward and because he isn’t good now illustrates my point. Do you think forcing him into the NHL would have helped him. Many players will never play. This is a fact. But Puljujarvi did nothing for three years. He gained no traction. Explain how this was good.

            Also comparing him to Barkov. Barkov had 59 points in his third season in only 66 games. In what way is Barkov a comparison?

            At 18 Barkov had 8-26-24 in 54 games.
            At 19 he had 16-20-36 in 71 games.
            At 20 he had 28-31-59 in 66 games.

            Puljujarvi at 18 had 1-7-8 in 28 games. He had
            At 19 he had 12-8-20 in 65 games.
            At 20 he had 4-5-9 in 46 games.

            He isn’t close to Barkov production. Also Barkov got hurt at 18. Physical toll for many 18 year olds is taxing. Was it worth it for Florida to play him? Did they really need those eight goals? I don’t see how it helped him that much.

    • Randaman

      The difference is that Draisaitl has skill and drive. Puljujarvi has limited skill and not enough drive. Not every draft pick works out and not every first rounder works out. Jesse is not an NHL player no matter if he started in the NHL or AHL.

      • slats-west

        No Hockey IQ. He is a whirlwind of speed and skill with no purpose. Hitchcock has said that several times. He doesn’t know where to go without the puck, doesn’t react off of what other team mates are doing. 2 – 3 years in AHL is where he should go.

    • Jason Gregor

      Draisaitl has late birthday. He was drafted in his 19 year, not 18. Then he went back to junior his 19 year after struggling in NHL. Shouldn’t have been there. But at 20 he stuck and had 51 points. Draisaitl is a better player. He also played hockey in Canada for two years prior and was used to the smaller ice and faster game. As for JP’s hip issues. I don’t see that being the issue. He had no pain the first two years. Rushing him hurt his impact much more.

  • The Immortal

    Kailer hurt again…shocker. Sorry but there’s a limit to just how small one can be when playing against foes much larger and just as fast (if not faster) . Never did like this pick.

    Arguably most of our #1 picks if not all should have spent time in the minors. But there’s a problem with the system, up to age 20? they’re either in the big show or in junior…when they should be in the AHL…

  • TKB2677

    Going into this offseason, who ever the new GM is, I expect the new GM to make some moves.

    I think Lucic will be gone. Teams value what Lucic does. His problem is the contract. What I see happening is the Oilers pay his next bonus and he is traded for very little right after which means the actual dollars paid aren’t as much as the cap hit. Maybe the Oilers have to retain a little but I think he moves. Where ever Lucic goes, he will be much better, I am sure of it.

    I also see one of Sekera & Russell being moved. It’s probably Russell. I am not a huge fan of Russell but at 4 mill, he’s not that overpaid given the versatility he brings. Plus teams value that sacrifice your body, block shots player still. Again, you get not much for him I think.

    The team needs to get better, they have lots of holes to fill. So how do you do that?

    My answer is trade Nuge. For the record, I love Nuge. I do not want to see him go. But Nuge is set to score career highs in goals and is setting a new career high in points every game he scores. His value will NEVER be higher. Moving forward, the Oilers are best serves as having McDavid and Leon as your 1 & 2 centers. So where does that leave Nuge? He’s too expensive to be your 3rd line center at 6 mill and while he is a decent winger, he’s not elite. With his points, and the fact he’s a center, you might be able to get 2 players for him.

    I am on the fence on this. Are the Oilers better off with Nuge who’s a good top 6 player and except for this season, tops out at maybe 55-60 pts, or getting 2 real good top 9 players?

    • The Immortal

      Nobody is taking Lucic’s contract. Or Russel’s

      Trading Nuge is a silly idea. Only reason Leon and 97 can play on a line is because Nug is the #2 C in that scenario…

      • TKB2677

        As I said I don’t want to trade Nuge but how do you get better as a team? The Oilers play Leon and McDavid together because their depth is crap. If you can get 2 good players for one really good one, does that not make them better?

        • crabman

          I like the versatility having McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins affords a coach. I am a believer that the team that gets the best player in a trade wins the trade. I think it will be hard to trade Nuge and win the trade. I’m not opposed outright in trading him but this team has been bleeding talent in trades for too long and can’t afford to keep downgrading talent.
          I don’t see this being a quick 1 year turn around without getting out from under a couple of big ticket, underperforming contracts. Nuge is not one of those.

          • Stallions #35

            Nuge is like the Staal to Crosby and Malkin…but yet eventually, they had to let Staal go. But I agree, having the three gives them the versatility, plus 6 million for a guy who can play 1st line winger, second or third line winger, power play, penalty kill….I think that’s damn good value!

