Lost in the shuffle of the Edmonton Oilers playoff hype are the recent signings of several players that have boosted the franchise’s prospect depth. Since March 1, Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli has added three defensemen in Ryan Mantha, William Lagesson and Ziyat Paigin; a center in Joesph Gambardella and a goaltender in Shane Starrett.
Lagesson and Paigin are two Oiler draft picks, while two others (Gambardella and Starrett) are college free-agent signings. Mantha was a 2014 fourth-round (104th overall) pick by the New York Rangers, but never came to terms and spent the last three seasons with the Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL).
OILERS RECENT SIGNINGS
|G||Shane Starrett||22||April 10||2||$1,850,000||$817,500|
|D||Ziyat Paigin||22||April 10||2||$1,850,000||$858,750|
|D||William Lagesson||21||April 7||3||$2,275,000||$741,667|
|C||Joseph Gambardella||23||March 28||2||$1,450,000||$725,000|
|D||Ryan Mantha||20||March 1||3||$2,775,000||$870,000|
Since July 2016, Chiarelli has signed nine players to entry-level contracts (ELCs), the others being Ethan Bear, Jesse Puljujarvi, Matt Benning and Tyler Benson. In total there are five defensemen in that group.
The Oilers have a staggering 24 free agents (10 unrestricted, 14 restricted) this summer. There is change upon us, namely on the back end.
How much will change on the Oilers’ blueline? On defense, there are eight pending free agents within the organization, six of them being RFAs. If we divide 14 spots between both the Oilers and their AHL affiliate (the Bakersfield Condors), there are 12 currently signed, and the unsigned players push that number to 20 defensemen within the organization pushing for spots in 2017-18.
The key RFAs are Joey LaLeggia, Griffin Reinhart, Dillon Simpson and David Musil. Jordan Oesterle is a UFA, and that makes up five of the Condors’ current blueliners.
OILERS PENDING FREE AGENT DEFENSEMEN
|UFA||Mark Fraser (30), Eric Gryba (28), Jordan Oesterle (24), Kris Russell (29)|
Joey LaLeggia (24), Griffin Reinhart (23), Dillon Simpson (24), David Musil (24)
David Musil (24)
The Oilers’ defense is suddenly a strong pipeline for development.
Here’s a look at Edmonton’s three most recently signed blueliners:
Defenseman | Age: 21
The Oilers’ 2014 fourth-round pick (91st overall) just signed a three-year deal that breaks down to a $741,667 per season. There’s hope that he’ll one day develop into a third-pairing NHL defenseman. The 21-year-old is 6-foot-3, 198 pounds and a left-shot blueliner who represented Sweden at the WJC twice.
Lagesson is an aggressive, physical defender with a very limited offensive upside and foot speed that’s a work in progress. If you’re looking for a young Swedish defenseman that’ll put up points, Lagesson isn’t your guy.
Between playing in the Swedish Junior League (Frolunda) and NCAA (UMass Amherst) he’s put up just 35 points in 107 games.
Scouts have high praise for his hockey sense, strong positional play and mature style. He’s elected to forego his final two years of NCAA eligibility to turn pro and will factor into the Condors’ depth, possibly even seeing some time in the ECHL next season.
Defenseman | Age: 20
Initially playing for Sioux City (USHL), he put up just 22 points in 108 career games. After being drafted by the Rangers (104th overall in 2014), he moved to the OHL where he steadily improved to posting 108 points in 182 games with the Niagara Ice Dogs. Mantha finished sixth among OHL defensemen in scoring with 58 points and finished four points back of the team lead. He’s been a significant player wherever he’s played and even represented Team USA at the 2014 Ivan Hlinka tournament.
Last year was Mantha’s real coming-out party, as he led Niagara to the OHL Finals, ultimately losing out to the eventual Memorial Cup Champions, the London Knights. Where the question marks start are where it all went wrong with the Rangers.
There were questions about his defensive abilities and a weak two-way game which eventually led to him reentering the 2016 NHL Draft. He went unclaimed, attended the Buffalo Sabres’ training camp, but didn’t earn a contract. The third time’s a charm, it seems, with the Oilers taking a three-year flyer on Mantha at $870,000 per year.
He’s a right-handed shooting offensive defenseman with tremendous mobility and most of all, size. Mantha stands g feet 5 inches tall and weighs 225 pounds. The question now is how well his movement translates into the pro game. He’s a bit of a long-term project, but the Oilers will be in no rush with the depth they’ve accrued on their back end. He’s already played one game for the Condors this season.
Defenseman | Age: 22
The Oilers took a flyer on Paigin in the seventh round in 2015 (209th overall). Paigin is an intriguing prospect at 6-foot-6 and 203 pounds; you can’t miss him on the ice. He’s a big, physical defender, but he’s started to show some offensive abilities and a booming point shot.
There isn’t another Oiler in the organization with that kind of frame, and the 22-year-old is signed for two years with an $858,750 cap hit. He’s another left-shot defender, and it was quite impressive that Ak Bars (KHL) had him playing nearly 22 minutes per night in the KHL playoffs. He had a slow start to the year in 2016-17 but looks to be back on track.
If you remember back to the 2015 WJC, Paigin was one of the few bright spots on a troubling Russian defense. The team won a silver medal, and Paigin had a strong showing in the process.
In 95 KHL games, he’s posted 34 points and is looking like a late-round steal. He’s already played two games with the Condors this season, and head coach Gerry Fleming has tried him out on both the left and right side. Paigin has paired with Jordan Oesterle and Griffin Reinhart in those games, so it goes to show how high the organization is on him.