Last week, the Edmonton Oilers had a considerable amount of depth on right wing. They had Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, Kris Versteeg, Zack Kassian, Iiro Pakarinen and Jesse Puljujarvi. If young Puljujarvi wasn’t ready to make the team out of camp or to stay past nine games, they had enough players to cover. The fourth overall pick had a decent pre-season but certainly didn’t blow anyone away to suggest he was a lock for a top-six role. And because of the presence of more experienced wingers, there was no need to rush him. But, the Oilers traded away Nail Yakupov, which was expected. Thankfully, however, they had veteran Kris Versteeg on a PTO.
Versteeg Signed with the Calgary Flames
While Oilers fans were waiting for an announcement regarding Kris Versteeg’s contract with the team, they were greeted with some unexpected news. (The deal with Calgary has now been confirmed).
Hearing Kris Versteeg’s time with the Oilers is over. Sounds like he’s closing in on a deal with the Flames.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) October 11, 2016
Talk about a plot twist. Reports suggest that Versteeg wanted a top-six role, which must not have been guaranteed by the team, forcing him to look elsewhere. It seemed as though he was a good fit in Edmonton, but clearly, that wasn’t the case. A quick browse of Twitter displayed both the shock and disappointment of fans and frankly it’s hard to blame them. There were a number of wingers available on waivers, but the Oilers made no claims, and instead announced the signing of defenceman Eric Gryba on a two-way deal.
Now, either Versteeg didn’t want to play in Edmonton at all, or he was concerned about his playing time. The Oilers said they offered him a contract, so it wasn’t that they didn’t want him. It’s possible they believed it would be a done deal and that’s why there were no waiver pick-ups. As for the roster now, we know Eberle is a lock on the first line. Kassian should stay on the fourth line, maybe move up to third. There’s a chance Tyler Pitlick could get a shot. Pakarinen is a veteran of just 80 NHL games. Leon Draisaitl could slide over to the wing as well.
Versteeg’s issue in EDM: If Puljujarvi proves he can play, Versteeg becomes a 3rd-liner.
May want more Top 6 opportunity elsewhere
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) October 11, 2016
Who needs depth at RW anyway? Not Chiarelli. -bm #Oilers
— OilersNation.com (@OilersNation) October 11, 2016
Is Jesse Puljujarvi Ready for Full-Time NHL Duty?
Through six pre-season games, rookie Jesse Puljujarvi scored just one goal. He didn’t look terrible but he didn’t impress to the point that he gave the Oilers no choice but to keep him up with the team. He could use some seasoning in the AHL, because really what’s the rush at this point? The Oilers have been known for pushing players too quickly into the NHL (see: Sam Gagner and Nail Yakupov), and they are running the risk of doing the same with Puljujarvi.
Obviously, the Oilers could keep him sheltered on the third line, but without much depth ahead of him, there’s no margin for error. If there’s an injury or poor performance, Puljujarvi will have no choice but to play more minutes. Perhaps the Oilers liked what they saw enough for Puljujravi during camp that they want to give him every opportunity to prove himself. He’s a big part of their future, but many people didn’t believe he should be a part of the present just yet. In fact, the idea behind bringing in Versteeg was likely to take the pressure off of Puljujarvi. But, things don’t always go to plan in the NHL.
I’ve tried to have faith in Chia for a long time but he had a chance at the RW to have 1 of or BOTH Versteeg/Parenteau and now it’s neither?
— Justin (@WildcatOil) October 11, 2016
If Versteeg signs with the Flames it would be rather humorous. Chiarelli has to have something else up his sleeve…
— Rob Soria (@Oil_Drop) October 11, 2016
Unless there’s another move to be made, the door is wide open for Jesse Puljujarvi to make his mark on this team right away. Could Draisaitl see a lot more time on the wing? That’s definitely a possibility. The Oilers were extremely happy to draft Puljujarvi, and they think very highly of him. Is he truly ready to play in the NHL full-time? Whatever happens in the next couple days will determine what the Oilers answer is to that question. Head coach Todd McLellan had this to say on the matter:
He’s had some really good days with us and he’s had some average ones. But with an 18-year-old, that’s how it usually goes. If it’s not going right for us and for Jesse, he can go to the American League. It has be the proper environment though in terms of ice-time and the right linemates. We don’t want to turn a potential goal-scorer into a grinding, shot-blocking tough guy. That’s not what Jesse’s here for.” [Edmonton Journal]
It sounds like top-six duty is the only role for the kid. That’s a lot to ask of an 18-year old who isn’t at all familiar with the North American game. He played with men in Finland, which is helpful, but it’s an entirely different ball game in the NHL, especially since the Oilers no longer have the depth to cover for him. Everything that went down today is “so Oilers”. Problem is, change was expected with the new management regime. But Kris Versteeg isn’t suddenly the bet winger in the league. There’s still a lot to be ironed out so it’s best not to get up in arms just yet. Easier said than done for frustrated fans.
Marcy, a former hockey player, is a hockey correspondent on CTV News and TSN radio. She began her career as a Sports Journalist in 2009 and has been part of The Hockey Writers since 2010, where she is currently a senior writer and editor.