      • crabman

        I think trading Lucic will be difficult but not impossible. As suggested by TKB, paying his bonus then trading him could have appeal to a budget team. But I would think the Oilers would still need to eat 50% of his salary.
        As far as Russell is concerned I think there is/will be a market for him. Again the Oilers might need to eat a bit of salary. But if they pay $1m per year a team would get him for $3m next year and only $1.5m the year after. Not unreasonable for a veteran defenceman.

    • jesse says yep

      Trading Nuge is the wrong move, as soon as you get rid of him you will need to replace him. A center who can play on the wing and be productive putting up 50- 60ish points in either spot is valuable to the Oilers and any team. Nuge was payed like a 1st line winger when he signed his contract and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a deal close to his current one with a bit of a raise. The ability to switch him and Drai back and forth is worth a bit of a premium

      • Heschultzhescores

        Exactly, as I stated earlier, the league is coming more into line with Nuge’s style of game. We need to wake up, the NHL is never going back to a league where Looch kinda guys can thrive.

      • HOCKEY83

        Nuge can put up more points than that. let him play with McDavid and make drai drive his on line and their totals would switch. I always thought nuge got a raw deal on that team…always playing down the line up.

    • slats-west

      This argument has a lot of merits.

      1. Lucic – there will be a team that will get pummeled in Round 1 of playoff into submission because they dont have enough size or grit. Flames are for sure in this category. Some may say Las Vegas. Carolina is here and so is NYI. Can you eat the bonus and ship him … Maybe need to be done right after Round 1 playoffs (you need a list from Lucic) then done July 1st.

      2. Russell – he has value and some team may see value in his effort and determination for young players. Toronto? Buffalo? Columbus maybe.

      3. And now Nuge. From strictly a $ and sense perspective and employing a “NE Patriots” model. You trade him (see High and buy Low). Oilers have NEVER done this. We overvalue our pieces and then make bad trades. My question is “who can do that deal”? Gretzky? McCrimmon? You only make that deal for a LEGIT #1/#2 puck moving dman or scoring winger. Not draft picks + refurb project (James Neal! No!). But I agree now is the time.

      • crabman

        @slats-west,
        I agree both Lucic and Russell could be moved but like I said above I believe a considerable amount of salary would need to be eaten but that would still free up another $6M. I think that money would need to go towards an accomplished top 6 winger via trade using picks and prospects. That new winger plays with Draisaitl on the 2nd line. Nuge already showed he can produce at an elite level on McDavid’s wing and he provides cover at center incase of a McDavid or Draisaitl injury.
        I would be open for a Nuge trade for a legitimate top pair defenceman, I’m just not convinced he will get you one in a trade even with draft picks and prospects. I think we will need to wait and hopefully Bouchard grows into that spot. Until then upgrade the D when possible but I see it as another year of defence by committee, hope someone from the AHL takes a step, and the team stays healthy.
        As far as trading Nuge for a winger, I don’t think that makes sense unless it is a big upgrade. Nuge can be that elite winger himself.

        • rnj

          You do not trade Ryan Nugent Hopkins. You’d have to get back a first line winger, which he is, a second line center, or a top pairing d You’ll never get another second line center who can be a top line winger, and trading for a guy who can only play top line on the wing is a downgrade. You’d have to add to get a top pairing d, and not getting a forward back creates a hole. We have a stacked pipeline and our defense will be fine for years to come.

          He’s on a decent contract for what he brings, is a long time Oiler, never complains, can move around the lineup, play both special teams… Not losing value would be an incredible feat. Why bother

    • Big Nuggets

      trade Nuge for what? trading away players is not a solution. who do you want to bring onto the team? what does the team actually need? I don’t see how trading Nuge helps the team in any way.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Damn – spent 15 minutes typing out some thoughts and, as this site does for me quite often, it won’t post – BM can unlock it but its very frustrating.

    I have alot to say on pretty much all these prospects and I know that BM and other that write at ON value my posts on the prospects – disappointing.

  • Gazoinks!

    As life long Flames I did live in the Chuck 90-96 went to a few games inNorthland,it truly is a bummer to see a powerhouse team go off the rails for many years now, I used to detest Oilers, but now I just feel sorry for the fan base..and yes that icestuous OBC needs dealt with or it’s gonna be a cash grab for the owner ad nauseum.
    regards; Flames fan.

