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Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Evaluating the Third Line Centres on the NHL Free Agent Market

Last week, I took a look at the goaltending market and where the Oilers could look to improve their situation between the pipes. I believe that’s the most important area for Ken Holland to improve and he needs to find a quality goaltender to play alongside Mikko Koskinen, whether it’s via trade or free agency.

The second biggest need for the Oilers this offseason is getting a quality third-line centre. I actually like their depth on the wings, especially if Jesse Puljujarvi is back with the club next season, but they need to find a third-line centre capable of helping their wingers generate offence. If the Oilers need to improve their ability to outscore their opposition and having a third line that can consistently outscore the other team would greatly help the Oilers win more games next season.

Who are the options out there for the Oilers? Well, let’s start by taking a look at the unrestricted free agent market:

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ERIK HAULA

Haula is probably the best option on the market. The 29-year-old is two years removed from a 55 point season with the Vegas Golden Knights. That was easily the most productive season of his career and unfortunately, his offence hasn’t gotten back to that level since then.

Last season, he suffered a season-ending leg injury early in the year and only played 15 games. He was then dealt to Carolina where he had 22 points in 41 games before being shipped off to the Panthers where he posted two points in seven regular-season games.

In total this past season, he had 24 points in 48 games. I don’t think he’ll ever get close to 60 points like he did in 2017/18, but I think he could be a solid 45-50 point producer in the Oilers bottom six.

On top of that, he does have some experience on the penalty kill. He’s never been leaned on for a ton of minutes on the PK, but he’s shown he’s capable of playing that role. He also consistently wins over 50% of his draws.

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The downside to Haula is that he shoots left, and the Oilers could greatly benefit from adding a right-shot centreman. He’s also the best option on the market, which would make him a good fit but also make him an expensive option. Still, if the Oilers opt to go the free-agent route, they should be giving Haula’s agent a ring.

Carl Soderberg

Soderberg has been very consistent over the last three seasons, averaging at least 0.48 points per game in each season. At 34-years-old, it’s clear that his best hockey is behind him but I still think he has one or two more good seasons in him.

He did get 17 of his 35 points this past season on the powerplay, so the even-strength production wasn’t great but the plus side to Soderberg is that he’s a very experienced penalty killer with over 400 PK minutes over the last three seasons. His FO% was below 50% this past season, so that’s another not so great sign.

Like Haula, he’s left-handed, so he isn’t exactly a perfect fit but considering he’s five years older than Haula, he will likely cost less and won’t need as long of a contract. He’s a solid plan b.

DEREK GRANT

The 30-year-old Grant is easily the least experienced of the options I’m going to list, but he’s coming off a pretty encouraging season. Before being dealt to Philadelphia at the deadline, he put up 14 goals and six assists in 49 games with the Anaheim Ducks. It is worth noting that he did have a 17.3% shooting percentage in that time. After being dealt to the Flyers, he had five points in seven games but he hasn’t been much of an offensive factor in the playoffs.

He has a bit of experience killing penalties and he’s slightly above average in the faceoff circle, so there are a few reasons to like him. I think his performance earlier this season with the Ducks was a bit of an anomaly and I don’t think he’s an above-average third-line centre, but if the Oilers need to find a cheap player because they struck out with all the bigger names, Grant is someone to keep in mind.

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Cody Eakin

In 2018/19, Eakin scored 22 goals and added 19 assists with the Vegas Golden Knights. This season did not go quite as well. Through just 40 games with Vegas, he had just ten points and that led to the Golden Knights offloading his contract in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets. In eight games with the Jets, he did post five points, but he was held off the scoresheet in four playoff games.

Eakin has close to 600 career NHL games played but is just 29-years-old. He probably still has some good hockey left in him. Like the other three options, he is left-handed, so that’s not great but he does usually keep his FO% over 50%.

He can kill penalties and even serve as a net-front presence on a powerplay. He’s coming off a down year, so he shouldn’t cost very much either. He’s not exactly the quality offensive producer I’d like the Oilers to add, but he’s an interesting option and seems like the type of player Dave Tippett would really like.

WITH THAT BEING SAID…

There are some names on the market that would be risky, like Thomas Nosek (limited offensive abilities), Zemgus Girgensons (mainly a winger), Nate Thompson (older with limited offensive abilities), Trevor Lewis (mainly a 4th line centre), Brad Richardson (above 35-years-old), and Colin Wilson (missed most of the season with an injury). I’m just not sure if any of those names are significant upgrades on the duo of Sheahan and Haas, so I wouldn’t be too interested in them.

There aren’t a lot of quality options on the UFA market, but they don’t cost anything more than just money to acquire, which is why this route might be intriguing to Holland. Of course, the last thing you want to do is severely over-pay a bottom-six forward but at the same time, if you find a guy you like and can sign him to a short-term deal, there really isn’t a downside.

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If Holland wants to make a more significant move, he’ll have to look into making a trade, which is something I’ll be taking a look at later on this week.