Prior to yesterday’s game, the Oilers made a big round of cuts, placing four players on waivers and sending nine others directly down to AHL Bakersfield. With the beginning of the regular season under two weeks away, we’re starting to get a good idea of what the Oilers’ opening night roster will look like.
“I think Cave has been better than Haas. He is more comfortable in the NHL. I think Jurco has better than Nygard, but he has 200 NHL games under his belt. Those guys (Haas, Nygard) need time to get used to the league. But now they have to pick it up.” Tippett
— Jason Gregor (@JasonGregor) September 20, 2019
Yesterday’s cuts were mostly predictable but there were a couple of slight surprises heading down to the AHL. I thought Cooper Marody and Caleb Jones would stick around camp longer with the former ultimately cracking the team, but, given Ken Holland’s slow approach when it comes to prospects, it isn’t all too surprising to see them get big minutes in Bakersfield to start the season.
Here’s what we’re left with…
Forwards: Josh Archibald, Colby Cave, Alex Chiasson, Leon Draisaitl, Sam Gagner, Markus Granlund, Gaetan Haas, Tomas Jurco, Jujhar Khaira, Connor McDavid, James Neal, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Joakim Nygard, Patrick Russell, Riley Sheahan, Kailer Yamamoto, and an un-signed Anton Burdasov.
Defencemen: Ethan Bear, Matt Benning, Evan Bouchard, Logan Day, Oscar Klefbom, William Lagesson, Adam Larsson, Brandon Manning, Darnell Nurse, Joel Persson, Kris Russell.
Goaltenders: Mike Smith, Mikko Koskinen, Shane Starrett.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday SATURDAY EDITION question. Who’s on your 23-man roster to start the season?
Let’s go line-by-line.
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Assuming the captain is healthy and ready to start the season, this will surely be the top line. They played well together to finish 2018-19, and, as long as Zack Kassian is producing, he’ll get a chance to stick with the team’s two big gunners.
Anton Burdasov – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – James Neal
This might be a bold take, but I have a feeling we’re going to see Burdasov signed and in the lineup by opening night. He’s here to play top-six minutes, not to play on a checking line. Of course, it’s a quick turnaround for a guy who just got to camp, but it seems the Oilers have had their eyes on this player for a while. He’ll have guys like Tomas Jurco and Markus Granlund pushing for his spot.
Jujhar Khaira – Riley Sheahan – Alex Chiasson
Though Chiasson was effective for the Oilers in the top-six for most of the season last year, he’s better suited in the bottom-six. This is a line that’ll be able to play responsibly in the defensive zone, forecheck effectively, and chip in with some offence.
Markus Granlund – Colby Cave – Josh Archibald
We’re going to see a lot of musical chairs on this fourth line. I figure Cave has the inside edge to start the season as the fourth centre, but we could see the multi-dimensional Granlund shift over there in order to create more of an offensively-oriented line.
Extras: Sam Gagner, Tomas Jurco
This could change based on the final few games of the pre-season, but I see Gagner and Jurco grabbing the final two spots on the roster. Both players would require waivers to be sent down while Gaetan Haas and Joakim Nygard can start the season in Bakersfield to continue to get used to the North American ice surface.
I had a hard time not giving Patrick Russell a roster spot as he’s had a strong camp, but it’s hard to imagine a veteran like Gagner or a skilled project like Jurco getting waived. That said, if Burdasov isn’t ready to start the season, he could stick around for a few weeks on a PTO as Chris Kelly did a couple of years ago. If that were the case, I would bet we see Jurco in that second-line spot with Russell as an extra forward.
Darnell Nurse – Adam Larsson
I think it’s fairly clear that this is going to be the top pair that Dave Tippett rolls with.
Oscar Klefbom – Joel Persson
Both Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear are in the mix to accompany Oscar Klefbom on the team’s offensively-minded second pair, but I figure it’ll be Persson who ends up getting the nod. Persson is the most mature out of the group and the other three could use more seasoning in the AHL.
Kris Russell – Matt Benning
This is the duo that’s left over. Russell and Benning are both fine so long as they’re playing third-pairing minutes so this can certainly be a decent pairing.
Extra: Brandon Manning
This is honestly not a name I thought I would see again, but Manning has played adequately in camp and makes sense as the No 7 option. You can stash him in the press box and it doesn’t matter because he isn’t a prospect. You wouldn’t want to do that with William Lagesson, Ethan Bear, or Evan Bouchard.
Goalies: Mikko Koskinen, Mike Smith
There’s really no doubt this is going to be the goalie tandem this season. I would guess that Mikko Koskinen starts opening night.
What say you, Nation? What does your 23-man roster look like? Who’s playing with who?