Who should get the Oilers’ 12th forward roster spot in the opening night lineup?

Photo credit:© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
10 months ago
With their current cap situation, the Edmonton Oilers will be forced to run a 21-man roster on opening night in order to be cap-compliant. 
GM Ken Holland has confirmed that the roster will include two goalies, seven defencemen, and 12 forwards. Barring any injuries, the two goalies will be Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell. It’s highly likely that their seven defenders will consist of Darnell Nurse, Mattias Ekholm, Evan Bouchard, Cody Ceci, Brett Kulak, Philip Broberg, and Vincent Desharnais, with Markus Niemeläinen having an outside shot of making the team.
As for the forwards; Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, and Connor Brown are projected to be Edmonton’s top-six forwards. Ryan McLeod, Warren Foegele, and Derek Ryan are locks to make the roster, projected to play in the bottom six, while Dylan Holloway, who’s currently on his ELC, also seems like a near-lock to make the team. Additionally, Mattias Janmark was re-signed to a one-year, $1M deal even prior to the start of free agency, and I’d expect him to make the roster.
That leaves one last roster spot, and there are a couple of players who have a chance at winning that 12th forward spot. Who should it be?

Raphael Lavoie

Raphael Lavoie was drafted 38th overall in the second round of the 2019 NHL Draft by Edmonton. The 22-year-old forward has played 136 games with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL in the past three seasons and was signed by the Oilers to a one-year, two-way contract extension with an $874K AAV on July 15.
Lavoie had a strong 2022-23 season. He led the Condors with 25 goals in 61 games, ranking 17th in the league in even-strength goals. With Lavoie on-ice at EV, the Condors out-scored opponents 46 to 33, equating to a strong 58 percent goal differential, which ranks third on Bakersfield. His production rates were even better in the second half of the 2022-23 season, as Lavoie was coming off a season-ending knee injury at the start of this past season.
Here’s a closer look into Lavoie’s underlying metrics in the AHL, courtesy of Jacob Stoller.
Evidently, Lavoie is a volume shooter, ranking in the 98th percentile in shots, and 99th percentile in individual chances. As a result, his finishing impact relative to his chance quality is actually a bit below average, so ideally, you’d like for him to capitalize on his chances at a higher rate. Nonetheless, Lavoie still ranks near the top of the AHL in goals, so I wouldn’t say it’s a major problem.
I’ve advocated for an effective goal-scorer in the bottom six for quite some time. Especially with Klim Kostin gone, someone in the bottom six will need to step up in that area; Lavoie could be that guy, and arguably has more natural scoring potential than almost all of their current bottom-six players. Out of all of Edmonton’s options for the 12th forward spot, Lavoie is by far the youngest and has the highest upside. Also, note that if Lavoie doesn’t make the roster, the team will be forced to waive him.
With the Oilers lacking a scoring RW in their bottom six, I believe this is Lavoie’s spot to lose.

Sam Gagner

Sam Gagner signed a professional tryout with the team in August, returning to fight for a spot on the Oilers for the third time.
Gagner was most recently on Edmonton’s roster in 2019-20. At the 2020 Trade Deadline, he was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings alongside two second-round picks for Andreas Athanasiou, a trade that clearly never worked out. Gagner played 129 games with Detroit from 2019-20 through 2021-22, and played with Winnipeg in 2022-23.
In the past three seasons, Gagner produced at a rate of 1.29 5v5 points per hour, which is OK for a fourth-liner. Where 34-year-old Gagner still provides value at the NHL level is his defensive play, as his impact on suppressing scoring chances (RAPM xGA) ranks superior to 61 percent of the league’s forwards. Last season, Gagner’s defensive-zone retrieval success rate and forecheck pressures per 60 were also near the top of Winnipeg’s forwards (per AllThreeZones), and he additionally produced solid possession metrics with a 52 CF% and FF%.
It’s also worth mentioning Gagner played nearly 250 minutes on the PK with Detroit. The Red Wings allowed fewer short-handed goals per hour when Gagner was on the ice, so this is another area he could provide value in.
Overall, Gagner is a nice low-risk option for the fourth line. The major question is if he can impress in training camp / pre-season, and win a spot over the much younger Lavoie.

Brandon Sutter

Brandon Sutter was also signed to a PTO by Edmonton in late August alongside Gagner. The 34-year-old right-shot center played six seasons with the Vancouver Canucks from 2015-16 through 2020-21 but missed the last two seasons due to symptoms of long COVID.
In his most recent seasons, Sutter’s 5v5 impact was quite unexceptional. Here’s a closer look at his production, goal differential, and expected goal differential impacts from 2019-20 through 2020-21 (presented in percentiles relative to the rest of the league’s forwards):
In the 26 games he played in 2018-19, Sutter’s results were near the bottom of the league, as he posted a dreadful 27 percent goal differential and produced a measly 0.7 5v5 points per hour. The following year, Sutter was significantly better, playing top-nine minutes for the team and posting above-average on-ice results, alongside quite respectable production for a bottom-sixer. However, Sutter’s results declined again in 2020-21, his most recent season.
When Sutter did play, his 5v5 play was generally quite mediocre at best. I believe the areas where the Oilers mostly see value in Sutter are his penalty-killing and faceoff ability. In his three most recent seasons, Sutter played nearly 300 minutes on the PK and was one of Vancouver’s regular penalty-killers. Although publicly available PK analytics are unreliable, it’s worth mentioning that the Canucks allowed considerably fewer goals per hour on the PK when Sutter was on-ice. In that span, Sutter also had a 51% faceoff percentage, and it was at 56% in 2020-21.
However, I don’t know if that’s enough to justify him getting a roster spot. 5v5 performance matters more than the ability to kill penalties, and Sutter’s 5v5 play is likely even worse after two seasons of not playing and as a 34-year-old. The ability to win faceoffs isn’t enough to justify a spot either; while winning faceoffs are undoubtedly useful, what matters in the grand scheme of things is what you do after the outcome of the faceoff. While Sutter is strong in the dot, Vancouver was still generally out-scored and out-chanced at worse rates with Sutter on-ice.
Of course, there’s still a possibility he could be a decent, PK specialist 4C. Playing in a sheltered role in Edmonton is a much easier environment than playing top-nine on a mediocre Vancouver team, and there’s certainly no harm in giving Sutter a PTO and seeing what he could do. Still, after two seasons without playing, I’m doubtful if Sutter can be a more useful NHL forward on a contending team today over someone like Lavoie, or even Gagner.

