There are plenty of holes on the Oilers roster that Ken Holland must fill if he wants the Oilers to be a playoff contender next season. A lot has been written about finding goaltending, acquiring a scoring winger or two, and even taking a shot at a high-end defenseman, but not a lot of people are talking about the teams need for a third line centre. Everyone knows it exists and just because there are bigger fish to fry, doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
To get a grasp on what they need, lets first look at what they currently have.
TOP SIX: Obviously, their pretty set when it comes to top six centres. Connor McDavid will run the top line and one of Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will run the second line while the other one rides shotgun with McDavid. That’s pretty much set in stone. After that is where it gets thin.
BOTTOM SIX: Kyle Brodziak is still under contract, but I’m not convinced he’ll be back next season. Colby Cave impressed me at times during his stint with the team last season and the fact he’s under contract at league minimum next year will be very appetizing for Ken Holland. I think it’s fair to assume that one of those two players will be the team’s fourth line centre. I wouldn’t be surprised if they also brought in a player on a PTO for a little bit of insurance.
They also have Sam Gagner and Jujhar Khaira (RFA) who have experience playing centre, but are more effective on the wings. I would like to see the Oilers bring back both players, although buying out Gagner makes a ton of sense, as insurance policies. Keep them on the wings and when injury inevitably hits, you can slide them to the middle of the ice.
COMING UP: They have two players coming up that interest me. Cooper Marody can play centre and is coming off a season that saw him post 45 points in 58 games at the AHL level. He also appeared in six NHL games. He looked okay, although skating is an issue.
Tyler Benson will also push for an NHL spot next season. In his first pro campaign, he was almost a point per game player for the Bakersfield Condors. Not sure if he’s an NHL calibre centre though.
Both guys will get looks, but these aren’t players the team should be banking on to be NHL centres next season, if ever. They could push for spots on the wing, but Holland needs to go out and find a more proven option to anchor the third line. So how should he go about doing that? There are two routes.
Signing a player in the summer is enticing because you don’t need to give up assets. Yes, you risk an overpay on a veteran player who is past his prime, but the thought of finding a competent player on a good contract is very tempting. Here are some candidates that might fit what the Oilers are looking for:
DERICK BRASSARD: The soon to be 32-year-old played for three different teams this past season and did not have a good year. He scored just 14 goals and 9 assists in 70 games split between Pittsburgh, Florida, and Colorado. On the flip side, he did hit the 20-goal mark in 2017/18, so this could be a case of buying low on a skilled player. The cost might be too high for the Oilers and I believe lots of teams will be vying for Brassards services, so this might not be a realistic fit.
JASON SPEZZA: Skating is an issue, but he has a great track record and that’s why I put him on the list. He told reporters at the end of the season that he just wanted to go to a team that wants him and will use him. While his age and skating do concern me a little, I think the Oilers could use a steady veteran. I’m not sure I’d be happy if Spezza was the only centre Holland brought in this summer
VAL FILPPULA: He’s coming off a very good year in Long Island where he scored 17 goals and added 14 assists. He made $2.75 million on his last deal and if that’s what he’s looking for this summer, the Oilers could squeeze him in. He’s decent in the faceoff circle, can kill penalties, and has some offence in his game. If the price is right, he can check a lot of boxes for the Oilers.
After those three, I’m not sure if there are any other names out there that really tempt me. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare is a UFA as well, but I see him more as a fourth line option. If the Oilers want to get a premium option, they’ll need to go a different route.
J.G PAGEAU: He has one more year at $3.1 million, which is hardly a bargain but given Ottawa’s cap situation, you might be able to get them to retain a little. He’s a good faceoff man, can kill penalties, and if you ignore his injury-riddled 2018-19 campaign, he’s a proven goal scorer (averaged 15 goals and 35 points in the last three seasons).
CEDRIC PAQUETTE: The Lightning are cap strapped and Paquette might be a victim of their circumstances since he’s an RFA. Like Pageau, he kills penalties and can win faceoffs. He scored 13 goals last year as well, so he can score goals. 11 of those goals came at even strength as well, which I really like. He had a 53% goals for percentage at even strength last season and he started less than 40% of his shifts in the offensive zone, those are both encouraging numbers. His acquisition cost might be a young defenseman, but I think he has some upside considering he’s been playing behind some very talented offensive players in Tampa Bay.
PAVEL ZACHA: His acquisition cost will be high, but the Devils have Nico Hischier, Travis Zajac, Michael McLeod, and will probably be adding Jack Hughes so they have lots of young centremen. Considering the fact that Zacha got sent to the AHL last season, I believe the Devils might consider moving him. Last year he scored 13 goals in 61 games played, that’s a really good pace. He killed a good amount of penalties for the Devils last year as well and he was 49% in the faceoff dot. He’s a good option with a good amount of upside.
If the Oilers want to play it safe, then free agency is the way to go. If they want to give up an asset and take a risk on a player with some upside, then the trade route is very enticing. What do you guys think?