13

Dissecting the Oilers Forwards

The Oilers need an answer. This summer they signed a lot of bottom-six players to short-term, low-risk contracts and that really complicated a bottom-six that already had a lot of players competing for jobs.

I like the idea of competition for bottom-six jobs, it’s what good organizations do on a routine basis, the only issue for the Oilers is that they also have very minimal support, if any at all, for the likes of Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl in the top six. You really don’t need me to remind you of that.

So if the Oilers are going to have a better offensive season than they did last year, they’ll need at least one or two of their gambles to pay off this season. To me, there are three groups of players sitting in the Oilers pile of support players. Here’s how I see things (I left out the centremen on purpose. Brodziak and Cave will not play higher than the bottom six for obvious reasons):

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THE RELIABLES

Alex Chiasson: At this point, he’s almost a lock to be in the top six on a regular basis simply because of how well he performed last season. He had a goals/60 of 0.78 at even strength and a 50% GF%. Those are basically the best numbers we saw of any Oilers forward outside of the big three.

In 300 even-strength minutes with McDavid he had a 51.22 GF% which was 3% better than what McDavid did away from Chiasson. In 315 even-strength minutes with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nugent-Hopkins saw his GF% go up 1.49%. They’re small numbers, but he proved last year that he can play in the Oilers top six. It’s just a matter of him doing it again.

Zack Kassian: We saw him get red hot down the stretch playing with McDavid, but he also played pretty well with Nugent-Hopkins. In just under 200 minutes with Nugent-Hopkins, the duo had a GF% of 56.52, which is a 15% improvement over how Nugent-Hopkins performed away from Kassian.

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With McDavid, he played 436 even strength minutes and posted a 51.67 GF%. Considering how much they played together and the success they had, there’s a good reason to expect he’ll start on the top line, but he might be good second line candidate as well.

THE BIG IFS

Jujhar Khaira: I’m very interested to see what a completely healthy Jujhar Khaira could bring to this lineup next season. There will be plenty of opportunities and with his combination of size and skill, I’m hoping for a breakout season.

We saw him play some really good hockey with Nugent-Hopkins around December of last season when the duo was paired with Jesse Puljujarvi but then injuries derailed his season. In 185 even-strength minutes with Nugent-Hopkins, they posted a GF% of 47% and had a ‘shots for ‘ percentage of 47% to go with it. I’m very intrigued at the possibility of these two becoming a solid duo for the Oilers in 2019/20.

MARKUS GRANLUND: As it sits right now, Granlund is actually Holland’s most expensive UFA addition to the forward group. The reason to believe that he can slide up into the Oilers’ top six is pretty simple: he had a run of success while playing with the Sedin twins in Vancouver. In 2016/17, he scored 19 goals in 69 games played with 16 of those goals coming at even strength.

Last season, he had 12 goals in 72 games and ten of them came at even strength. His 0.7 even-strength goals for/60 would have put him 8th amongst Oilers forwards that finished the season with the team.

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MILAN LUCIC: Like a lot of Oilers fans, I still have a sliver of hope that Lucic’s work with a skills coach this summer will lead to him having a bounceback season. He’s two years removed from scoring 23 goals with the team in the season that saw them return to the playoffs and if he can find a way to chip in even 15 goals, it would go a long way to pushing the Oilers to a playoff spot in 2019/20.

He’s a veteran player and with a new coaching staff in place, you would guess that he’s going to get a fair chance to step into the top six and once again become a productive NHLer.

If he can become a possession machine below the goal line and simply find a way to keep up off the rush, then there’s likely a spot for him on the wing next to Nugent-Hopkins.

Sam Gagner: I didn’t really want to include Gagner in this group, but for the sake of the exercise I did. He barely played with McDavid and while he did spend 130 even-strength minutes with Nugent-Hopkins, their numbers were less than flattering. I expect he’ll be a permanent fixture in the bottom six.

THE WILDCARDS

Joakim Nygard: He had 21 goals in 52 games last season in the SHL, which is a good league. Scouting reports all rave about his speed, hands, and creativity. Some call him raw and question his ability to think the game at a high-level but when you’re playing with one of the Oilers top two centres, you don’t need to think very much, just go to the net and be ready to pounce of opportunities. 

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He’s an enticing addition and based off the scouting reports I’ve read, I actually think there’s a decent chance he’s a productive NHLer next season. Will it be with McDavid or Nugent-Hopkins? It’s certainly possible. Worse players have had success with those two.

Josh Archibald: He had 12 goals last year and has never really been more than a bottom-six forward. I doubt that he suddenly finds a way to click into their top six since we’ve never seen him do it anywhere else but you never know. He moves well and has NHL experience so there’s always a chance. No one saw the Alex Chiasson breakout coming so you don’t want to count out anyone when it comes to their ability to produce with one of the Oilers highly skilled centremen.

KAILER YAMAMOTO: He’s made the team out of camp in two straight seasons but the stints have been fairly short-lived and largely unproductive. He went down to the AHL last season and posted ten goals in 27 games before injuries derailed his season.

His size will always be a bit of a concern but he now has close to a full season of pro hockey under his belt and a full offseason of training, maybe next year is the season that Yamamoto sees his offensive skills translate to the NHL level.

