The Edmonton Oilers have been without Dylan Holloway for quite a while now since he suffered an injury on Feb. 20 that kept him out for a month. The Oilers have done quite well without Holloway as the trade deadline came soon after that, and not only did they get Nick Bjugstad to fill a key role in the bottom six in his absence, but they also added Mattias Ekholm, who has provided great value.
Holloway has returned from injury and scored his first goal since healing up for the Bakersfield Condors. What could be seen as a short conditioning stint in the American Hockey League (AHL) could also end up being longer than expected, as the Oilers’ cap space isn’t exactly great, and they have been filling their lineup just fine for the past month. So let’s look at the pros, likeliness, and when we should expect Holloway to return to the Oilers and start playing games for them again.
How Long Should Holloway Stay in the AHL?
Holloway returned to action on March 25 and scored in the second half of a back-to-back against the San Jose Barracuda, where he earned the first star of the game. He has quickly gotten back up to speed, and it shouldn’t be long before he’s ready, and president and general manager Ken Holland agrees. The issue here is that the Oilers have an impressive $0 in cap space while having 13 forwards, seven defencemen, and two goalies on the roster. But the good news is they haven’t needed 13 forwards on the roster, and the only reason they have that now is because Ryan McLeod is on the injured reserve.
The Oilers have been playing more games with 12 forwards and six defence lately, which has allowed them to get different line combinations and players playing in different spots in the lineup. Holloway could be a beneficiary of this if he were to be called up, but the cap would require some sacrifices. Seeing as he has a cap hit of $925,000, that means sending just one of Philip Broberg, Vincent Desharnais, Devin Shore, Ryan McLeod, Klim Kostin, or Nick Bjugstad down wouldn’t clear enough space, not that the Oilers would even consider sending half of those players down.
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The solution would be to either sacrifice, either Derek Ryan or Mattias Janmark to the AHL for the remainder of the regular season and risk one of them being claimed on waivers, or the more likely option is to keep Holloway playing top-line minutes in the minors. This would allow him to gain more confidence, the Oilers to keep a squad together without the risk of losing someone, and then bring Holloway back up once the cap disappears in the postseason to then get into games. Assuming that is the route the Oilers take, we will look at where he will fit into the bottom six of the Oilers, assuming the team is at full health.
Where Does Holloway Fit in the Bottom-6?
So McLeod has been injured the past five games, and the Oilers have gone 4-0-1 in that time. That’s not me making an argument that he shouldn’t be back in the lineup in his old spot once he is healthy. What I’m saying is that the Oilers have played very well, regardless of who has been in their bottom six.
Shore, the most likely candidate to come out of the lineup once either McLeod or Holloway return, has played very well, minus the goals he hasn’t produced. In his first 29 games of the season, he had three assists and played under nine minutes per game. In the 15 games since his return to the Oilers in February after doing well in the AHL, he has one goal and six points while playing 30 more seconds per game. The one goal is the concern and a big reason why he will be the first to exit the lineup. Every forward who has played a decent amount of games for the Oilers has at least 10 goals other than Janmark (eight), Holloway (three), and Shore (from “Unlikely Fab Five helping drive Edmonton Oilers to winning record in 2023”, Edmonton Journal, Mar. 7, 2023).
At the very least, Warren Foegele and Bjugstad have solidified their spots on the third line, leaving one spot open. Whether Ryan, McLeod, Kostin, Janmark or Holloway wins that role will be up to their play from the remaining games. Seeing as Holloway won’t get much of a chance to compete in the NHL, he has to continue to play great hockey in Bakersfield to warrant a more instant promotion to the third line once he’s back.
Since I don’t expect Shore to get postseason playing time, and the Oilers will likely continue rolling 12 forwards and six defence out every night, that still leaves how the fourth line will turn out and who the 13th forward will be. Though Kostin has played a hard game, his offence hasn’t clicked lately, and he’s been a healthy scratch in more than one game (from “Will new Edmonton Oilers centre Nick Bjugstad ramp up The Kostin Effect?”, Edmonton Journal, Mar. 2, 2023). The benefit of having him in the lineup is that the playoff games will be rough.
Janmark and Ryan don’t have the size or physicality to match that whereas Holloway does. He’s taller and weighs more than Janmark and Ryan while also hitting much more. Holloway’s faceoff percentage has not been good, while Ryan and McLeod have been better. Therefore, the best and likeliest place we should find Holloway is on the left wing of the fourth line come playoff time, with the potential to move up to the third line if his play warrants it.
Despite the little amount of playing time this season for Holloway, the Oilers aren’t going to be in the same bad cap circumstances where they have to have him play games in the minors next season. He is only getting better, and while the Oilers are in win-now mode, the rookie is able to provide what the team needs and solidify his spot in the top nine soon.