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Free Agency Preview: Finding quality depth for the Oilers up front

One of the most important jobs for Ken Holland this summer will be adding to Edmonton’s underwhelming forward group. As we saw last year, the team is incredibly top heavy and lacks high-quality depth. They struggled to produce offence when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl weren’t on the ice, as the duo were directly involved in accounting for roughly half the team’s 229 goals.

The team’s top three scorers, McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, combined for 119 goals. Alex Chiasson got off to a hot start while playing with McDavid and scored a career-high 22 goals. Zack Kassian also got hot towards the end of the season while playing with McDavid and scored 15 goals. But after them, Edmonton’s next highest scoring forward was Drake Caggiula, who was traded half-way through the season.

You can bank on McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins to produce at a high level, but the Oilers need to add quality depth to their roster in order to balance their lineup and avoid leaning too heavily on three players.

There’s quite a bit up in the air when it comes to Edmonton’s forward group next year. I expect McDavid and Draisaitl to remain a duo on the top line and for Nugent-Hopkins to carry on as the team’s second centre. Kyle Brodziak, Jujhar Khaira, Sam Gagner, Colby Cave, and Milan Lucic, if he isn’t traded for another bad contract, figure to play in the bottom-six. Jesse Puljujarvi may never play for the Oilers again, but a European free agent like Joakim Nygard could crack the team in his place.

That leaves the Oilers with some fairly glaring needs in their top-six. McDavid and Draisaitl need another winger and Nugent-Hopkins needs two linemates. Maybe Kassian continues to thrive on the top line or maybe Nygard can produce offence in the top-six. There’s also always a chance some of these roles could be filled internally with prospects like Tyler Benson and Kailer Yamamoto, but, knowing Ken Holland’s conservative style when it comes to development, I imagine the Oilers will be looking for veteran options instead.

Regardless, the Oilers should be looking for two or three wingers to add in free agency.

The Oilers have roughly $9 million in cap room to work with. Some cap room could be opened up if Holland manages to dump a contract like Kris Russell or Andrej Sekera, but, no matter what happens, the Oilers aren’t going to be in the mix for any of the top-level free agents like Matt Duchene or Artemi Panarin. Even middle-of-the-pack guys like Mats Zuccarello, Gustav Nyquist, and Michael Ferland are likely going to be priced out of Edmonton’s spending range.

This summer will be about plugging holes with under-the-radar free agent acquisitions. Here are some names that fall into that category:

  • Brett ConnollyWe already know the Oilers have interest in Connolly, who scored a career-high 22 goals last season. The one very impressive thing about Connolly’s season with the Capitals is that 21 of his 22 goals came at even strength with virtually zero power play time. He would be a great fit in the middle-six if the price tag isn’t too high.
  • Alex ChiassonSimilar to Connolly, Chiasson produced a career-high 22 goals last year with the Oilers last season. A lot of that came in the first half of the season but Chiasson continued to be a solid two-way player for the Oilers in the second half even when he wasn’t scoring.
  • Thomas VanekSomebody that Ken Holland knows well, Vanek continues to score goals late into his career. Holland signed Vanek two separate times as the general manager of the Red Wings. He scored 16 goals last year and 24 the year before that and can be a strong option on the power play.
  • Tyler EnnisA local Edmonton product, Ennis had a nice bounce-back year with the Leafs in 2018-19, scoring 12 goals in 51 games. He isn’t the player he used to be, but Ennis has good wheels and could fit anywhere in the lineup.
  • Joonas DonskoiGiven San Jose’s tight cap situation, it’s very likely Donskoi ends up playing for a new team next season. Donskoi didn’t factor much into the Sharks’ playoff run this spring, but he’s been a solid contributor in the past and can play up and down the lineup.
  • Patrick MaroonAnother familiar name, Patrick Maroon played a key role in his hometown Blues winning their first-ever Stanley Cup this spring. We already know that Maroon has chemistry with McDavid and what he brings to the table. If he’s willing to return on a cheap deal, I’m sure fans would love to have him. This would make a lot of sense if the Oilers ended up moving on from Milan Lucic this summer.
  • Richard PanikWhile his 22-goal season a few years ago with Chicago was likely an anomaly, Panik has scored 14 goals in back-to-back seasons. He’s also consistently produced very strong underlying numbers, a representation of his solid two-way game.
  • Wayne SimmondsThis time last year it was hard to imagine the Oilers having the cap room to add Simmonds. But after a disappointing season in which he scored just 17 goals, including just one after being acquired by Nashville at the trade deadline, Simmonds could potentially be a buy-low candidate this summer.
  • Brandon TanevAnother thing that isn’t talked about enough is the Oilers’ need for forwards who can kill penalties. Not only did Brandon Tanev break out for 14 goals last year, but he was also one of Winnipeg’s best penalty killers.
  • Brandon PirriDespite consistently managing to put pucks in the back of the net, Brandon Pirri always seems to get looked over. He dominated the AHL and forced his way into the Golden Knights lineup last season where he would pot 12 goals in just 31 games.
  • Daniel CarrCarr is another AHL star who can’t seem to get a chance at the NHL level. Despite scoring 32 goals in 50 games for Vegas’ AHL team last year, the Golden Knights gave him just six games at the NHL level. Like Pirri, he would be a cheap risk with some interesting upside.

