By signing former first-round draft pick Riley Sheahan to a one year deal worth $900,000, the Edmonton Oilers added some much-needed stability to their weak bottom-six forward group and now head into the upcoming NHL season more confident in getting a balanced attack from their forwards.
Sheahan was essentially general manager Ken Holland’s consolation prize in the late sweepstakes for center Derrick Brassard (who ended up signing with the New York Islanders after teasingGeorges Laraque and Oilers fans who were led to believe that he would land in Edmonton).
By no means is Sheahan a runner-up option in my mind, but my guess is that Holland’s positive prior relationship with the former Detroit Red Wing after drafting him 21st overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft was a huge factor in getting Sheahan to sign in Edmonton at a discounted price.
What may have enticed Sheahan most was a gaping hole at the third-line centre position on the roster, a role which he has relished in the NHL throughout his nine-year career. With the absence of a proven bottom-six pivot on the Oilers roster and given Kyle Brodziak’s lingering back injury that will keep him sidelined for the foreseeable future, Sheahan and his camp seemingly jumped at the opportunity to secure a definite NHL job with a chance to contribute significantly on both the power-play and penalty-kill units.
Sheahan brings a few elements that the Oilers so desperately needed last season. His underrated speed and tenacity in puck battles will certainly help the Oilers keep the puck out of their own net more this season and will definitely shore up Edmonton’s worst-ever home penalty kill recorded in the modern NHL era. With head coach Dave Tippett’s plan to avoid using superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the penalty kill this season, this not only lifts part of the heavy load off the shoulders of the dynamic duo, but increases the need for players like Sheahan to play larger roles to defend effectively with the ice time they are given.
The durable Sheahan, who has played in more than 79 games in each of the past five seasons, will also help the club improve in the face-off department, which has been lacking a reliable pivot to win key draws since the departure of Mark Letestu in Feb. 2018.
Having averaged a respectable 50.5% faceoff win percentage throughout his career so far, Sheahan and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will likely be the key penalty-killing centers called upon to take timely shorthanded draws. Being the utility player that he is that has a wealth of experience playing with talented players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, in addition to power forward offensive abilities to score and create scoring chances, Sheahan will hopefully spearhead the Oilers bottom-si forward group to a more respectable overall contribution this upcoming season.
I think it is reasonable to expect Sheahan to put up between 25 to 30 points this season, but Oilers fans know not to put any high expectations on new depth signees like they did last year with Tobias Rieder, who went scoreless all season. I think Sheahan could be a reliable net-front presence on the second unit power-play as well provided he continues to go to the dirty areas to pick up the garbage as he has done all throughout his career.
By no means should the Oilers and their fans be expecting an Alex Chiasson-esque season from him, but I think it is fair to say Sheahan will be given every opportunity to not only win the third-line centre job, but be a staple on the checking line to provide McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins with support down the middle.
Personally, I think there will come a point where Dave Tippett divides the top-three centres onto separate lines to balance scoring, thus leaving Sheahan to anchor the fourth line. I do not think it will be a great long-term fit, but the Oilers will definitely be tougher to handle if they have four strong pivots holding down each line with a multitude of dimensions to expose the opposition with.
Odd Men Out?
The Sheahan signing certainly added depth to the Oilers roster, but also created a sense of urgency and competition amongst players vying for bottom-six roles. Over the next few weeks in training camp, the team will have to make many tough decisions and answer questions.
Will Gaëtan Haas be able to successfully transition into an NHL player capable of anchoring the fourth line? If Jujhar Khaira shifts to the wing, which Bakersfield Condors wingers are on the outside looking in? Where does Tomas Jurco fit in the fold, in the NHL or in Bakersfield? Will Cooper Marody have a tougher time making the opening night roster with another centre slated ahead of him, or will Tyler Benson, Kailer Yamamoto, and himself be fighting for a limited wing spot in the top nine?
Come opening night, many promising Oiler forwards may be finding themselves on the outside looking in because of the addition of Sheahan. But make no mistake, competition is great for the club and the fewer spots there are, the harder the players will work to fight and maintain their place with the Edmonton Oilers. Training camp will be interesting to see who falters and flourishes, but the Sheahan signing definitely increased the competition in the organization and will make for great entertainment for fans leading up to the start of the NHL season on Oct. 2.