Analyzing potential top-six winger targets for the Edmonton Oilers

Photo credit:© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
5 months ago
As the NHL trade deadline nears closer, it seems more and more likely that the Edmonton Oilers will eventually acquire a top-six winger.
According to Pierre Lebrun and Darren Dreger on Insider Trading, Edmonton’s top priority is to add a top-six winger, ideally to play with Leon Draisaitl on the second line. Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic has also mentioned that if the Oilers are looking to make a significant trade, it is quite likely it could be a top-six winger.
Last week, I wrote about potential right-defence trade targets for the Oilers, and why Edmonton’s management should strongly consider upgrading on Cody Ceci. With less than three weeks until the deadline, I would like to focus on potential top-six winger targets this week.
Without further ado, here’s a deep dive into why Edmonton could benefit from another high-end winger, and who they could potentially target.
*All on-ice stats via EvolvingHockey and Natural Stat Trick unless stated otherwise

Why should the Oilers target a top-six winger?

While Edmonton has scored 11 goals in their past two games, it should not take away from the fact that finishing is a genuine issue for this Oilers team and has been for quite some time. As great as he is, Connor McDavid is not averaging nine assists every two games.
Let’s establish one fact; the Edmonton Oilers are the best team in the NHL at generating scoring chances.
Per EvolvingHockey, MoneyPuck, and Natural Stat Trick, the Oilers rank first in the league in expected goals per hour, at both 5-on-5 and at all-strengths. Even proprietary models with access to even more granular data than publicly available models, such as SportLogIQ, also rank the Oilers first overall. Edmonton excels at generating scoring chances, whether off the rush, forecheck, or cycle. 
The problem is, they’ve consistently underperformed those chances, notably at even strength. 
The Oilers have averaged 3.4 expected goals per hour this season at EV, but scored at a rate of 2.9 actual goals per hour. This equates to -0.5 goals above expected per 60, which ranks dead last in the entire league. As shown above, they have consistently scored less than expected throughout the past three seasons; this is more than just an issue that began this year.
Edmonton has averaged 49 and a half minutes of even-strength play per game, which equates to 4,060 minutes over 82 games. Over an entire season, scoring 0.5 goals less than expected per hour equates to ~34 goals below expected. To put this into perspective, the difference between the 2022-23 Carolina Hurricanes (who ranked 2nd in the league) and the 2022-23 Calgary Flames (who missed the playoffs entirely) in even-strength goal differential was 32 goals.
This has significantly impacted McDavid and Draisaitl’s 5v5 production. Last season, per AllThreeZones, McDavid ranked first in the league in 5v5 scoring chance assists per hour, but 86th in actual assists per hour, ultimately finishing with fewer 5v5 assists than Vincent Trocheck and Pavel Zacha. 
Fortunately, McDavid is back to ranking first in the NHL in 5v5 assists this season, primarily as a result of the success of the RNH – McDavid – Hyman line, but with McDavid regularly playing next to Edmonton’s two best wingers, Draisaitl is getting the short end of the stick this time around.
Draisaitl has created more even-strength scoring chances in comparison to last season, but his 5v5 primary assist rate has decreased by a factor of 27%; he ranked second in the NHL in primary assists per hour in 2022-23, but that dropped down to 33rd in 2023-24. Away from McDavid, Draisaitl has an excellent 57 percent expected goal differential; still, his linemates have scored nearly 11 goals less than expected, a rate of 1.3 goals scored less than expected per 60 minutes.
It is certainly worth mentioning that finishing was an issue in Edmonton’s defeat to the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2023 playoffs. In six games, Edmonton generated roughly 12 expected goals at 5v5 but just scored nine, while Vegas scored 15 goals on 10.4 expected goals. Of course, the difference in goaltending was a significant factor, but finishing did have a major impact on the eventual outcome of the series.
Yes, the Oilers are still an excellent offensive team, but simply put, they are leaving offence on the table. Even just average finishing talent at even strength could make a massive impact in a playoff series against an elite goaltender.
Here is a look at how Edmonton’s current forwards have performed in terms of finishing their chances, measured by GAx/60 (goals scored above expected per 60 minutes of play):
It is reasonable to say that Leon Draisaitl has been Edmonton’s best finisher at 5v5. Sam Gagner does rank first in GAx/60, but his per 60 stats are a bit inflated by his relative lack of ice time (although, nonetheless, he should be in the line-up). Connor McDavid is not scoring at his 60-goal pace from last season, but I expect that to change eventually. 
Overall, over half of Edmonton’s forwards have scored below expected this season, with Connor Brown especially (and unsurprisingly) ranking quite poorly. It may strike some people as odd that Evander Kane ranks relatively low, but Kane is the definition of a volume shooter and scorer. Based on the quality looks he has received from McDavid and Draisaitl, Kane’s individual goal-scoring at 5v5 should be higher than it is.
Edmonton’s top line of McDavid, RNH and Hyman should be set, but Kris Knoblauch has tried a variety of different combinations for the second line throughout the past few weeks, largely due to the fact that the Oilers do not possess six bonafide top-six players on this roster. With everything in mind, it is evident that Edmonton could greatly benefit from another top-six winger, ideally with true finishing ability to maximize the team’s offensive capabilities.

