Which Forward Slides Out of the Oilers’ Top Nine?

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 year ago
William Cowper penned The Task in 1785 and from it came the infamous phrase, “Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavor.”
Most will quote the first part, and for the first time in a long, long time an Edmonton Oilers head coach has some tough decisions on who will be in the top nine.
Jay Woodcroft has two more exhibition games to help him determine who will start game one in his top-three lines. He has 10 forwards vying for nine spots. Winning teams have healthy internal competition, and right now I see them having 10 forwards who can play in the top nine.
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto, and Dylan Holloway are battling for the top-six spots. Two of them won’t be there for game one. Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele are more third line players at this point, and they’ve spent a lot of time together in games, in practice, and on the penalty kill. I’m sure McLeod and Foegele could moonlight in the top six if needed, but I see them more as third line players who will be challenged to be sound defensively, kill penalties, and chip in offensively.
When training camp started, we knew Dylan Holloway would be on the opening day roster next Monday. He was going to be there strictly due to the salary cap. If Holloway starts the season on the roster, he will carry a $925K cap hit all year. However, if he isn’t on the roster next Monday, then when he is recalled during the season, he’d carry a $1.441 million cap hit. Edmonton doesn’t have the cap space to have him carry an extra $517K AAV.
But Holloway’s play in the preseason will force the Oilers to have him on the opening night roster next Wednesday v. Vancouver. It is a good problem. I don’t expect Holloway to score four goals in every five regular season games like he has so far this preseason. I’m well aware that pre-season production doesn’t carry over to the regular season. However, he isn’t Ty Rattie or Brendan Perlini. Ty Rattie had played six seasons, mainly in the AHL, before he ripped up the 2018 preseason with the Oilers scoring seven goals. He was 25 years of age. Last preseason, Perlini buried five goals for Edmonton, but he was also 25 years of age and had five pro seasons under his belt.
Holloway is in his first NHL preseason. He just turned 21 on September 23rd. Perlini and Rattie weren’t lighting up the NHL preseason in their first go around when they were 21. Holloway is a different player. It is unfair to compare him to those two players, just like it is unfair to expect him to score at this pace in the regular season. The Oilers don’t need him to be a 40-goal player. If he can score 15-20 goals he’ll be just as productive as Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi have been in their time in the top six.
What has impressed me most about Holloway’s play is he can attack in a variety of ways. He uses his powerful stride to push defenders back. He’s been patient with the puck and is looking to make plays. Playing with Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman for the first time last night, Holloway didn’t look overwhelmed. He wasn’t trying to force-feed them the puck. He read the play very well, and he was excellent at creating space. If he gave the puck to Draisaitl he’d quickly move to a spot to receive a pass. He showed a wide array of skills last night that look transferable to regular season play.


On his first goal he starts the play behind the net. Moves the puck to Draisaitl and then slides to an opening on the side of the net. Then he reads that Darnell Nurse is looking to shoot/pass and goes to the net with his stick down. Nurse aims for it and Holloway deflects it home. A great instinctual read from the start of the play all the way to the goal.
He takes the face off, after Shore was kicked out, ties up his man and allows the Oilers to gain possession. He reads that Shore is going to control the puck along the boards and make a play, so he leaves the zone and Tyson Barrie hits him in stride through the neutral zone. Holloway has his head up the entire time he is attacking, he goes around the sprawling defender and then roofs it for his second of the game. Poise and patience. Hard to coach.
Holloway reads that Draisaitl is the first forward back and going to the boards, so Holloway curls deep and Draisaitl hits him for an easy breakout. Holloway moves it to Hyman, and then uses his speed to drive the net, forcing the backchecker to take him and that opens up the slot for Barrie to come in and rip it home.
Will this goal go in on Thatcher Demko? Not very often, but, again, Holloway shows poise and patience with the puck. He doesn’t try to force a pass to the slot, instead he circles high and takes a quick shot. He showed good deception, by changing the shooting angle at last moment by pulling it inside before releasing it. Release point is key to surprising a goalie.
Holloway made the most of his opportunity. That is what coaches want to see. He has been noticeable in every game he has played thus far, and he is creating chances consistently. He has put himself in the conversation to be in the top-six. His play in the regular season will dictate how long he stays there, but right now he’s forcing Woodcroft to play him there again. I guarantee Woodcroft his happy to be put in this situation.

WHO IS #10?

