Due to Covid and injuries, Dylan Holloway has only played a total of 91 regular season hockey games the past three seasons. He played 58 games combined in 2020 and 2021 at Wisconsin, and last season, after recovering from wrist surgery, he played 33 games for Bakersfield in the American Hockey League. He played five playoff games with the Condors, but overall he hasn’t played much hockey the past three seasons.
He begins his quest to crack the Oilers lineup tonight when the Oilers rookies face off against the Jets rookies in Penticton. He should stand out in this three-game tournament, but how he performs at main camp and in the NHL preseason games will determine if he starts the season in Edmonton or in Bakersfield. Remember I expect him to be on the opening day roster of the Oilers, for cap reasons, but will he remain there past day two is the question. Holloway will be 100% healthy. When he joined Bakersfield last year his wrist was good enough to play, but it did limit his shooting and his ability to win battles. It was the lower hand on his stick, so he couldn’t be as strong on his stick as he’d like.
For many years first round picks were virtually guaranteed a spot on the Oilers’ roster. The team wasn’t very good, or deep, and fans were constantly fed hope through the legs of first round picks. That isn’t the case in 2022. If Holloway makes the team it will be on merit, not on reputation or the need to sell hope to a fanbase. This should be viewed as a positive among Oilersnation.
I’ve only watched a Holloway play a few games, and all of them were online. I’ve never seen him play live, so earlier this week I asked Jay Woodcroft, who coached him briefly in Bakersfield last season, what part of Holloway’s game translates to him being an NHL player?
“He is a powerful skater,” said Woodcroft. ” He has an NHL body frame and he’s an excellent, powerful skater. He isn’t lightning fast, but he has a lot of power. That will serve him well. When I saw him (coached him) it was only seven or eight games. The first two it was like he was shot out of a cannon. He hadn’t played in a long time, was coming off surgery and he was playing off of adrenaline and he played well. But then reality struck. Which is that this is a really good league, you have to do it every day, there is a rhythm to the schedule and naturally, he took a bit of a dip, but then he worked his way out of it and finished the season really strong.”
Holloway will need to play better than one of Mattias Janmark or Warren Foegele to earn a spot in the lineup, and that won’t be easy. Janmark and Foegele are established NHL players. Foegele will likely start preseason/training camp on a line with Ryan McLeod and Jesse Puljujarvi. They have the potential to be a solid third line. Janmark has loads of NHL experience. Holloway doesn’t, and I wonder how much of his long-term development will factor in on whether he is in Edmonton on the 4th line or starting on the first line in the AHL?
“I would say that Ken (Holland) and I are in lock-step, we see it the exact same way,” said Woodcroft regarding Holloway and all young player’s development. “We want to win, but at the same time, you have a realistic view of player development. If he is playing 4-6 minutes on the 4th line that isn’t good enough. He needs to play, but if he is playing 10 minutes on the 4th line and helping the NHL club win, apprenticing under some really good players and moving up the lineup when he is playing well, then that is a different story.
“Those questions play themselves out during camp. He will answer them. It is our job to make sure we are paying attention. I value the long-term plan that this guy is going to be a good player with the Oilers for a long time. You have to consider the now, but also be cognizant of the future,” Woodcroft said.
Part of that process began last season for Holloway. Holloway didn’t just play powerplay and 5×5. He was also given time on the penalty kill because right now there aren’t many PP openings in Edmonton. The first unit forwards are pretty set with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins while Zach Hyman and Evander Kane likely battle for the net front presence. Kailer Yamamoto and Puljujarvi could also be in the mix for the net front role.
So if Holloway is going to contribute in Edmonton, it will start at 5×5 and on the PK.
“As an AHL coach, what you want to do is paint pictures for players, as well as give them a line of sight on how they can crack the big club,” said Woodcroft. “He has some natural gifts that I think will lend him to being a good penalty killer. Spending time on the penalty kill in the American League last year served him well.”
Holloway did get some PK time later in the season, and he will get some PK time in camp and the preseason. But he will have to win a job. He needs to beat out some veterans, because the Oilers are in win-now mode.
