Oilers Notebook: Sam Gagner makes season debut, possible reinforcements in Bakersfield, and more
By Cam Lewis1 month ago
Winter came quickly in Edmonton this year.
The cold skid marred by inconsistent efforts and terrible fundamentals that we’d usually see in the dark days of December or January appeared right off the hop in October and the Oilers are off to a 1-4-1 start.
Good news is hard to come by right now so let’s take a look down at the farm team for something positive.
Sam Gagner made his 2023-24 season debut with the Bakersfield Condors on Tuesday and picked up two assists in a 5-1 win over the Henderson Silver Knights. He played left wing on the team’s second line alongside Lane Pederson and Xavier Bourgault.
The 34-year-old is working his way back from off-season hip surgery. He signed a professional tryout contract with the Oilers and attended training camp but didn’t play in any pre-season games. Gagner inked a minor-league contract with the Condors and will be auditioning for an NHL contract with the Oilers.
The Condors are off to a 2-1 start to their season. They won their first game by a score of 3-2 over the Coachella Valley Firebirds, lost their second by the same 3-2 score to the Ontario Reign, and Tuesday’s win against Henderson was their third game.
The players who were cut at the end of Edmonton’s training camp are the ones who are doing the heavy lifting in Bakersfield. Pederson, who was in the mix for the team’s fourth-line centre role, leads the Condors with two goals and four points, while top prospect Raphael Lavoie is right behind him with two goals and three points. Defenceman Ben Gleason made a name for himself during the pre-season and he has three points in his first three games as a Condor.
Are any of these players realistic call-up options for the struggling Oilers right now?
Lavoie’s $874,125 cap hit makes him a bit tricky but the Oilers can afford to bring him up if they send Adam Erne down. The 23-year-old can provide depth scoring for the team but adding a rookie into the mix won’t solve Edmonton’s defensive woes. There was lots of talk about punting Janmark a couple of weeks ago but he has the second-highest expected goals-for percentage on the team among forwards to this point.
Both Pederson and Gleason are on two-way contracts with league-minimum cap hits in the NHL, so they’re easier to recall than Lavoie. A Pederson for Erne swap could give Edmonton a boost to their bottom six, while a puck-mover Gleason coming up would likely mean that Evan Bouchard’s usage is going down. The former seems much more likely than the latter.
Regardless, while Bakersfield has quality depth options, no game-changing solutions are coming up from the AHL. The Oilers have a fundamental problem with their defensive zone play and their goaltenders haven’t been anywhere near good enough to bail them out early on.
The Oilers have some strong underlying numbers, such as the league’s fewest shot attempts against per 60 minutes at even strength, but they’ve been burned by the second-lowest team save percentage at .852. They’re also a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to allowing high-danger chances, which is surprising given what the old eye test has suggested through six games.
Whether it’s poor goaltending or poor defensive strategy, the Oilers need to figure out how to keep pucks out of their own net. There’s plenty of season left to play, but things can go off the rails and spin out of control quickly. Edmonton doesn’t want to be trying to dig itself out of an early-season hole during the dark days of December and January.
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