The veteran players vying to be in the top nine have all shown they can play, and be productive, as top-nine NHL players. But with the emergence of Holloway someone will start on the fourth line. It might not last long, and I don’t see this as a negative. It is a positive. I have covered this team long enough to remember when players were gifted spots in the top six based solely on hope. Now there is a legit competition to remain in the top nine. It is long overdue.
Yamamoto, Puljujarvi, Foegele, and McLeod are the four I see battling to avoid starting on the fourth line. McLeod has had a strong camp, and I’d be surprised if he was moved out of the third line centre slot. So, one of the wingers goes down. Yamamoto has been with McDavid and Kane most of the preseason, and while he hasn’t lit it up, he also hasn’t done anything to get knocked out of that spot just yet. Today, I see it being Foegele or Puljujarvi who will be the odd man out, but it might only be for one game. It will be a fluid situation that changes based on how guys are playing.
Puljujarvi is a natural right winger, so that gives him an advantage over Foegele. However, he’s had a quiet preseason thus far. Foegele played the right wing in Carolina and is comfortable on either side. He scored two goals, albeit in the final two minutes, but scoring breeds confidence and those two goals will boost his heading into the final two preseason games. Woodcroft will be looking for different things from different players, and it might simply come down to who the coach feels is playing best at this moment.


May 4, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal by forward Jesse Puljujarvi (13) during the third period against Los Angeles Kings in game two of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
A trade that involves moving out some salary would give the Oilers more roster flexibility. But it would also weaken their top-nine depth. The worst kept secret is that the Oilers have had trade talks surrounding Puljujarvi. A deal hasn’t been made thus far, because Ken Holland doesn’t want to just give him away for a third-round draft pick. He doesn’t have to trade Puljujarvi. He is a bonafide NHL player. He can keep him, but it means the Oilers will have a 21-man roster to start the season.
Here is a quick recap of their cap situation. The Oilers will start the season in LTIR. They can’t have Oscar Klefbom, Mike Smith and Slater Koekkoek on the roster on opening day, and then move them to LTIR. And because of that, the Oilers want to get as close to the $82.5m cap threshold. When you start the season in LTIR, whatever your combined AAV is of players (not on LTIR), that becomes your salary cap for the season. If the Oilers fit 21 players at $82m it means they essentially lose $500K of cap space. Their opening day roster on Monday must put them as close to $82.5m without going over.
McDavid (12.5m), Draisiatl ($8.5m), Hyman ($5.5m), Kane ($5.125), RNH ($5.125), Yamamoto ($3.1m), Puljujarvi ($3m), Foegele ($2.75m), Holloway ($925K) and McLeod ($798K) have a combined AAV of $47.323m.
On defence they have Darnell Nurse ($9.25m), Tyson Barrie ($4.5m) Cody Ceci ($3.25m), Brett Kulak ($2.75m), Evan Bouchard ($863,334K) and Philip Broberg ($863,334) at $21,476,668m. Then Jack Campbell ($5m) and Stuart Skinner ($750K) in goal total $5.75m.
Those 18 players have a combined cap hit of $74,549,668.
Add in $750K of retained salary for Milan Lucic, $3.416,667 of buyouts for James Neal and Andrej Sekera, and $896K of bonus overages from last season.
That moves the Oilers to $79,612,335 which leaves them only$2,887,665 to fill out the roster with two more forwards and one defenceman. Keep in mind if one of Ryan or Janmark are in the minors they will still carry a $125K cap hit for the Oilers, which lowers their cap space to $2,762,665.
Bring out your calculator and find three players who put them closest to the cap ceiling.
Derek Ryan and Mattias Janmark carry a $1.25m AAV. Devin Shore is at $850K, Brad Malone is at $762.5K and Tyler Benson is at $750K.
On defence they have Dmitri Samorukov ($775K), Markus Neimelainen ($762.5K), and Ryan Murray ($750K).
One of Ryan/Janmark, Malone and Murray add up to $2,762,500. That is the best possible combination cap wise and leaves the Oilers $165 shy of the $82.5m ceiling.
The one wrinkle could be the Benson injury. For example, if his injury is 2-3 weeks, then he’d have to start the season on IR, and he’d count against the cap. Because he is on a two-way contract and has played fewer than 50 NHL games his cap hit while on IR would be $585K. If that happens then they would have $2,177,665 to fill out the rest. They could send both Janmark and Ryan to the minors, which would give them $2,052,665 to add three skaters, but they can’t even fit three players at that price. Malone, Shore and Murray add up to $2,362,500. There is no update as of now on Benson. It might be nothing serious, but I used him as an example.
This is why a 21-man roster isn’t ideal. They could start with a 20-man roster and Benson on IR, but then they would have to have one of Janmark/Ryan and another forward who has a $925K cap hit. That would put them $2,665 shy, but the closest they have is Shore at $850K, and then they would be $77,265 shy of the cap.
You can spend hours crunching the numbers, and the obvious conclusion is the Oilers cap situation isn’t ideal. If Benson is healthy, and they start with a 21-man roster, it is workable. It isn’t ideal, but it is workable.
A trade won’t be made just because Holloway is pushing for a spot and suddenly the Oilers have 10 forwards to fill the top-nine. A trade will be done to give them some cap flexibility.


  • 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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