    • HOCKEY83

      Ya life long flames fan as well. The battle of Alberta was massive growing up…i mean if the flames lost to the oilers it didn’t just bother a fan it bothered them for weeks. Flames oiler games were something you took turns having parties for with great food and drinks and an awesome game…now it’s like who cares the flames are playing the oilers. There is absolutely no battle of alberta anymore and won’t be until the flames meet in the playoffs for the first time in over 28 years i think. Just sad

  • OriginalPouzar

    Yamamoto was starting to gain some traction in the AHL and was actually driving offence and creating scoring chances consistently while player with Luke Esposity and Tyler Vesel before Currie’s call-up and Kailer’s move to the top line.

    Absolutely, 100%, Kailer should start next season in the AHL – with him being banged up and in and out of the lineup, he hasn’t been able to get a solid stretch of development time.

    Lets remember, he’s a 22nd overall pick, not a top 5 pick. Reasonable expectation should be for him to need AHL development time in his draft plus 2 and draft plus 3 years. I feel the organization gave the fanbase unreasonable expectations by giving him NHL games in his draft plus 1 (and draft plus 2).

  • OriginalPouzar

    Bouchard had the second most productive season of any London Knight d-man ever – his offensive ceiling is so high, it makes me smile.

    At the same time, there is absolutely no reasons to play this guy in the NHL out of camp next year. I have no doubt he’ll have a great camp, produce in the X games and makes some lovely stretch passes – at the same time we know that camp and X games mean essentially nothing with respect to NHL readiness.

    This prospect is too important to the future that the organization needs to be risk-adverse and not chance delaying or stunting his development.

    Add to that the fact that they likely don’t “need him” next year given the depth of skilled prospect that look to be ready to challenge for NHL jobs on merit. There are real prospects that have been playing pro hockey for 2 years that have plus arrows and are on the cusp of NHL readiness (seemingly). Let Bouchard develop in the appropriate league on the assumption that at least one of Lagesson, Jones, Persson or Bear is ready for 3rd line duty.

  • OriginalPouzar

    I do believe Marody has the skill and hockey IQ to be an NHL center but my concern is his skating may prohibit him from being a center at the NHL level. This was evident during his cup of coffee earlier this year. Of course, there is still time to improve his skating but he’s a bit older than Benson, Yamamoto, etc.

    With his skill and hockey IQ (both he and Benson seem to have plus offensive intelligence), even if he isn’t able to be a center at the NHL level, he could still prove to be a solid middle 6 winger.

    The Maroon deadline trade that acquired Marody (Chiarelli always planned on trading the 3rd rounder and did so shortly thereafter), was a great deal considering Maroon was a pending UFA, struggling mightily and dealing with a bad back.

  • OriginalPouzar

    Samorukov’s offensive spike has been something else and he’s scored some very talented goals and made a few unreal 3 line stretch passes.

    Lets not forget, he’s not even an “offence first guy” – he’s more of a 2-way guy who is a good and aggresive defender but also has great skating and puck moving ability and a plus shot.

    Miles to go with Dimitri but, to me, with his skill-set and range of skills, he has a higher ceiling than all of the current AHL d-men. If he gets there…..

  • OriginalPouzar

    Absolutely, Puljujarvi should have been in the AHL (or back in Finland) in his draft plus 1 year and management has primary culpability.

    At the same time, Jason, I’m starting to believe that there is a possibility that Jesse’s agent’s requirement for him signing his ELC including:

    – burning a year of that ELC (10 NHL games)
    – vesting a year of pro towards UFA status (40 games on NHL roster)
    – decreasing the number of years of service to lose waiver exempt status from 5 to 3 (for an 18 year old, 11 games played).

    To be clear, that is just pure speculation on my part but it seems his agent is aggressive with these types of matters.

    Any thoughts/knowledge on that Jason?

    • Jason Gregor

      If he didn’t sign what power would he hold. I believe you are vastly overrating the power you think a pick and his agent possess. If they had this much power more would do what you outlined. It didn’t happen. Oilers mismanaged the player. I understand trying to find a reason other than the obvious one, incompetence, but that is it. Nothing more.

      • OriginalPouzar

        Fair enough – I usually don’t buy in to the theories on “promises” made to get people to sign – for example many think Caggiula was promised ice time and NHL games. I don’t buy it.

        Something just seemed a bit off over the last bit since his agent spoke out.

        With respect to your point, the leverage he had was to simply go back to Finland for a few years, continue to make decent money, and re-enter the draft in two years (not a UFA as he won’t be 20 – I believe). I haven’t vetted that through the CBA yet but my initial thought is that’s how it would work if he wasn’t signed.