Who could the Oilers target?

Firstly, let’s establish what exactly Edmonton should look for in a top-six winger. As explained above, strong finishing ability and overall 5v5 production totals are imperative. 
It would also be helpful to take a look at how well that winger could drive play. While finishing ability is the most important factor, a winger with strong defensive skills could also benefit Draisaitl.
Although it isn’t an absolute necessity, it would be preferable if this winger was right-handed. Finally, this player must be affordable to some extent.
With that in mind, here is a look at a list of potential forward trade targets:
Jake Guentzel, a 29-year-old forward on the Pittsburgh Penguins making $6M in the final year of his contract, is a name that has popped up quite frequently. With the exception of 2017-18, Guentzel has produced close to or above PPG in nearly every one of his seasons throughout his eight-year NHL career. In the past three seasons, Guentzel ranks tied for 50th in the league with 2.27 5v5 points per hour. The additional bonus is that he has a total of 34 goals and 58 points in 58 career playoff games, as he has proven to be an exceptional producer in both the regular season and playoffs. 
Guentzel’s finishing, in terms of GAx, is not sky-high, but considering his impressive rate of 1.2 goals per hour this season, alongside the fact that he has scored above expected in seven of his eight seasons, it is reasonable to state that Guentzel remains an elite scorer and finisher. On the downside, Guentzel’s defensive results are awful, but his elite offensive capabilities far outweigh that.
Guentzel is currently out for four weeks with an upper-body injury, with three weeks until the deadline, which could be a concern. But, considering this injury is not exactly long-term, and that it could even potentially lower his trade value, Guentzel should still remain an excellent option for Edmonton. Even prior to the injury, it is certainly worth mentioning that Pittsburgh’s reported asking price was not too unreasonableWhile there is no guarantee Guentzel will be available, Pittsburgh’s playoff chances look quite doubtful, meaning there is a very realistic possibility the Penguins sell Guentzel’s contract at the deadline for assets. 
Guentzel is a bonafide difference-maker, someone who could really move the needle for Edmonton.
Pavel Buchnevich is not performing at his typical standards this season at 5v5, but make no mistake, he is a fantastic player. In the past three seasons, he ranks 43rd in 5v5 points per hour, and if you glance at the three seasons prior to this one, he ranks 18th. At age 28, he is not particularly old either. Compared to the rest of this list, Buchnevich ranks second in goals scored above expected per hour, scoring 14 goals above expected in the past four seasons. Buchnevich is also reliable in his own end, and excels at exiting the defensive zone with possession.
Buchnevich does have another year on his contract after this one, but according to Daily Faceoff, there is a possibility the Blues could be willing to trade him. If that is the case, he should undoubtedly rank high on Edmonton’s list.
Vladimir Tarasenko is not the elite winger he was in his prime with St. Louis, but he can still score shoot the puck. In the past three seasons, Tarasenko has scored at a rate of 1.6 goals per 60, 8th in the entire NHL. He has scored nearly 15 goals above expected, ranking 15th in that regard.
The downside to Tarasenko is that he is 32, has an injury history, and is quite mediocre at driving play. He is the worst defensive option on this list, raising some questions and concerns about his potential fit with Draisaitl. However, if the Oilers desire someone who can score goals, they should certainly take a long look at Tarasenko.
A reunion with Jordan Eberle would be quite fascinating. Producing at a rate of 1.9 points per hour at 5v5 in the past two seasons, and marginally scoring more goals above expected than Guentzel, Eberle still remains a solid top-six winger at this stage of his career. Eberle is also fairly strong at driving possession and scoring chances, which has been a strength throughout his entire career.
However, the major issue with Eberle is his age, as he is 33, and his production has declined this year; he’s not even on pace for 20 goals. In comparison to the other options on this list, Eberle is not as enticing, and I am unsure if he is worth a first-round pick. But, if the Oilers strike out on the higher-end targets, Eberle would undoubtedly remain a solid 2RW option to circle back to.
Travis Konecny is a 26-year-old forward on the Flyers making $5.5M on a contract with two years remaining on his contract including this one. The primary reason I bring up Konecny is that he was connected to the Oilers back in the summer, but considering his age and the fact that he is on pace for over 40 goals this season, it does not seem likely that Philadelphia will trade him.
If there is any possibility Philadelphia is open to moving Konecny, the Oilers should be all over it. In the past two seasons, Konecny has scored 33 goals at even-strength, scoring more than Leon Draisaitl in 15 fewer games. Konecny’s ability to finish chances is also excellent, ranking in the 82nd percentile. Similar to Guentzel, Konecny’s defensive play is lacking, but his exceptional offensive abilities outweigh this. Not to mention, Konecny is right-handed. Of course, his availability is the major question, but he should undoubtedly be a top target for Edmonton if there is any chance the Flyers are open to trading him.
Anthony Mantha, a 29-year-old winger on the Capitals in the final year of a contract with a $5.7M AVV, is an option that has not popped up too frequently, but should be strongly considered by Edmonton. While Mantha is not an exceptional playmaker, he is a strong goal-scorer and an even better finisher, averaging 1.01 goals per hour on 0.81 expected goals per hour in the past three seasons. What makes him even more enticing is that Mantha’s underlying defensive numbers are excellent, potentially making him an ideal fit on Draisaitl’s wing. Although Mantha is not exactly one of their high-end options, he is certainly someone Edmonton could pursue.
As they currently sit outside a playoff spot, the New Jersey Devils are far from a lock to make the playoffs. The team could be open to selling expiring contracts at the deadline, such as Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli remains a reasonably productive winger, and considering his solid two-way impacts and the fact that he is right-handed, Toffoli could be a fit for Draisaitl. But, Toffoli’s finishing ability has been inconsistent, often fluctuating throughout his career; he would be an upgrade for sure, but he may not be the solution to Edmonton’s finishing woes.
Anthony Duclair is a backup option for Edmonton. Duclair is a speedy, playmaking winger with some decent scoring touch. He is certainly far from a high-end target, and his defensive play is a concern, but Duclair has been reasonably productive throughout the past four years at 5v5, and makes just $3M. If Edmonton is unsuccessful at acquiring a more expensive, higher-end option for cap reasons, they could look at trading for Duclair as a backup plan.
Finally, David Perron is an option if the Detroit Red Wings are willing to sell. Perron still possesses some finishing ability, but at age 35, his results have significantly declined this season. He has produced at a rate of just 1.4 points per hour at 5v5, while ranking last on the Red Wings with an abysmal 35 percent high-danger chance differential. Perron was a quality second-line winger, but his recent results make him a much less appealing option. Here is a deeper dive into Perron’s results this season.