The Oilers don’t want to trade Jesse Puljujarvi. The only reason a trade occurs would be for salary cap reasons, and it might not be Puljujarvi who moves. Puljujarvi is a legit NHL player. So is Foegele. Trading either of them for draft picks isn’t ideal, but the current cap crunch makes it a possibility. I’d be surprised if a deal occurs before camp opens. An injury on the Oilers, or another team, and suddenly there would be more options to trade, or just keep players in Edmonton.
On paper, a Foegele-McLeod-Puljujarvi third line has lots of potential. The staunch Puljujarvi supporters say he helps every player he plays with, and if that is indeed the case then he should be the backbone of that line. It was clear he lost his confidence in the second half of the season after returning from injury. Losing confidence happens to many players. It is a constant battle across the NHL. Many star players have gone through the challenge of losing confidence, but they learn from it and how to handle it better in the future. It is a tough lesson, but Puljujarvi will be better for it. The great part about a new season is he will start camp with loads of confidence. He had a great season of training and the struggles from late last season are in the past.
I expect him to get some PK time in the preseason. With Kane and Hyman here to start the season, it is doubtful Puljujarvi will get much PP time. So he, like Foegele, need an opportunity on the PK. Foegele was a good killer in Carolina, and Puljujarvi likely will get looks in the preseason to show Woodcroft he too can help the PK. Having six solid PK forwards, not named Draisaitl, would be good for Edmonton. RNH, Mcleod, Foegele, Ryan, Puljujarvi, and Malone/Shore and could be those six. Yamamoto can also PK, so he’ll be in the mix as well.
Jason Demers is an interesting PTO option. There is zero risk for the Oilers, and in fact having another veteran right-shot D-man will help the likes of Dmitri Samorukov and Markus Neimelainen in the preseason. Demers will be a steadying presence for those young players who want to put their best skate forward. I won’t be surprised if Demers looks solid in preseason. He only played five games in the KHL last season, so he’ll be excited to be playing in the NHL again, but he has years of experience to rely on and he won’t be overwhelmed or nervous. The early preseason games have many non-NHL players on the roster, so Demers looking comfortable then won’t be a shock.
Demers played six seasons in San Jose when Woodcroft was an assistant coach. Woodcroft knows him well, and I’m sure that connection was part of the reason Demers opted to sign a PTO in Edmonton. Relationships matter, and for a player trying to reestablish himself, having a comfort level with the coach could be beneficial. He will be in tough to earn a spot on the Oilers roster, but I’m curious if he plays well if the Oilers would want to start the season in Bakersfield. Would they want a veteran RD to help mentor young RD like Vincent Desharnais, Phil Kemp, Micheal Kesselring, and also play with Samorukov or Niemelainen?
Brett Ritchie’s camp hasn’t decided what they will do. How realistic is it that he could earn an NHL contract with the Oilers after the preseason? Usually, when players sign a PTO with a team, they do so thinking that team provides them the best chance to sign an NHL deal. I don’t think Edmonton would give him that, so I won’t be surprised if he isn’t in Oilers camp. Ritchie might decide to try a PTO here, but right now I wouldn’t bet on it.
There is no risk for the Oilers to offer guys PTOs, but the players need to feel like they have a realistic shot of earning a contract. Otherwise, they should sign a PTO elsewhere.
- When: On Thursday, January 12th, we’re jumping on a flight at the Edmonton International Airport and making our way to Vegas. On Sunday evening, we’ll fly back from Vegas to Edmonton. So the dates that you need to block off for this trip are January 12th to 15th.
- Where we’re staying: After landing in LV, we’ll jump on the free shuttle and make our way to the Park MGM before settling in for a good night’s sleep. 😉
- What you get: Your roundtrip flight, hotel, shuttle, viewing party (Friday night), game entry — we got seats this time (Saturday night), and exclusive entry into our pre-trip ‘get to know everyone’ event.
- How Much: The total cost for the trip, flight, hotel, and entry to the game is $1499 per person (based on double occupancy)
- Tickets: Ready to dive in? Click this link.
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