4 Oilers On the Bubble That Are Standing Out In Preseason

The Edmonton Oilers have played four preseason games and while the team is mostly set, there are a couple of spots up for grabs and you won’t be able to convince a few names on this training camp roster that they don’t have a shot at the big club. A handful of players are in on PTOs, with prospects coming up through the system that are looking to make a mark and give the coaches a reason for pause.

Of the players who might be on the bubble, below are the top four standouts of the preseason thus far.

Jason Demers

In on a PTO, Jason Demers is likely a long-shot to make the team, but his veteran experience and production in the few games he’s played for the Oilers have stood out. He’s scored a goal, been in on a number of other plays and he’s making the simple and effective play more times than not.

Demers said he was just happy to be skating with the boys, which sort of suggests he knows where he’s at, but his play has been effective and it might serve Edmonton well to offer him a two-way deal if he’ll accept it. The Oilers are only at 44 contracts so he could make some sense down in Bakersfield and be always ready for a call-up in the event of injuries.

Luke Esposito

If you were to ask most Oilers fans who Luke Esposito was, you might not get much of a response. He is a relative unknown but he’s played an effective game. He was just loaned to Bakersfield of the AHL on Sunday so his preseason run with the Oilers is over, but he’ll be a name we don’t overlook moving forward.

As Kurt Leavins of The Edmonton Journal writes:

“Esposito has had an admirable run in this training camp and ended up playing more games than most might have guessed. But he earned them. It sends a strong message to players already on or considering AHL deals that they can get a fair shot from there. It is a valuable acquisition and development tool.”

source – ‘As the Edmonton Oilers prepare to pare the roster, the value of pre-season comes into focus: 9 Things’ – Kurt Leavins – Edmonton Journal – 09/02/2022

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Esposito hasn’t been getting a ton of minutes, but he’s been noticeable in a positive way and in the game against Calgary, he was on the ice and elevated to a role with some higher-skilled players. He set up the Brett Kulak goal with a nice rush and he’s gotten some attention by winning puck battles, causing turnovers, and keeping plays alive. He even got into a bit of a scrap during Saturday’s game against the Jets. He’s not going to make this team, but he’s making a case that he should be an early call-up.

Dylan Holloway

Holloway is likely to make this team because of his contract situation, but his play is giving the Oilers coaching staff and GM Ken Holland a reason to believe he’ll stay on the main roster. He’s been fast, skilled, and healthy, which is going to be a key factor that determines how often and where he plays.

In some games, Holloway has been one of the better players on the ice for both teams and that’s a great sign. If you look at the pass he gave to Demers to score a power play goal on Saturday you can see he’s got good vision and playmaking ability. The real wow factor is his speed. It’s incredible and if you add him to a roster that has Connor McDavid, Ryan McLeod, and a deceptively fast Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers may be one of the faster teams in the NHL.

Markus Niemelainen

The assumption coming into camp was that Philip Broberg had the last spot on the left side of the Oilers blue line locked up. Some thought he would have to play his way off of the team if he wasn’t on the opening night player roster. But, Markus Niemelainen has made a strong case that it isn’t that simple.

Markus Niemelainen Edmonton Oilers
Markus Niemelainen, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Broberg hasn’t been terrible, but his added muscle may have slowed him down a touch. Meanwhile, Niemelainen has offered the Oilers steady play and an attribute the team is lacking — physical toughness. This is a player who likes to hit and doesn’t mind being hit. He’s engaging all the time and in a few instances has nearly laid guys out with a monster check. This is something that keeps the opponents honest and it’s a character trait the Oilers might value.

Of these four, Holloway might be the one player who starts the season in Edmonton. Demers isn’t guaranteed a contract, but has earned consideration for one, while Niemelainen and Esposito have made a case they should be among the first call-ups when injuries or the unexpected happen.

** Honorable mention goes out to Tyler Benson who had a really solid game on Saturday. He’s showing he might have taken a step in the right direction and could see some NHL action this season.

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