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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Who has been the best newcomer?

Welcome, friends, to yet another edition of the Monday Mailbag! Whether you’re at work, at school, or at home, we both know you’re not doing anything even remotely productive and I salute you for your commitment to retired living. And since you’re not doing anything work-related anyway, why not enjoy a few thousand words worth of free wisdom — sound good? As always, this feature depends on all of you and I need questions for next week so if you’ve got one you email me at [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk. Until then, let’s all gather round to enjoy this here mailbag.

Sep 16, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward James Neal (18) celebrates after a first period goal against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

1) Tiffany asks – I’d like to know everyone’s opinion on who has been the best newcomer for the Oilers this season and why?

Jason Gregor:

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James Neal. He has 12 goals. Second would be Mike Smith. I assume you aren’t counting Ethan Bear, because he played games for the Oilers before, otherwise he’d be at the top of my list.

Robin Brownlee:

If you literally mean newcomer, it’s James Neal because of his hot offensive start. Otherwise, it’s Ethan Bear. Has shown a lot of poise and outperformed every expectation I can think of.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

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I’m assuming that we’re talking strictly about players who weren’t in the organization last year, so I wont say Ethan Bear. In that case, its either James Neal or Mike Smith. Considering how badly the Oilers needed stable goaltending, my answer is Smith. He’s single handedly won them games this year.

Christian Pagnani:

If Ethan Bear doesn’t count, I’d go with Mike Smith. 12 games played and a .915 save percentage. Their goaltending is giving them a chance and Smith looks real solid in the early going.

Baggedmilk:

Just to be different, I’m going to go with Dave Tippett because of the way his systems/deployment have completely upgraded the Oilers’ special teams. That work?

Sep 16, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Joel Persson (36) skates during warmup before a game against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

2) Dale asks – What does Joel Persson need to do to stick in the lineup? To me, I find that his puck moving is strong but his defending leaves a lot to be desired. What do you see in him so far?

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Jason Gregor:

He needs some seasoning in the AHL and he needs to get in NHL shape. The conditioning needed to play in the NHL is different than in Europe, the AHL or junior. As Ethan Bear spoke about earlier, putting the extra work in the summer made him better. I think that is what Persson will need to do in the off-season to become a regular NHLer.

Robin Brownlee:

He needs to consistently be mentally engaged and needs to bring a more physical dimension to his game. You’re never sure that you’re going to get from him — he needs to provide fewer swings between sometimes pretty good and sometimes pretty bad to his game.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think your assessment is pretty bang on. Considering he’s been thrown into a top four role and has never played in North America, I don’t think he’s been bad but he’s certainly had some rough moments. The biggest thing working against him now is the depth on the Oilers blue line (boy, I’m still not used to saying that). It’ll be tough for him to get regular minutes once Larsson is back.

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Christian Pagnani:

Get used to NHL hockey more. Make less ‘big’ mistakes. I like his puck-moving ability and think there’s a player there but there’s probably gonna be an adjustment period.

Baggedmilk:

I think some time in the AHL would do Persson some wonders. He went from playing in Sweden’s lower leagues to the SHL to the NHL in a matter of a few years, and I assume that it all must be completely overwhelming for the guy. There’s a player there but I think some time in Bako would serve him well.

Sep 17, 2019; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson (6) and Vancouver Canucks forward Nikolay Goldobin (77) reach for the puck during the third period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

3) Trent asks – Adam Larsson is nearing his return to the lineup and I’d like to know where everyone thinks he’ll be slotted into the lineup? I assume it will be alongside Klefbom with Persson coming up, but I could also see Tippett moving Benning up to that pairing while he gets back up to speed. What does everyone think?

Jason Gregor:

He starts with Oscar Klefbom. He won’t be asked to play huge minutes right away, but he will be paired up with Klefbom because they have played a lot together.

Robin Brownlee:

I think he goes back in with Klefbom because Nurse and Bear have been so good together.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I think it needs to be with Klefbom. Give him a good puck mover and then keep Benning with Russell. I wouldn’t mind seeing a trade either to move out a d-man for a forward.

Christian Pagnani:

Probably with Klefbom, but I’d be tempted to move Benning there as well and have a Jones-Larsson third pairing for a bit. No need to rush him back into serious minutes just yet. Then the Oilers get to see Benning in an increased role and Jones in some NHL minutes.

Baggedmilk:

You don’t take Bear off Nurse’s right side so that really leaves Klefbom being the only option. That is, of course, unless you want to bump Matt Benning up into the top four while he gets back up to speed? I don’t.

Feb 2, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Zack Kassian (44) scores past Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart (79) during the third period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

4) Yves asks – Zack Kassian really seems to have found his home alongside Connor McDavid and @Leon Draisaitl and I’m wondering what the panel thinks makes him such a good fit?

Jason Gregor:

He skates well and he hasn’t changed how he plays. He doesn’t try to be fancy. He is good at puck retrievals, and he doesn’t try to do too much. He gets them the puck and goes to the net to open lanes.

Robin Brownlee:

Kassian can skate with them and he can make plays. He’s not just a banger and a puck retriever.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I’ve been raving about him on both Nation Podcasts lately. He keeps his game very simple for the most part and that’s key when playing with McDavid and Draisaitl. He gets them the puck and goes to the net. He’s strong on the forecheck as well and he can keep the cycle alive. It’s a perfect trip.

Christian Pagnani:

I don’t mean this as a slight to Zack Kassian, but what makes him such a good fit is that he’s playing beside Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. I’m a big believer that you can put almost anyone alongside a player like McDavid and they’ll score, so that’s even more true when you have a line with both McDavid and Draisaitl. Kassian’s always been a solid skater and played a bit with the Sedins in Vancouver, but Kassian didn’t even hit double-digit goals until he got boosted to McDavid’s line. He had one 20-point season in Edmonton before being promoted to the top-line right wing spot.

Baggedmilk:

The thing I like about Zack Kassian is that he knows his role on that line and he finds different ways to contribute even if it’s not on the scoreboard. I like it.

5) Noreen asks – Jesse Puljujarvi has now stated that he will be spending the year in Finland. I know we’ve talked at length about this being good for his confidence, but what do you think it does for his overall trade value?

Jason Gregor:

If he continues to play well it will only increase his trade value. Ken Holland can be patient, and he should get a fair return.

Robin Brownlee:

If he continues to perform well it increases his trade value from almost nothing to something more than that — the degree, I’m not sure. There is no downside to that.

Tyler Yaremchuk:

I said it at the beginning and I’ll say it again: not a lot. If teams weren’t convinced that he’s an NHL player after watching him in the NHL, then I’m not sure how much a year in Europe will change their minds. He’ll still fetch them a prospect and a pick but he won’t suddenly be worth a first rounder.

Christian Pagnani:

It has to positive. If he keeps scoring that has to entice some time to take a chance on him via trade. I don’t blame Puljujarvi for not wanting to return to Edmonton, but he’s scoring there which is basically all he had to do in Finland. His play over there warrants another look in the NHL. That’s a positive development and Puljujarvi should yield a useful asset.

Baggedmilk:

Can’t hurt, right? I just hope he stays healthy and productive all season so that Holland can maximize the return.

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