Given Edmonton’s cap situation and need for more than just one good winger, there’s a chance they could get priced out of 20-goal scorers like Chiasson and Connolly on the open market. That said, there are quite a few good options for them beyond those two players who can play up and down the lineup and provide some depth offence. The key, in my opinion, for the Oilers this summer, is adding three of these aforementioned players in order to ensure prospects like Benson and Yamamoto aren’t forced into a position they aren’t ready to handle.

THIRD ANNUAL OILERSNATION OPEN

After having such a blast over the past two years, we absolutely knew that we were going to organize another golf tourney for the summer and, after a few months of planning, we’re psyched to finally be able to launch our third annual golf tournament.

  • When – August 29th, 2019 (Thursday)
  • Where – Cougar Creek Golf Resort
  • How much – $1000/team or get in on the $900 Early Bird price until July 10th
  • Teams – Groups of Four (4)
  • How – Book your team here

As always, a portion of all proceeds from your ticket purchase will be donated directly to a local charity. This time we’ve partnered up with the Gregor Foundation to make sure that our kids are at their most handsome.



  • Odanada

    I can’t imagine a deal involving the Looch that doesn’t bring back even less our way. Looch’s game has tanked, but he still hits hard.
    Lets hope Tippet can gel with Milan and help him get his confidence back.
    The coach has to get production from the players he has and I’m counting on Tippet to get the Looch’s best.

    • El Oilero

      Lucic is a solid 4th liner. I consider him worth $2M tops instead he gets $6M and a NMC. That guy is a dumpster fire of a player who is killing us. $6M and we have a solid winger for Nuge or two solid 3rd liners. Instead we get an empty shell of a player who provides 0 leadership.

    • YFC Prez

      If tippet can figure out looch. Get him playing like a 2nd or solid 3rd liner again That would be huge for the oilers.

      Im just really doubtful it happens. There’s just that glimmer of hope. We’ve all seen what a motivated and mean looch looks like. It’s something I’d want around for sure. I want that guy who was ready to tear apart the entire Philly team during the post playoff series handshake many years ago is he still in there though? I’m doubtful

    • Hemmercules

      I’m a Maroon fan as well but I don’t see a return happening. He will be able to sign a good deal closer to home I think.

      Like to see Chiasson back on a reasonable contract. He’s probably kinda sad Chia isn’t around to overpay him on term and dollars though.

      I used really want to see Simmons in an Oilers jersey but I think he might be on the decline. I have a feeling he stays south of the boarder, possibly even a return to Philly. Any of the other listed would be ok but obviously its dollars that matter most. Cant afford to overpay any of these guys in free agency.

  • El Oilero

    One thing we have learned is a big fast guy works well on McD’s wing. I think Kass can be that guy. Chiasson, and Maroon also worked well. The goal is to fill out a third line and get Nuge a winger. There are only two ways to do this. Internally by moving Yama, Benson up or by a UFA or trade. We do not have the cap space to buy a quality winger for Nuge. That is why we need to find a way to get rid of Sekera (who I think has a lot of value left) and Russel (who is an NHL dman but over paid). We need to move the D prospects up who are cost controlled to the 3rd D line (Jones, Bear or a PTO like Gravel). If we could ever get rid of Lucic then a good PTO could fill the spot on the 4th line.

    I am actually curious to see the PTO market. Also, where does Perry end up. He would be a solid 3C if he took a short term and a cost controlled contract.

  • YFC Prez

    Of that list Marion is the guy I’d want playing with Draisaitl and mcdavid. Connelly would be a great option for 3rd line and add much needed secondary scoring.

    Tanev meet oilers pk. You’re much needed. Connelly I think would help here too.

    That’s the 3 I’m eyeing up. Although I know they’re hard pressed to get even one of these at the price they want. Holland work some magic please.

    This still doesn’t give nuge someone to play with though. Eberle or Hall would be handy to have around right now *grabs Chiarelli voodoo doll* ( I know I know. Trash away)