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Decision time on Filip Berglund, Markus Niemelainen, and Graham McPhee

The time is approaching for Ken Holland to make decisions on some of the prospects he inherited from Peter Chiarelli.

This summer, members of the 2016 draft class who played in Europe or in the NCAA must be signed, otherwise, the Oilers will lose their rights and they’ll be eligible for free agency. Among these players are third-round picks Filip Berglund and Markus Niemelainen and fifth-round pick Graham McPhee.

The 2016 draft has been a bit of a dud for the Oilers so far. While second-round pick Tyler Benson looks like a player, Jesse Puljujarvi struggling in Edmonton and seeking a new opportunity with a different club has made that year’s draft class quite a disappointment. Could any of these players be hidden gems?

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McPhee, a gritty winger, is coming off of a season with Boston College in which he posted five goals and 12 points in 34 games. That obviously isn’t much for a Senior, so it seems unlikely he’ll get himself a contract. Niemelainen, the towering defender from Finland, has a combined 15 points over 147 in three seasons in Finland. A contract here also seems unlikely.

That leaves us with Berglund. Playing alongside 2019 first-round pick Philip Broberg for Skellefteå AIK this season, Berglund posted five goals and 20 points 52 games, which was second on the team among defensemen. He’s a big, strong defender known for his ability to play a smart, physical game.

A big and strong two-way [right-handed] defenseman with good hockey sense and passing ability. Valuable on the man advantage with a strong release and good puck control. Not a speedster and should use his large frame to his advantage. – EliteProspects.

News came out a couple of days ago that Berglund had inked a two-year deal with Linköping HC of the SHL, putting into question whether or not Edmonton had any interest in offering him a deal. This deal doesn’t mean that Berglund is locked in Sweden. He could still back out of his SHL deal if offered a deal by an NHL club, as we saw last year with Joakim Nygard, who had a deal in place in the SHL before inking his one-year pact with the Oilers.

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So, should the Oilers bother with Berglund?

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As of right now, the team has quite a bit of depth on the blueline. On the left side, they have Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Kris Russell, Caleb Jones, William Lagesson, Philip Broberg, and Dmitri Samorukov under control, and, on the right side, they have Adam Larsson, Ethan Bear, Matt Benning (RFA), Evan Bouchard, Logan Day (RFA), and Ryan Mantha (RFA) under control.

I would assume that Russell gets moved this off-season and Edmonton goes into 2020-21 with Klefbom, Nurse, Jones, Larsson, Bear, Bouchard, and Benning as their seven defenders. Lagesson, who’s waiver eligible next year would be Bakersfield’s top defenceman. He could be joined by Broberg, but that isn’t certain. Elsewhere in the AHL picture are Samorukov and RFAs Day and Mantha. I would assume the former comes back for another season while the latter, who missed the whole year due to injury, is let go.

If Day is brought back, which isn’t even a guarantee, he would be the defacto top right-handed defenceman on Bakersfield’s roster. There’s plenty of room in the AHL for Berglund if the Oilers are interested.

This situation rings a bell. Back in 2015, the Oilers opted not to sign a right-handed defenceman out of Sweden who they had selected in the fourth round a few years earlier. He ended up signing a free-agent deal with the Blackhawks and became a quality NHL defender shortly after. His name, of course, is Erik Gustafsson.

Gustafsson posted 29 points in his final season in the SHL before getting signed by Chicago. Berglund scored 25 this season at the same age. The production is similar, but it should be said the two players boast differences. Gustafsson was always praised for his skating, while that isn’t a strength for Berglund. It isn’t an automatic that Berglund will have the same career arc as Gustafsson did.

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Regardless, the Oilers have until June 1 to make a decision on their former third-round pick. Of all their later picks from the 2016 draft, he seems most likely to become a player. Given the fact the Oilers seem to have room in the AHL for him, he appears to be worth the try.

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