Lane Pederson

Lane Pederson was signed in free agency by Edmonton on July 1st. Pederson is a 26-year-old, right-shot center who’s rotated throughout the NHL and AHL in his NHL career, playing 71 NHL games and 60 AHL games in his past three seasons. In the NHL, he’s played with Arizona, San Jose, Vancouver, and most recently, Columbus.
Nothing stands out in a positive manner in Pederson’s NHL results. He’s produced a mere 0.82 points per hour at 5v5 in the past three seasons, a rate that ranks 459th out of the 470 forwards with a minimum of 700 5v5 TOI in that span. Pederson’s on-ice results have been quite substandard, as he’s posted an abysmal 37 percent goal share and 45 percent expected goal share in the past three seasons at 5v5. Pederson has hardly spent any time on special teams in the NHL.
Overall, it’s evident Pederson was signed for AHL depth rather than to be a regular NHL contributor. It’s expected that he will be Bakersfield’s top center, and barring significant injuries, I doubt he will spend any substantial time on Edmonton’s NHL roster this season.

Drake Caggiula

Drake Caggiula was another one of Edmonton’s free agency signings on July 1st, and is also making a return to the Oilers. Caggiula spent his first 155 NHL games with Edmonton from 2016-17 through 2018-19 and was traded mid-season to the Chicago Blackhawks (alongside Jason Garrison) for defencemen Brandon Manning, which was one of a plethora of puzzling moves by Peter Chiarelli. Caggiula has spent time with Chicago, Arizona, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh in the past five years, and primarily played in the AHL in 2022-23.
Caggiula’s recent NHL results are also quite subpar. In the past three seasons, Caggiula’s impact has been below replacement level, as he’s produced a 41 percent goal share and a 45 percent expected goal share at 5v5. His 1.17 5v5 points per hour rate is superior to Pederson’s, but is still slightly below-average even for a fourth-liner, as this production rate ranks tied for 385th in the NHL.
Again, expect Caggiula to primarily be AHL depth, with a possibility of being recalled in case of injuries.

Another alternative (but unlikely to happen): waive Mattias Janmark

Feb 9, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Mattias Janmark (26) against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
There is one way Edmonton could have two of the forwards mentioned above on the opening night roster, but in order for this to occur, the Oilers would have to waive Mattias Janmark. While I believe this is quite unlikely to realistically happen, this is an option Edmonton should strongly consider.
Firstly, Janmark is a replaceable player at 5v5. Last season, 14 forwards played at least 300 TOI for the Oilers at 5v5. Janmark ranked 10th in points per hour, 13th in goals per hour, and 11th in both goal and expected goal differential; he wasn’t exactly a meaningful 5v5 contributor. Some may bring up Janmark’s penalty-killing abilities, but his PK results are a mixed bag. The Oilers did allow fewer short-handed goals per hour with Janmark on-ice, but they allowed considerably more scoring chances.
Janmark isn’t a bad player by any means, but he’s simply not much more than a decent fourth-liner. At best, I don’t believe he should be a lock for the team’s opening night roster, and he should have to compete for a spot with Gagner. As mentioned previously, Gagner also had plenty of experience killing penalties in Detroit.
Additionally, if the Oilers kept Lavoie and another league-minimum signing on their opening-night roster while waiving Janmark, the team would have roughly $508K in cap space, which accrues to ~$2.4M worth of cap space at the trade deadline. If they had Janmark and a league-minimum signing on the roster, they would have ~$1.8M worth of cap space at the TDL, while that number would be at ~$1.3M if they kept Janmark and Lavoie on the roster.
Consequently, there’s also a cap benefit to waiving Janmark. That small amount of cap space could end up having a substantial effect on who they could acquire at the TDL.
Again, I don’t see it realistically happening. I believe Holland and Woodcroft are quite fond of Janmark, so I would expect him to be on the opening night roster. But if Gagner and/or Sutter performs well in training camp, Edmonton should strongly consider this route.
There may also be a possibility that the Oilers sign another forward to a PTO. As training camp and pre-season near, the competition for this 12th forward spot will be a key battle to watch and keep track of. 
*All NHL stats via EvolvingHockey and Natural Stat Trick, all AHL stats via Pick224 unless stated otherwise
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