Now that the Edmonton Oilers know that Connor McDavid is going to be out long term with a broken left clavicle GM Peter Chiarelli is going to have to get creative to keep the Oilers in the thick of things. The general consensus is that the Oilers without McDavid have reverted back to being a top five lottery team in a lot of eyes. McDavid is expected to be out 4-12 weeks.
Yes things are looking bleak but the Oilers reverting back to a lottery team that could draft Auston Matthews first overall next summer bleak? Let’s not lose focus here, sure the Oilers have their fair share of warts this year but there are some good things happening in Edmonton that we can’t slight. Taylor Hall is third in league scoring with six goals and 16 points in 13 games.
The Oilers have four players in the top 60 for points, name the last time that happened? Connor McDavid (12 points), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (11 points) and Nail Yakupov (10 points) have been outstanding out of the gate. With McDavid out things are about to get interesting in Edmonton.
The razor thin depth at center for the Oilers is about to rear it’s ugly head. Chiarelli is going to have to figure out how to give head coach Todd McLellan a chance here in the short term. Edmonton currently has plenty of depth players, but those players are just that, depth players.
There really isn’t an option in the bottom six that can move up into the No.2 center role behind RNH that is completely viable. So what do the Oilers do?
Taylor Hall – The Oilers can try Hall at center again like they did last year but that was an experiment that didn’t work out so favorably. Moving Hall to center was a hindrance on his style of play. If you compare his shot total from 2013-14 (80 points in 75 games) and 2014-15 (38 points in 53 games) he dropped from 3.33 shots/game to 2.98 shots/game. The only reason that number is closer is because of the move back to wing in the latter parts of Hall’s year before injury. Edmonton can try Hall at center again but doing so would mean knowing they won’t get the same player they get that plays the wing.
Leon Draisaitl – All indications from McLellan state that Draisaitl is going to get the first crack at the No.2 center position. It’s going to be interesting to see what he can do when he’s not on the same line as Hall and RNH. Draisaitl is on a tear right now with 7 points in 3 games. Should Edmonton be breaking up one of the two lines that were driving the bus offensively? Probably not, but what better options do they have right now in house? Draisaitl struggled at center ice last year, it was well documented and his 40.6 FO% isn’t something to be proud of.
Beniot Pouliot – The line of Pouliot-McDavid-Yakupov has been stellar and with 2/3 members still in the lineup and the pending return of Jordan Eberle it might be something to try here. Pouliot wasn’t much better than Draisaitl last year and had a 38.2 FO% through 58 games. If you’re looking to keep the most consistency with the lineups and keeping pairings together, moving Pouliot to center might be an option here.
Jordan Eberle – Coming back from injury Eberle hasn’t played center on a regular basis since his junior days. Even then he was a far better contributor on the wings where he was allowed to tap into his creativity. That’s the same creativity that led the Oilers in scoring last season. There’s plenty of options with Eberle who isn’t all that bad defensively either, he was nominated for a Lady Byng in 2012. Still Eberle could have an impact but surely some fancy stats guru might tell you otherwise.
Anton Lander – Todd Nelson gave him a chance last year and alot of those same opportunities are still being given to a lesser extent by McLellan. Still Lander hasn’t been strong this season and quite frankly he’s inconsistent and is losing more battles than he’s winning right now.
Teddy Purcell – This is a really surprising stat but if you look at the Oiler forwards that played over 50 games last year, Purcell had the leading FO% last year with 57.1%. Purcell hasn’t stood out at all in Edmonton this season, in fact he looks absolutely lost on some nights. The Oilers are paying a pretty penny at $4.5M and it’s unlikely they’ll be extending Purcell either this summer. Still Purcell is third amongst forwards with 30 shots this season but has just 4 points in 13 games. He’s also leading the forwards with a -7 rating.
Andrew Miller – Miller has already got a call-up and will be the first of the three to get a look. Miller has 6 points in 8 games in the AHL and 6 points in 10 career NHL games. He has yet to find his footing in the Oilers organization. Miller, 27, is a UFA at the end of the year.
Bogdan Yakimov – Yakimov, 21, is off to a slow start in the AHL this season offensively but his all around game is slowly coming together. Last year he dressed for one game in Edmonton after a strong preseason. He had 12 goals and 28 points in 57 games at the AHL level last year.
Jujhar Khaira – Khaira, 21, much like Yakimov is still learning the pro game and is still far away from being a contributor at the NHL level, even in a limited fourth line role. Khaira has 4 points in 10 games in Bakersfield and is coming off a disappointing 2014-15 that saw him score just 10 points in 51 games.
Derek Roy – Roy, 32, has ended up in Switzerland this season playing for SC Bern. He has 4 points in 7 games and more importantly was the guy Edmonton settled on last year to center a line with Yakupov after the Draisaitl experiment faltered. Roy saw a minor resurgance in Edmonton but all around isn’t the same player he used to be. That being said he’s the guy that put up 22 points in 46 games next to Yakupov last year.
Mike Richards – Richards, 30, doesn’t have a contract with any team and quite frankly no one has touched him since his arrest this summer. Legal proceedings aside you have to think there is a team willing to give a guy who captained the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010 and has won at every level in hockey a second chance here sooner or later. Richards had 16 points in 53 games playing on the fourth line with the LA Kings last season.
Olli Jokinen – Jokinen, 36, is at the end of the line of his career. He bounced around between Nashville, Toronto and St.Louis last year and managed just 10 points in 62 games. There really isn’t much left for the former star from Finland, but this is what’s out there on the UFA market right now people.
Stephen Weiss – No one has heard much from Weiss after Detroit bought out the final year of his contract making him a UFA. Now 32 the former fourth overall pick might be all out of second chances after his struggles with the Red Wings and his ability to stay healthy. Weiss had 25 points in 52 games last season.
Forget about the Oilers going after the big guns like Eric Staal (Carolina), Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay) and Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles). Edmonton needs a short-term answer, not something that would see them give up several promising assets for a rental. This might be a situation where the Oilers target pending UFA’s, similar to what they did with Roy last year. Pick up someone for cheap and hope to move them later when McDavid is healthy in 4-12 weeks.
There are plenty of options but here are three names you might not think could be available but could be buy low options right now.
Sam Gagner (Philadelphia) – Before everyone starts throwing a tantrum, let’s just state the obvious and say Gagner has struggled since he got his raise at the end of 2013-14. That being said this is a guy that was very well liked in the Oilers dressing room and someone the players knew would show up on game day. Gagner will never be what his draft expectations were supposed to be but he’s still got 5 points in 10 games playing on the third-line in Philadelphia with Brayden Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier. Edmonton could bring him in for cheap and under McLellan play him in protected minutes that highlight him as a PP specialist.
Brayden Schenn (Philadelphia) – This one doesn’t apply to the UFA rental theory but it does give the Oilers a long-term answer in the No.3 center spot with them shifting Anton Lander to the fourth line either as a winger or center to play with Letestu. Schenn has been long rumored to be on the way out of Philadelphia and is a huge chip. It’ll cost a penny but he’s an RFA at the end of the year and is exactly the type of No.3 center the Oilers need. Schenn can also fill in as a decent No.2 option.
Shawn Matthias (Toronto) – Matthias is struggling out of the gate in Toronto with just 2 points in 10 games, but so is everyone else. Matthias, 28, scored 18 goals last season for Vancouver and is on a cap friendly one year $2.5M deal. Edmonton can buy low and move him down the depth chart into a valuable spot in the bottom six once McDavid is back.