Depth, depth and more depth was apparently Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli’s mantra when it came to July 1. The Oilers didn’t add one of the bigger fish in free agency or a true NHL regular to their lineup. Chiarelli went out and added several minor league players to the system in hopes of bolstering the overall organizational depth.
Once the Oilers sign Leon Draisaitl, Dillon Simpson and Joey LaLeggia they’ll have 47 of 50 contracts signed. Tyler Benson and Dylan Wells’ contracts will slide a year since they’ll be playing junior, so really the Oilers have 45 of 50 contracts and can still add a player or two. Just keep in mind that after Edmonton signs Draisaitl, and you factor performance bonuses, there’s really not a whole lot of wiggle room under the salary cap.
That gives Edmonton just $2.4 million to maneuver and make an impactful addition. So fans that are holding their breath waiting for Chiarelli to sign a bigger name don’t count on it. The only way Edmonton signs a Jaromir Jagr, Shane Doan or Jarome Iginla is if they take a bargain deal. Edmonton will get some cap relief once Andrej Sekera is placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), but they’ll be tight once he gets back.
The Oilers have been expectedly underwhelming in free agency, and their roster might actually be set. Still there are some questions about how Edmonton will proceed with the roster once the puck drops in October.
Projecting Oilers Opening Night Roster
It looks like what we see today may, in one way or another, be Edmonton’s opening night roster. The signings so far in free agency address the minor league system more than anything. Bakersfield desperately needed some veteran support, and they got some proven AHL vets.
The signings so far have been; Ed Pasquale (G), Keegan Lowe (D), Ryan Stanton (D), Mitch Callahan (RW), Grayson Downing (C), Brad Malone (C) and Brian Ferlin (RW). Of the group Stanton might have the most realistic shot at being an Oiler when the season starts. The rest are headed to Condorstown.
The biggest takeaway might be what Edmonton’s brain trust has planned for the Sekera absence. Last season Todd McLellan embraced a defense by committee and more or less played his top four with equal minutes. If the pattern continues, Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse will be playing a lot more in 2017-18.
|Left Defense||Right Defense|
|Oscar Klefbom||Adam Larsson|
|Kris Russell||Matt Benning|
|Darnell Nurse||Eric Gryba|
|Ryan Stanton||Mark Fayne|
To offset Sekera’s minutes (21:28 ice-time), Edmonton’s top pairing of Oscar Klefbom (22:22) and Adam Larsson (20:08) might jump into the 24-28 minutes range. For all the Kris Russell naysayers, you might also see more of him until February. Mark Fayne might also be back in the mix as one of the spare defensemen to start the season.
Puljujarvi, Caggiula, Khaira Getting Opportunities
If Chiarelli isn’t going to add another forward, that means there’s going to be some significant opportunities for Jesse Puljujarvi and Drake Caggiula. This will mean that Edmonton is giving Puljujarvi an opportunity to win a top-six job once again. Puljujarvi had just eight points in 28 games last season before being sent down to the AHL. The 19-year-old regained some confidence and finished the year with 28 points in 39 games with the Condors.
Caggiula, on the other hand, had a modest year and with a little more puck luck this season could become a 30-40 point guy. The 23-year-old scored 18 points in 60 games and got looks on a line with McDavid in the playoffs. This season he’s got an offensive center in Ryan Strome and a creative winger in Anton Slepyshev. With some favorable zone starts and matchups, the optimist would say this line could be a pleasant surprise in 2017-18.
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Patrick Maroon||Connor McDavid||Leon Draisaitl|
|Milan Lucic||Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||Jesse Puljujarvi|
|Drake Caggiula||Ryan Strome||Anton Slepyshev|
|Jujhar Khaira||Mark Letestu||Zack Kassian|
Lastly after playing 25 games with the main club over the past three seasons, Jujhar Khaira looks to have received a vote of confidence from Chiarelli and McLellan. Khaira, 22, looks to be a lock to start the year in Edmonton in a fourth-line job alongside Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian.
At 6’3″ and 215 pounds, Khaira plays a power game that’ll compliment Kassian as a wing duo. Khaira’s always received rave reviews from McLellan and the coaching staff for his defensive responsibility as well. Last season he scored 20 points in 27 games with the Condors.
Whatever way you slice it, there’s a lot that can change, but it looks like the Oilers aren’t going to be adding anyone significant to their roster. Jagr, Doan and Iginla look more like fantasy pipe dreams at this point. It’s disappointing from a fan’s standpoint with the way Chiarelli’s gone about attacking the organizational depth — it’s especially frustrating to the ones who actually believe the Oilers window to win a Stanley Cup is now.
For the time being it seems as if Chiarelli is banking on overall improvement from within the organization to help the main club than looking outside.