Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Lucky Number Six

There will be no shortage of open roster spots for the Oilers when they take the ice for training camp next month. One of the juiciest spots available will be on the left-wing alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Earlier in the summer, Dave Tippett talked about playing McDavid with Draisaitl and Nuge with newcomer James Neal which means four of the top six spots are absolutely locked up. I wouldn’t say the 5th forward in the top six is a lock, but at this point but I am pretty confident that Zack Kassian will at least earn the first look with McDavid on the top line.

The real question is which forward gets to be lucky number six and work his way into a significant offensive opportunity? There are basically five forwards worth taking a look at and for good measure I’ll throw in an honourable mention and a sleeper.

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I guess you can say Chiasson could be a front runner for the job for a couple of different reasons. Not only is he coming off the best season of his career, he also has more experience than any of the other candidates for the job not named Sam Gagner.

The issue with Chiasson playing in the top six is that one of he or Neal will have to play the left side, and in a perfect world I think both of them would prefer to be on the right. The other area of conflict is that Neal loves to shoot and Chiasson has a shoot first mentality as well. I’m not saying those two can’t co-exist on the line, but I would be afraid that Nuge wouldn’t get enough opportunity to shoot the puck himself and that would be a shame because he has an excellent release.

2. Joakim Nygard

I know he’s a newbie, but he is coming off an excellent goal-scoring campaign in one of the best league’s outside of the NHL. I think I’m most intrigued by what his speed could do for Nugent-Hopkins and Neal. At this stage of his career, Neal won’t be intimidating anyone with his speed which is something that Nygard should be able to do, even at the NHL level.

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He is most certainly better suited to be on the team’s third line, but when you look at what the Oilers are dealing with for depth on the left side, I’d say he has as good as chance as any to win a job on the second unit.

While it wasn’t an overly impressive campaign, Granlund is coming off the second-best year of his career with 12 goals and 22 points in 77 games. A year ago, when the Oilers signed Chiasson, he was trying to build on a 61 game, nine goal and nine assists, season in Washington. Who’s to say that Granlund couldn’t produce at a Chiasson level if given a similar opportunity?


I think the race for a top-six spot on the Oilers may fall off a bit after the first three candidates on this list. Jujhar had a brief stint alongside Nuge last season, and while it wasn’t amazing, I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Khaira will need to come into training camp and really turn some heads if he plans on earning an opportunity in the top six at the beginning of the year. I see him as plan C or D for the job if other options come up empty.

5. Tyler Benson

For some this would be a longshot, for others, it’s not. I’m in the category of not believing we’ll see it to start the year but stranger things have happened with this club. Benson had a very impressive pro debut in Bakersfield and has NHL ready playmaking abilities at the age of 21. He could play the role of a pure setup man for a couple of vets in Nuge and Neal. Be honest with me, wouldn’t you love to see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins take Benson under his wing?


Sam Gagner

I only bring up Gagner because any time I have this discussion, including on Monday’s edition of Inside the Nation, his name is one of the most common suggestions from Oilers fans. I just don’t know if Gagner can bring enough speed to the trio at this stage of his career. I’m not completely opposed to it, but I think Sam may serve a better purpose further down the lineup.



If you are a regular viewer of my Facebook live stream for the Nation you will know I’m a fan of what Tomas Jurco could potentially bring to the table. He’s the same age as Nugent-Hopkins and the last time he played in the NHL he scored at a 17-goal pace for the Blackhawks. If Jurco is granted some offensive looks in the pre-season I think he has the skill to take advantage of it.

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So which second line would you like to see?

Neal – Nuge – Chiasson
Nygard – Nuge – Neal
Granlund – Nuge – Neal
Khaira – Nuge – Neal
Benson – Nuge – Neal
Jurco – Nuge – Neal

If I were casting a ballot in this race, I think I’d vote for Nygard to be the man which would then allow Chiasson to join Granlund as veteran wingers on the third line. What Say You?

Previously by Dustin Nielson:

  • ed from edmonton

    The best result for the Oil would be for one of the new guys, i.e. Benson or Nygaard to establish themselves as a legit top 6 player. Benson would be the ideal result as he would be on his entry level deal through the 20/21year. I continue to be surprised by the amount of love Tomas Jurco gets. He is a 28 year old who, at best has bounced between the AHL and NHL. What on earth has he done that suggest he can play anything above this?

    • QuitForRealThisTime

      What possible indication was there that Chiasson would score 20 goals? Or that Rieder would score zero? He is being a chance to prove he can do more. Why right him off, hope is all we got here e-town

      • ed from edmonton

        I would then say that Gambardella has at least as good a shot as Jurco. G is only 25, possibly still improving and averaged almost a PPG in 50 AHL games last year. Something Jurco has never achieved.

        • Vanoil

          Have a lot of time for Gambardella, but he doesn’t have the wheels to play in the top six at this level. Even Benson will struggle here, but his instincts and positioning will help out alot on the wing.

    • RJ

      I think you need to define “legit”. Barring a trade or PTO that wows the coaching staff, one of these players will be in the top-six.

      But I have a hard time seeing any of them being a top-30 LW in the NHL. 2nd best LW on the Oilers can be a long way from a “legit” top-6 LW.

