The Edmonton Oilers and new general manager Ken Holland are each looking to turn back the clock to a certain degree. The Oilers to their glory days and Holland to those of the Detroit Red Wings dynasty, of which he was the architect. Both date back decades, though.
Thankfully, not all of the moves the Oilers have made since then have been mistakes, and that’s even excluding the drafting of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Holland has some additional pieces he can work with or at least should, with the below five names being the team’s top hypothetical untouchables in increasing order of their value to the team.
5. Jesse Puljujarvi
Sure, Jesse Puljujarvi has struggled at the NHL level. The former fourth-overall draft pick’s 37 points in 139 games aren’t eye-opening. And, sure, Puljujarvi’s’s coming off hip surgery. And, sure, even if there’s a legitimate argument he has been mishandled by the Oilers and it isn’t his fault, that doesn’t take away from how he may be damaged beyond repair as a result.
Nevertheless, you have to try. This is a 21-year-old winger with a pedigree on a team bereft of them. For all of the reasons above, Puljujarvi’s value is at an all-time low, so the Oilers have little to lose trying to rehabilitate him. Unless a first-round pick would be coming back the other way, keep him in the fold and do it the right way under new management.
4. Kailer Yamamoto
Another former-first-round right-winger that may have been rushed into the NHL, Kailer Yamamoto has high-end skill and enough upside to warrant more of a look from the organization.
Yamamoto’s one year younger than Puljujarvi, so all the arguments why Puljujarvi should stay apply here, just to a greater extent. There just may be more hope he can develop into something special. If Puljujarvi is far from a lost cause, so is Yamamoto.
3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
The Oilers can undeniably get a lot for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in a trade, but why should they even try?
One of the many problems facing the Oilers, as alluded to above, is a lack of depth up front beyond their two superstars in McDavid and Draisaitl. So, in what world is a decent solution to that problem to trade their third-leading scorer? Especially after the best season of his career, during which Nugent-Hopkins scored 69 points?
Nugent-Hopkins is a center, can play on the wing, is only 26 but in his prime, and under contract for the next two seasons at a reasonable $6 million hit. Holland would just be opening up one hole to fill another with any hypothetical trade. Sure, the defense has long been considered a bigger issue, but there are also untouchables there.
2. Darnell Nurse
Defenseman Darnell Nurse didn’t really have a break-out campaign as much as he did an elite one from a scoring perspective. He had already put together a great 26-point 2017-18. He built upon it with a 41-pont 2018-19 campaign.
The 24-year-old will only be a restricted free agent at the end of next season and will have earned a massive raise. The Oilers, barring a massive misjudgment, should be the ones to give it to him.
1. Oscar Klefbom
While Oscar Klefbom finished with just 28 points in 2018-19, that’s not the whole story. He only played 61 games, a pace that would have seen him biting Nurse’s heels for the team scoring lead among defenseman over the course of an entire season.
Plus, those games he missed? They coincided with a horrid 6-12-3 stretch and ex-GM Peter Chiarelli’s firing. So, if there were ever any doubts regarding Klefbom’s value to the Oilers, there you go. He helped usher in this current era of Oilers management by not even playing.
Klefbom’s that impactful of a defenseman, who’s under contract until 2023 at a reasonable $4.167 million cap hit. And, while Nurse fared well quarterbacking the power play in his absence, Klefbom still ended up with more average ice time per game on the season. He’s arguably more mobile and likely to cost less into the long term. At a position where the Oilers are clearly lacking, Klefbom is simply their most valuable player.