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.
— Dustin Nielson (@nielsonTSN1260) March 27, 2019
1. Alex Chiasson
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.
3. Markus Granlund
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?
4. Jujhar Khaira
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?
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.
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:
- TEN TIDBITS: August Edition
- Projection Season: The Hockey News
- Ten Way Too Early Predictions
- Mr. Holland’s Summer
- Two Birds, One Stone