  • Fireball

    I would love to see Benson get a long look with Nuge n Neal. I think his playmaking ability off the boards would really be a nice balance on that line. Otherwise if Nygard can play at the NHL level he would also be a great fit. He has some finish and play making ability. He would be the speed on that line. Just a question of can he do it in the NHL. After that It’s ACs job on right and Neal plays left. It’s probably not ideal for the reasons pointed out above but we might all be surprised.

  • Ken Holland

    Drai – McDavid – Kassian
    Benson – Nuge – Neal
    Granlund – Khaira – Chiasson
    Nygard – Haas – Gagner

    Leaves us with 3.5 Mil in cap space to bring in a 3C or a top 6 winger at some point during the season.

    We also have the option to trade Gagner and a pick to free up another 3 mil. All depends on our goaltending and how well they play.

    • Kepler62c

      “Who would you like to see with Nuge and Neal”… thinks about it… goes outside the box… hey, that’s not too bad. If both Benson and Nygard (total wild card) look like they can handle those minutes this isn’t that crazy.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    No one has mentioned Archibald here? I’m not sure he can play the left side, but he may have to potential to out-score Neal or Chaisson on the right… With no one mentioning him much this off-season, I think he’ll be one of the biggest surprises.

    • Kepler62c

      I think Archibald will fit solidly in the bottom 6, but you’re right he’s been a bit of an afterthought for even those minutes in a lot of “projected lineups”. I see him in the same mold as Granlund and they could form a great duo in the bottom 6.

      The other wild card besides Benson and Nygaard for me is Yamamoto — made the team out of camp two seasons in a row… if the wrist injury is behind him I wouldn’t doubt he gives Kassian a run for 1st line RW (not saying they should rush him, AHL time would be good for him unless he blows it out of the park in TC).

      • Bond 0097

        I think Yammamoto has to put some time in at the Bake, he needs to prove he’s healthy and then dominate down there. We have enough bodies to fill the team in Edmonton, we don’t want Yammy ending up like Jesse. He needs to play first line minutes in the AHL and show us what he can do to earn a spot in Etown

      • Glencontrolurstik

        Seeing Benson play a lot in Vancouver in his injury prone WHL days I can eventually see a Benson, Nugent-Hopkins, Archibald line… Benson lacks speed but more than makes up for it in “hockey sense” & finding open ice… He also has a great shot. Archibald has amazing speed and skill & well, Nuge is Nuge… This “eventually” would be a good line.
        I’m just excited to get this going again, I’m not alone here counting the days…

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    I get the hope that Neal will rediscover his scoring and pot 20+ in a top 6 role. That’s a reasonable hope, assuming you aren’t expecting him to be part of a shutdown line. He’s not known for his defensive play. If Nuge’s line plays a secondary scoring role then Neal is better suited. If you still want Nuge to play against other teams’ best players, then you need to move Neal to the 3rd line.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Nygard will push for 2 or 3 line winger spot, the guy has speed and he has great play making ability watching some of his passing and scoring in video clips you can see that potential. I dont see Marody goinjg back down to the AHL unless he really hits the cliff but he was great in the AHL last year, I believe he makes the jump and stick with the Oilers

    Benson has the potential you can see it but I dont know if he will make the team, I think he might stick for the first nine to see, but I think he head back down to the AHL to fine tune his game

    With Poolparty signing in Europe, Holland could look at Signing Sheehan or Lindberg, dont know if he will do it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesnt kick the tires

  • Bond 0097

    I’M ALL FOR BENSON, homegrown kid has done everything the right way and great story. Besides it’s time we had someone actually not drafted in the first round pan out and make good. he put up the numbers in the AHL, let’s give this kid a REAL shot at the big time playing with other talented players, Go Tyler!!!

  • VvV

    Puljujarvi is an idiot, he wants to play top 6 , he will find nowhere in the league with more opportunity than in the Oilers top 6, and to play with 1 or 2 of McDavid, Nuge, of Draisitl. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and he’s blowing it. When he looks back on this when his hockey career is over chances are he is going to regret this decision for the rest of his life.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    On a playoff contender: Zach Kassian is not in the top 6, Sam Gagner is not on the roster.
    Filling the holes with bologna, such is life in Oilerville.

  • Lol nowhere in this league does poolpouty have a better opportunity to play in the top six.
    The problem is in giving guys like rattie and yams spotlight minutes is that the old regime illustrated; that you can walk on and you should have a spot. He never wanted to earn it as it’s easier to just stay home and and wait for a better opportunity. He was shown you can be a walk on and get those minutes so why didn’t he?
    Too bad this guy will not utilize his potential for our team.
    He could have been our Patrick Laine but doesn’t want to come to work. But then again, who would want to work for peter?
    Sorry for venting. I believe in him if he wants to come to work.

    • Canoe Ride 27

      He’s no Laine. We got this pick wrong. A Finnish GM in Columbus got it right. JP will not play another game in the NHL. Talent finds a way a JP doesn’t have it.

  • The Iggy complex

    Ewwww what a grosse top 6 with Neal and Kassian then whatever other bottom 6 guy fills the 6th spot. Another depressing low scoring year for Oilers fans unfortunately

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      Yeah we are deeply concerned with Value Village fans input when their biggest acquisition has been Talbot and Looch, and they are still is sell off mode to find money to sign turtlechuk. But hey at least you can watch last years first round play off exit and relive the dream

    • Leichs

      Kass scored more goals than all but 5 Flames forwards, that’s the second highest scoring team in the league… Also your second line Center Backlund only scored 47 points?? Geez the guy couldn’t hold Nuge’s jockstrap.