During Ken Holland’s time with the Detroit Red Wings, the organization were the golden standard for developing prospects. They found gems late in the draft and when they had high-end prospects, they would keep them stashed in the minors until they were “over-ripened.”
I put that term in quotations because Holland himself has used it multiple times and he said it again last Tuesday at his introductory. Lots of Oilers fans want to the new Oilers President of Hockey Operations to bring that same level of patience to Edmonton.
That’s fair considering that Oilersnation has watched this organization rush through the likes of Sam Gagner, Nail Yakupov, Jesse Puljujarvi, and to some extent, Leon Draisaitl. There’s more, but you don’t need me to beat a dead horse.
The Red Wings did the opposite during their glory years and they could afford to because all they did was win. They were perennial Stanley Cup contenders so it made sense that it was tough for 19 or 20-year-olds to crack the roster. While I do think that Holland will bring a level of patience, I don’t think Oilers fans should expect it to resemble that of the dynasty Red Wings. There are a few reasons for that.
First, the Oilers simply aren’t as good as those Red Wings teams. Those teams in Detroit’s were locks to make the playoffs and they had a deep and talented group of veterans available to help them breeze through the first 82 games of the season. The Oilers need all of the help that they can get.
Secondly, it’s the salary cap era now. The Oilers have $33 million tied up in their four highest paid forwards right now and if you want to add a few more established players to that group, you need to find savings elsewhere in the lineup.
I’m not saying that the Oilers should keep forcing players to the NHL like they have for the past 13 years, but what I’m saying is that if a player appears to be ready, then the Oilers need to let him contribute.
Caleb Jones is a great example. We’ve seen him play at the NHL level and while he had some good moments, he clearly wasn’t ready. Some say that you need to send him right back down to start next season, but I think he deserves a fair shot to make this team. From a salary cap perspective, if Jones or even Ethan Bear make this team, it could give the Oilers a bit of salary relief on their third pairing.
Both of those guys will be 22-years-old when the 2019-20 season starts. If the Oilers plan is to “over ripen” prospects, then both of those guys would likely be in the AHL for another season, but I don’t think that’s the smartest play for the Oilers.
It’s assumed that both of Evan Bouchard and Dmitri Samorukov will both start in the AHL next season, but both are coming off of exceptional seasons. I can understand both of them starting in the minors, but if they excel while playing 20 minutes in the minors, why not give them an honest look in the NHL halfway through the season. If they can help you win, bring them up. That should be the philosophy.
There are some interesting conversations to have around the forward group as well.
If Tyler Benson or Cooper Marody can step in and give inject an offensive pulse into the Oilers bottom six, well then the organization shouldn’t send them back just for the sake of “over-ripening”. If they can play and contribute on entry-level contracts, let them play. Skating is a concern for both of those players, but that’s something that can change over the course of an offseason.
A lot of the Bakersfield Condors success this season came on the backs of veterans like Josh Currie or Patrick Russell. We saw Russell for six NHL games this season and didn’t look out of place. We saw Currie for 21 games with the Oilers and at first, he was producing offence at a decent rate but eventually fell off. Still, he looked good and injected some energy into the team’s bottom six. Those are two guys who could be back next year at league minimum and would be more than okay as the Oilers 13th or 14th forwards.
I can see the value in bringing in some veterans who can contribute, but I think the Oilers need to establish a balance in their roster. Sometimes young players can surprise you and based on how some performed this year in Bakersfield, the Oilers should be prepared to have more than a couple on their roster next season.
One way out of cap hell is to find players who can contribute on their entry level contracts and the Oilers have some players who may be able to do that.