The days are getting shorter and the weather is getting cooler, which means that hockey season is right around the corner.
The 2021-22 season doesn’t start for another month, but training camps all around the league are kicking off right away and the Oilers play their first pre-season game next weekend.
Do you know what that means?! It’s time to talk about PTOs.
Over the past few days, a handful of players have joined teams on professional tryout contracts, such as Jimmy Vesey, Mark Jankowski, Artem Anisimov, and Brian Boyle. There are still a whole bunch of interesting veteran names out there for the Oilers to bring to camp.
Let’s go through some of them…
There always seems to be speculation about the Oilers acquiring Demers, a quality veteran defender, and that hasn’t changed this summer as there’s been talk about the team bringing him in on a PTO.
In his prime, Demers was a solid two-way defender who was good for about 20 minutes per game. Now, he’s best served as a bottom-pairing veteran who can log minutes on a team’s penalty kill. Demers only scored four points in 41 games for the Coyotes last season, but he was effective for the team in a defensive role.
The majority of Edmonton’s projected NHL defenders are left-handed, so adding Demers as veteran depth would make some sense.
Another option for right-handed defensive depth is Sami Vatanen, who used to be a high-quality producer offensively from the blueline in Anaheim.
Most recently, Vatanen scored six points across 30 games for the New Jersey Devils and was traded mid-season to the Dallas Stars, where he didn’t record a point in nine games. A major trouble for Vatanen in his career has been staying healthy, as he missed significant time in both 2018-19 and 2019-20.
With Tyson Barrie and Evan Bouchard in the mix, Vatanen probably isn’t as good of a fit as Demers.
The Oilers have spoken at length about the importance of what Duncan Keith’s experience will bring to the table. They could double down and add even more by bringing in future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara.
Now 44 years old, Chara proved last season that he can still be an effective defender at the NHL level. He left the Boston Bruins after 14 seasons and inked a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals. Chara played 55 games with the Caps and scored 10 points while logging 18:19.
Chara on the third pairing would be a nice mentor alongside Bouchard. Having him, Keith, Darnell Nurse, and Cody Ceci on the same blueline would be a nightmare to play against.
There are a few former Oilers I’ll mention here, the first of which is Devan Dubnyk, who played the first five seasons of his NHL career in Edmonton.
The No. 14 pick from the 2004 draft didn’t hit his stride until he was traded back in 2014. In his first season with the Wild in 2014-15, Dubnyk broke out with a .936 save percentage and finished third in Vezina Trophy voting. He was one of the league’s better goalies for a few years after that but has fallen off recently. In 2021, he posted an .895 save percentage in 22 games between San Jose and Colorado.
The Oilers already have Mike Smith, Mikko Koskinen, and Alex Stalock in the mix for NHL gigs along with three promising goaltending prospects slated for their minor-league teams. Dubnyk could be third-string insurance for Stalock, who might get claimed on waivers like Anton Forsberg last season.
Continuing the trend of former Oilers, we have Tyler Ennis, an Edmonton native who has been with the team since the 2020 trade deadline.
The Oilers acquired Ennis as he was in the midst of a strong year in Ottawa and he went on to score four points in nine games for the team before the season was paused due to COVID-19. Ennis got injured in Edmonton’s play-in series with Chicago and hasn’t looked the same since. In 2021, he scored just nine points in 30 games.
Ennis is a nice option because he’s familiar with the team and can play a variety of roles up and down the lineup. That said, it might not be worth having him possibly take a role from somebody like Tyler Benson.
There’s also Alex Chiasson, who has been a decent depth scorer for the team over the last three seasons.
Chiasson came into camp on a PTO back in 2018, earned himself a one-year deal, and exploded with 22 goals over 73 games. That showing earned him a two-year contract, where he would score 20 goals and 40 points over 110 games.
Chiasson is a nice front-of-net option for Edmonton’s power-play, but he doesn’t do much at even-strength. Jesse Puljujarvi and Zach Hyman seem poised to fill that role on the power-play moving forward.
The former No. 3 overall pick from the 2012 draft has bounced all over the league the past couple of seasons.
After spending the first six seasons of his career in Montreal, Alex Galchenyuk was dealt to Arizona for Max Domi. He spent one year with the Coyotes and was moved to Pittsburgh as part of the Phil Kessel trade. He was then flipped to Minnesota as part of the Jason Zucker deal. Galchenyuk signed in the off-season with Ottawa, was moved to Carolina in exchange for Ryan Dzingel, and then the Leafs claimed him on waivers.
That’s quite the ride.
With Toronto, Galchenyuk scored four goals and 12 points in 26 games. He has the ability to contribute on a skill line and the Oilers could use some more depth on the wings.
Circling back to veteran options with loads of experience, we have Eric Staal, a player who the Oilers were reportedly kicking tires on ahead of last season’s trade deadline.
Staal resurrected his career in Minnesota, scoring 240 points over 311 games between 2016 and 2020. The Wild dealt him to Buffalo last off-season, and, like everyone on the Sabres, he had a miserable season. Staal scored 10 points in 32 games with Buffalo and was moved to Montreal at the deadline, where he helped the team reach the Stanley Cup Final with eight points over 21 playoff games.
Staal is best playing on the wing at this point but he could also serve as an insurance option for a bottom-six centre.
Another bottom-six centre insurance option for the Oilers is Travis Zajac, the long-time Devil who somewhat surprisingly wasn’t re-signed by Lou Lamorellio this summer.
Zajac played 15 seasons with the Devils and was acquired by Lamorellio’s New York Islanders at last season’s trade deadline. In 13 regular-season games, Zajac scored just two points, but he also had a career-low 6.3 shooting percentage. It was the same deal in the playoffs, as Zajac scored two points in 14 games with a 5.9 shooting percentage.
He can win faceoffs, kill penalties, and we know Edmonton likes having veterans in the mix.
What say you, Nation? Should the Oilers bring any of these players to training camp on a professional tryout? Which holes on the roster can the team still fill in free agency?
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