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RFA Profile: Which minor leaguers should be brought back?

Over the past few days, I’ve been looking at the situations of Edmonton’s three key restricted free agents this off-season.

Ethan Bear will surely be back after his breakout season in 2019-20. The only question there is whether Ken Holland will take the gamble in signing Bear to a long-term deal as Peter Chiarelli did with Oscar Klefbom a few years ago.

The other two RFAs, Matt Benning and Andreas Athanasiou, are a bit more difficult to pinpoint. You’d obviously like to have both players back, but the unexpected cap crunch facing the Oilers this summer will make that a difficult task.

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Beyond these three, the Oilers have seven other restricted free agents in the minors to deal with. Let’s walk through who is likely to be brought and back and who will be let go.

William Lagesson 

Lagesson has reached the end of his entry-level deal and giving him another contract seems like a no-brainer.

The team’s fourth-round pick from 2014 broke out as a prospect back in 2018-19 with a very solid rookie season for the Bakersfield Condors, putting up 27 points and an impressive plus-25 rating. In 2019-20, he posted 10 points in 25 games on a weaker Condors squad and earned an eight-game cup of coffee with the Oilers.

While Lagesson appears ready to take on an NHL gig, he’s stuck behind a logjam of defencemen on the depth chart. The Oilers have Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, and Kris Russell in the NHL on the left side, and Caleb Jones ended up being the left-handed Condors blueliner to make the jump and earn regular playing time.

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If the Oilers end up moving Russell in the off-season as a salary cap dump, Lagesson would be in the mix for a spot as an extra on the team.

Lagesson is waivers eligible next year and there’s no guarantee that the Oilers would be able to sneak him through unclaimed if they do end up sending him down. But given the fact there might not even be an AHL season due to COVID-19 next year, this might all be moot as teams could be looking at expanded rosters and taxi squads in 2020-21.

Regardless, Lagesson is nice, young blueline depth to have, so him getting a new deal is inevitable.

Logan Day

After posting ridiculous numbers for Endicott College, a Division III NCAA program, Day earned himself an AHL contract with the Condors. In his rookie season in 2018-19, Day performed well, putting up 34 points in 64 games.

That performance was good enough to earn him a one-year, two-way deal with the Oilers.

Day’s production declined during an injury-riddled 2019-20 season. He produced 16 points in 48 games and had an ugly minus-17 rating.

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Edmonton’s current organization depth on the right side of the blueline features Adam Larsson, Ethan Bear, Matt Benning, and top prospect Evan Bouchard. Filip Berglund might be ahead of Day on the depth chart too, but he’ll be starting the 2020-21 season in Sweden and, depending on the status of the AHL, might not come over to North America.

I think Day will get a qualifying offer from the Oilers in order to maintain depth for Bakersfield. He’s a righty with some skill who can move the puck and produce offence. It seems worthwhile to keep him around.

Ryan Mantha

Ryan Mantha had an excellent season in 2016-17 as the captain of the Niagra Ice Dogs. He posted 58 points in 65 games and earned himself a three-year entry-level deal with the Oilers.

Then, in 2017-18, in his rookie year with the Condors, a blood clot out of nowhere resulted in Matha losing sight in his left eye. He ended up missing the entirety of the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.

It’s a shame because Matha had what appeared to be a promising career, but the Oilers surely won’t be bringing him back after missing two seasons.

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Ryan Kuffner 

Acquired as part of the Andreas Athanasiou trade, Ryan Kuffner is now at the end of his two-year entry-level deal.

Ken Holland signed Kuffner out of Princeton University when he was the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. Kuffner had put up 22 goals and 44 points in his senior year at Princeton and got into 10 games with the Wings before the end of the 2018-19 season.

In 2019-20, Kuffner had just 11 points in 36 games between the Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit’s AHL affiliate, and the Condors. Those numbers aren’t awe-inspiring, but this seems to be a player that Holland believes in. It seems likely that Kuffner will be issued a qualifying offer to serve as organizational depth with some upside.

Cam Hebig

Signed as an undrafted free agent from the Regina Pats, Cam Hebig had a solid rookie season for the Condors in 2018-19, putting up 29 points in 64 games. He didn’t build on it in 2019-20, though. Hebig posted just seven points in 31 games in the AHL and spent the year between Bakersfield and Edmonton’s ECHL affiliate in Wichita.

If there’s a season, he could be brought back on an AHL deal, but I can’t see Hebin getting another big-league contract with the Oilers.

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Nolan Vesey

A sixth-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs from the 2014 draft, the Oilers acquired Vesey in exchange for a 2020 seventh-round pick back in 2018.

In two seasons since graduating from the University of Maine, Vesey has managed just four points in 25 AHL games and 16 points in 47 ECHL games. He won’t get another deal with the Oilers.

Angus Redmond

Angus Redmond has had a strange professional career. He was signed by the Anaheim Ducks out of Michigan State in 2017 and he’s played for seven different pro teams (one in the AHL, six in the ECHL) over three seasons.

Prior to the trade deadline this year, the Oilers acquired Redmond in exchange for Joel Persson. Redmond spent the 2019-20 season playing for Toronto’s ECHL affiliate, the Newfoundland Growlers, where he posted a 0.907 save percentage across 20 games.

Edmonton’s goalie depth features Mikko Koskinen, an NHL off-season addition, Stuart Skinner, Dylan Wells, Oliver Rodrigue (who will be graduating to pro in 2020-21), and Ilya Konovalov (who will be in the KHL). Shane Starrett is a Group VI free agent.

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There are only so many spots for goalies, so it likely comes down to the veteran Starrett or Redmond. You have to think Holland sees something in Redmond if he was willing to trade a decent depth player in Persson to acquire him.