TYLER BENSON: The former second-round pick is coming off a hugely successful rookie season in the AHL posting close to a point per game with the Condors. Some fans are preaching patience with Benson but he’s 21 years old. If he shows up to camp and starts producing alongside either Nugent-Hopkins or McDavid, then the Oilers shouldn’t just send him back to the minors for the sake of patience. If he’s ready to go, don’t hold him back.

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TOMAS JURCO: He’s been a pretty productive AHL player for a few seasons now but he’s never been able to score at the NHL level. If he had a couple of 10-12 goal seasons under his belt, I would probably be a little more optimistic about this, but I don’t really like his chances to crack the team and be productive.

Now, Ken Holland is very familiar with Jurco and he has faced a lot of injury problems during his career. So maybe one more fresh start and the fact he should be coming to camp 100% healthy will lead to a breakout season for Jurco. I’m skeptical, but anything is possible I suppose.

JOSH CURRIE: He was a feel-good story at the end of last season when he finally got the call to the NHL after close to 400 games in the AHL and ECHL. He threw on an Oilers jersey for 21 games and scored two goals and three assists. Those aren’t good numbers by any means and I don’t think we’ll see Currie step into the top six for any period of time next season. But I could see him being the teams 13th forward next season. As a bottom-six player, I really like him though. He has a decent offensive touch and brings some speed to a rather slow group.

To wrap that all up. I think Chiasson and Kassian are the favourites to have jobs on the right side and I’d give Markus Granlund the best chance of taking ice time away from either of those two. On the left-side of the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins line, it’s really wide open. Nygard no doubt has potential and you never know when we might see a Milan Lucic bounceback season, but I’m really liking the thought of Jujhar Khaira clicking with Nugent-Hopkins again and being a top-six player for the 2019/20 Oilers.

THIRD ANNUAL OILERSNATION OPEN

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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). Tee off at 2 p.m.
  • Where – Cougar Creek Golf Resort
  • How much – $1000/team
  • 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.


    • CMG30

      The reality of the situation is that there is no cap for another top 6 forward, at least without poking a hole somewhere else. This roster won’t be fixed in a single off season. The best we can hope is that we can shore up some of the weaker points, such as PK and PP. Smaller tweaks here and there to reduce goals against that this team has been bleeding for years. Then we have to wait for either an internal option to present itself or the right trade or opportunity to come along. The organization can’t force this, but they must be astute enough to recognize it when it does comes along though.

      No one is under any illusions that this roster is a lock for the playoffs but, it they can cut down a few of the goals against, either through goaltending or a better PK, this team could squeak in.

  • OilCan2

    It seems that we could see a lot of players come into camp healthy and motivated. Yes I am looking at JP too. Addition by subtraction could be the BIG reason for success next season. Tippett could get the goals against to drop like a rock over the cliff.

  • Redundant Lenny

    Now obviously I don’t want to overhype his ability or where he could end up starting this season but shouldn’t we be holding Benson in pretty high regard as far as prospects go? As I recall he could have gone higher in his respective draft year but the question of injury proneness had him fall to (the high end) of the second round. Combine that with his AHL production and age I actually am quite hopeful for him to become a pretty darn good NHLer. Maybe I’m misreading the general sentiment but it seems like a lot of what I read doesn’t project his future as good as it probably should be projected. Not to say anybody’s dogging on him that is.

  • ed from edmonton

    Holland has loaded up on bottom 6 forwards and it will be interesting to see who starts on opening night. Guys like Benson and Nygaard have not shown they are limited to bottom 6 roles and might show they can be legit top 6. Guys like Kassian and Chaisson are not true top 6 guys but can fill in top six for short periods, but for a whole year they will have their down times. If Gagner gets say 2nd PP time he might have a bump in scoring but he can’t really take a top 6 spot at evens. None of the rest are anything other than true bottom 6 guys. Best case for the Oil would be if one of Benson/Nygaard can show to be true top 6 and somebody else has another Chaisson type year.

  • russ99a

    I know the prospect fans are pushing Benson, most likely out of desperation for some kind of top-6 option.

    But I hope Holland sticks to his slow play development plan, and we don’t repeat the mistake of over-emphasizing preseason stats vs. sub-AHL and AHL competition for the most part. If he’s ready, he’s ready but if he’s not, there’s nothing wrong with giving him another 40-50 AHL games.

  • HeadMetal79

    Holland looks to be clearing the way for competition for this year. Look at CapFriendly to see that we have 6 forwards signed after this season. Looks like he has a plan to see what our guys are made of and see how motivated they are during a contract year. Personally I like this tactic. We can only go up right….hopefully get some surprises along the way.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    If hooland can move a couple bodies out in a trade to free up some space and aquire a player, I am sure he will, otherwise I will hold tight till camp and the preseason start and we see how guys are and who is matched up with who and how they play, otherwise we can speculate to our hearts content but wont mean much, Lots of player were great that year we had our playoff run then fell off the map and then some fell off the map, some go hit by the injury bug and some just dissapeared, so anything can happen, we will have to wait till camp starts to get a look and see how things start to shake out

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Edmonton’s top 2 candidates are Chaisson and Granlund.
    Chaisson was a walk on PTO last season.
    Granlund was not resigned by Vancouver.
    Oh Boy, it’s going to be a long season.