Final Thoughts

The options listed above are a combination of reportedly available and the best potential top-six winger targets. It is possible Edmonton eventually ends up acquiring someone else not mentioned as of now; not many anticipated the Mattias Ekholm trade until late February last season.
Edmonton may not end up adding just one forward, as they could also target a potential boost to the bottom-six. This team could certainly use more depth scoring from their bottom-six.
Away from Draisaitl, McLeod and Foegele have had a difficult time generating offence as a third line, as the two have been on-ice for just two goals in 189 minutes without Draisaitl. They still control play extremely well, boasting a fantastic 65 percent scoring chance differential in those minutes, but those two could benefit from a scorer or producer on that line.
It is worth noting that if Edmonton acquires a top-six winger, the bottom-six will automatically improve, as a player currently in Edmonton’s top-six would be pushed down. Edmonton could trade for a top-six winger, and then bump down Evander Kane to play with McLeod and Foegele, creating a fairly well-rounded third line. 
For a further boost to the bottom-six, I would strongly consider recalling James Hamblin. Hamblin was sent down to make space and activate Dylan Holloway off of LTIR, but in the time he played, I feel Hamblin played reasonably well, providing speed and solid defence (55 xG% away from Connor Brown).
Here’s how a projected line-up could potentially look:
Nugent-Hopkins – McDavid – Hyman
Holloway – Draisaitl – *Top-Six Winger*
Kane – McLeod – Foegele
*Ryan – Hamblin – Perry
By pushing Kane to the third line and Perry to the fourth line, this is a deep squad. Any one of Ryan, Gagner, Janmark, or Brown has a case to be the other forward on that fourth line.
Of course, this comes under the assumption that Foegele remains on the roster, as there is a possibility that Foegele is dealt to make the cap work for a potential trade. However, if the Oilers accrue enough cap space, and if the other team in a potential trade retains money, Edmonton may only need to trade a minor contract, such as Janmark’s $1M cap-hit, to make the cap work.
In a perfect world, Edmonton has a more established option than Hamblin at 4C, but with limited assets and cap space, they should ideally save them for an upgrade to the defensive corps. In my view, this would still be an excellent and well-rounded forward core.
Ultimately, there are numerous ways in which Ken Holland and Jeff Jackson could decide to approach this trade deadline. At the very least, adding another forward seems exceedingly likely.
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)


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