Surging Oilers Forwards: Who Stays? Who Goes?

The Edmonton Oilers just completed their second-straight victory in dramatic fashion. With a 6-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, the Oilers have now outscored their opponents 13-5 in their last two games and Connor McDavid is making a push toward to the Art Ross Trophy.

Notwithstanding the fact McDavid is one of, if not the best player in the NHL, whenever a team scores as often as the Oilers have been, — 31 goals in 8 games — and players who’ve not been producing start producing, it’s easy to question what’s real and what’s merely providing a sense of what’s real. Is someone like Drake Caggiula really as good as his four goals in his last five games? Can the Oilers really expect Ty Rattie to score at the five points in six-game clip he’s been producing at since being called up and placed on McDavid’s line? Is Pontus Aberg a six points in seven games player? Should the Oilers keep Ryan Strome?

In some cases, the answer might be yes, but in other cases, the answer is clearly no.

With that in mind, who on the Oilers is really as good as they seem to be? Who isn’t as bad as it appears and who will stay and go after a summer that must include some changes in order to get back into the playoffs.

Related: NHL Trade Rumors: Nugent-Hopkins, Kovalchuk, More

Is Ryan Strome a Keeper?

Ryan Strome isn’t exactly surging right now but he’s worth discussing. He came to the Oilers in a trade for Jordan Eberle in what was never a fair one-for-one deal. That put Strome behind the eight ball if fans were going to compare production, which is often what fans do. Sure, it’s only fair to keep in mind one player was making $3.5 million less per year than the other (the Oilers got the less expensive player) but Edmonton sent out a guaranteed 20 goals when Eberle left town. Someone was going to need to replace that.

Ryan Strome Oilers
Ryan Strome, Edmonton Oilers, Oct. 21, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In 74 games this season, Strome has 33 points. 13 of those are goals and to suggest Strome is a 15 goal and 38 point player by the time game 82 rolls around is not a stretch. Is that worth $2.5 million per season? Sure. Is he what the Oilers need if they’re lacking wingers as it has been rumored to believe they are? That’s a more difficult question.

There are a few things to consider if you keep Strome. First is the price tag. Will he re-sign for around what he’s making now? If so, he’s an option. Second, are you sacrificing an upgrade at wing by keeping him? It’s fair to suggest the Oilers can find a different forward who can play center or wing and provide 30-35 points. The trick is what it’s going to cost to acquire that player. This 30-35 point production is Strome’s average so there’s no reason to think he can’t provide this stat line over and over. If the Oilers could figure out their power play, he could be a 40-point player rather easily.

Finally, there is something to be said for the Oilers not giving up on a player they moved Jordan Eberle to get.

Prediction: Keeper (but only at under $3 million per season)

Is Pontus Aberg the Real Deal?

The Edmonton Oilers acquired Pontus Aberg when they traded Mark Letestu at this year’s NHL Trade Deadline. The organization wanted to get a prospect on the fringe of being a regular NHL’er instead of acquiring a draft pick and Aberg looked to be that guy. With his seven points in 10 games since coming over, he looks like a good bet.

Pontus Aberg Predators Ryan Ellis Oilers
Nashville Predators defensemen Ryan Ellis and Edmonton Oilers forward Pontus Aberg. (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

However, this is an extremely short sample size in which to judge a player’s full potential and his time in Edmonton hasn’t exactly been controversy-free. Just recently he was benched from a game for allegedly missing a practice after going out the night before. Coach McClellan was not impressed and while he didn’t specify why he was punishing the player, it was easy to see Aberg had irked his coach and his teammates.

Team chemistry aside, the question is, are the points Aberg has been getting a fluke? Or, is this anything close to the type of player the Oilers can expect? He’s got one more year on a contract that pays only $650K per year.

Prediction: Keeper (but with a close eye to see if he’s a team guy)

Related: Oilers’ Ethan Bear & Other Thoughts

Is Ty Rattie McDavid’s Shooter?

Right about now, fans of the Oilers are asking “where the heck did Ty Rattie come from?” He was a fixture in OKC for the Oilers American League team and was called up a couple weeks ago. As an experiment, he was placed on McDavid’s line and has lit it up in the six games he’s played, scoring three goals and adding two assists.

The question fans will start asking is if he’s the shooter the Oilers need to play with McDavid or if this kind of production can’t possibly last.

Insiders are suggesting there’s nothing really special about Rattie other than he realizes he’s been given an opportunity, knows enough about hockey to get open for McDavid and is playing a 200-ft game hoping to keep a job in the NHL (sounds a little like a guy Edmonton just shipped out in Patrick Maroon). The unpopular opinion here is that he’s a UFA at the end of the season, makes $700K per season and there should be another player who can do what he’s doing if given a shot with McDavid.

The gamble the Oilers are faced with is tricky. If they keep Rattie and he falters, the organization will look foolish for not upgrading when it was clear Rattie had no history of maintaining a high-production rate in the NHL (a la Maroon). If they spend big bucks on a certified winger for McDavid and Rattie goes on to have a good season elsewhere, the Oilers will look like they gave up on the possible solution to the Oilers scoring problems.

I may be wrong, but Rattie looks good now but isn’t the long-term solution.

Prediction: Gotta Go (Back to the AHL or down the depth chart)

What Is Drake Caggiula?

Coming into the season, big things were expected of Drake Caggiula. Some predicted him to be a 20-goal guy based on how he finished last season and his three goals in the 2016-17 playoffs. He’s been nothing close to that this season but he has come on in the last few games.

(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Part of the issue for Caggiula was injury problems. He’s only played in 59 games this season and has 12 goals and 18 points. Is he the four goals in five games guy fans have been watching recently or is he the eight goals in 51 games player that started the year?

One of the good things about Caggulia is that even when he doesn’t score he’s providing value. A forechecker and special teams guy, he can do more than just fill the net. That said, the Oilers will need more than 12 goals out of him if he’s a long-term solution.

Prediction: Keeper (but Edmonton does not have a top-six guy here and needs a better option)

Related: Oilers Shouldn’t Trade Nugent-Hopkins

Can Edmonton Do Better Than Nuge?

One of the most debated questions this summer will be whether or not the Oilers should trade Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for a winger or top-two defenseman. That’s been the buzz lately and names like Mike Hoffman have been thrown into the mix.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was one of many Oilers’ first overall picks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Meanwhile, the Oilers have placed Nugent-Hopkins on McDavid’s wing over the past few games and the two have lit it up with McDavid zooming up the charts in an effort to win the scoring title and the Nuge posting seven points in the past five games.

GM Peter Chiarelli said he doesn’t want so much money tied up in three centers but it seems that the team has found a solution by playing Nugent-Hopkins at wing and letting him play 1B and 2B at center when needed. For $6 million, that’s a bargain Edmonton should not lose sight of.

Prediction: Keeper (in fact, the Oilers would but nuts to make this kind of mistake again)