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Jay Woodcroft’s ideal 12th forward is a center

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
6 months ago
If Jay Woodcroft gets his way, the Edmonton Oilers’ 12th forward this season will be a center.
It comes as the team has some hard decisions to make with its forward group. Can Raphael Lavoie make the team? Is Adam Erne going to show enough to earn a contract? What about Brandon Sutter, or Sam Gagner?
Woodcroft, according to The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman, will run Derek Ryan at his natural center spot this pre-season to see what he has there, even though he spent the majority of last season on the wing.
It’s curious that Woodcroft hinted at Sutter having an edge here, too, and as Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli mentioned on Wednesday’s edition of Oilersnation Everyday, the biggest question surrounding him will be how he holds up not just in the early months, but deep into the season. He’s coming off a battle with long-COVID that had great effects on him wherein he missed the last two seasons of NHL action.
Healthy now, the slog of an 82-game regular season — coupled with what is expected to be a long playoff run for the Oilers — could paint a different picture of Sutter. There is, however, enough evidence to suggest he could be a positive for the Oilers. Beyond a down 2018-29 season, he was a third-liner with second-line upside between 2015 and his most recent season in 2020-21, according to hockeyviz.com’s synthetic goals model.
If Sutter remains on the big club, that would leave the door open to Lavoie doing the same and avoiding waivers. With the Oilers being in “win-now” mode, that doesn’t exclude them from needing to do a strong job in managing their assets and allowing a player like Lavoie — someone who has draft pedigree and a strong resume of AHL action — to be claimed on waivers would be nothing short of poor asset management. Surely, there’s some team out there that would take the “risk” on a 6’4, 216 lb. right-shot winger who has scored 43 goals and 81 points in 136 AHL games.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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