The Oilers made some notable additions to their roster heading into the 2020-21 season, including bringing back some familiar faces who hit the open market while also bringing in some new ones to help the cause. There is always risk involved with how new faces will produce on a new team, while sometimes familiarity doesn’t always lead to continued success. We will look at how each of the team’s more notable unrestricted free-agent additions last season fared in their most recent season and grade them on their performance.
Tyler Ennis – Left Wing/Right Wing
2020-21 Season Stats: Games Played: 30, Goals: 3, Assists: 6, Points: 9
The Oilers brought Ennis back into the fold this season as a depth forward on a one-year deal worth $1 million. It was a low-risk play that would give the team depth after he was acquired at the 2020 trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators. Ennis saw his role diminish as the season moved on, playing less than half of the team’s games in a shortened season but has had the benefit of playing for his hometown team as a native of Edmonton, Alberta.
He saw limited time for the Oilers in their abbreviated playoff run going pointless in two games but has not been able to find a regular role with Tippett at the helm. He has been a player with scoring upside in the past, but unless he is willing to take less than his previous contract this year to stay playing for his hometown team, he will likely have to find another organization next season.
Overall Grade: C
Jesse Puljujarvi – Right Wing
2020-21 Season Stats: GP: 55, G: 15, A: 10, P: 25
After spending all of the 2019-20 season playing in the Liiga in his native Finland, Ken Holland brought back the Oilers’ former fourth overall selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Puljujarvi inked a two-year deal with an average annual value of $1.175 million after putting up 53 points in 56 games for Karpat. He has matured over the last several seasons after a few failed attempts at the NHL level, he proved he belongs at this level this year.
Puljujarvi found a home alongside Connor McDavid’s right side and made the most of that opportunity. He created a physical presence on the team’s top line without sacrificing skill in the process like the Oilers have done in the past. His relentless forechecking helped create turnovers in the offensive zone, leading to scoring chances and goals for his linemates. The chemistry between Puljujarvi and McDavid has continued to grow throughout the season, and it seems that the duo will remain intact heading into next season to build off a successful return.
“He’s a huge part of our team, If he can make strides like he looks like he has, it’s big for our team.”Connor McDavid
If Puljujarvi can take another step forward in 2021-22, he will easily outplay his contract, which should bide well for the team. He was a clear bright spot for the team this year and a pleasant surprise considering his past struggles.
Overall Grade: B+
Mike Smith – Goaltender
2020-21 Season Stats: GP: 32, Goals Against Average: 2.31, Save Percentage: .923
Mike Smith proved again this season that age is nothing but a number, with yet another strong showing for the Oilers this season. the team rewarded him with another deal after his impressive 2019-20 season and he returned the favour this year with near Vezina caliber numbers. He was brought back on his second one-year, 35+ contract in consecutive seasons and at only $1.5 million, he outplayed his contract by a long shot.
Despite his injury struggles earlier in the season, he played over half of the games taking over the starting role over Mikko Koskinen. It is encouraging to see Smith being able to contribute at such a high level at 39 years of age and was just as solid in the team’s four playoff games with a 2.40 goals-against average (GAA) and .912 save percentage (SV%).
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Holland has hinted that he would like to bring back Smith next season and deservedly so after such a stellar season, but there will be questions on how long Smith can keep up this level of play for especially with the league expected to return to a full 82-game season.
Overall Grade: A
Kyle Turris – Center
2020-21 Season Stats: GP: 27, G: 2, A: 3, P: 5
After being given the opportunity for a fresh start in Edmonton after being bought out by Nashville, Turris was looking for a bounce-back year but fell well short of expectations. He was brought into the organization with the intentions of filling the Oilers’ need for a competent third-line center with scoring upside but failed to provide much scoring with just five on the year.
The Oilers could have lived with a low point output, but Turris failed to provide any sort of defensive help to the team or any help on the penalty kill unit finishing the year with a minus-11 rating. He was sent to the taxi squad just before the midway point of the season and did not play much after that going forward, including none in the playoffs.
Ryan McLeod emerged as a regular third-line center towards the end of the year and into the playoffs and will be Turris’ biggest competition for that spot heading into training camp for the 2021-22 season. He is still under a team-friendly contract for another year, so hopefully, Turris can put this subpar year behind him and return to form next season.
Overall Grade: F
Tyson Barrie – Defense
2020-21 Season Stats: GP: 56, G: 8, A: 40, P: 48
Tyson Barrie was another player like Turris looking for a bounce-back season after his underwhelming stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was looking to cash in big as an unrestricted free agent, but because of his down offensive numbers and flat salary cap decided it was best to take a short-term deal to increase his value. The Oilers were beneficiaries of signing Barrie to a one-year $3.75 million contract reaping all the rewards of such a talented offensive defenseman.
Barrie proved to have made a good decision benefiting from playing on such a talented offensive team and potent powerplay unit that he helped make the best in the league in the 2020-21 regular season. He played the majority of the year on the team’s top defense pair alongside Darnell Nurse, finishing the year with 21:24 of average time on ice per game. His 48 points led all defensemen in the regular season and his 24 powerplay points put him in a tie for second-most with Adam Fox.
With the season Barrie has put together as a member of the blue and orange, it is unlikely that the team will retain his services moving forward. He was successful in increasing his value on the free-agent market for the offseason and the Oilers were successful in acquiring a player on a good contract to help their blue line for a season, especially with the absence of Oscar Klefbom.
Overall Grade: A+
Pass or Fail?
Overall out of all the new faces that have joined the Oilers this last season as free agents, the majority of the signings Ken Holland made paid off and passed with flying colors. The good news for the ones that did not fare so well in their performance this season is there is always bounce-back appeal, especially for players like Turris and Ennis, even if their roles may be limited. Ken Holland will look to continue to find new free agents to add to the roster and put them in positions to succeed on the ice and hopefully earn passing grades on their report cards for their performances in the upcoming season.