The Edmonton Oilers extended qualifying offers to four of seven eligible players. There weren’t many surprises here. All four players are young and have potential. Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan McLeod have earned their spots on the team, while they may sign Jesse Puljujarvi in order to trade him this summer. Finally, Tyler Benson was on the fence for me as he played most of the season in the American Hockey League (AHL), and time is running out. Here’s a look at each of the four players and what they project to do this coming season.
Yamamoto has earned top-six minutes and has played well beside Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl on the right-wing. He is small, yet he isn’t afraid of anyone and will make hits and retrieve any puck. He is a great complementary player for a cheap price on the wing and should receive the longest and most lucrative extension of the four players.
He didn’t have the best start last season, but he worked hard to earn his minutes in the top-six, becoming a key part of the second power-play unit, and killing penalties. Though Yamamoto may spend time on the top line alongside McDavid, he isn’t a top-line winger right now. With all the young and talented prospects developing and getting closer to reaching the NHL, he will likely be the second-line right-winger who may slot in the middle-six down the line. He set career highs in goals (20) and points (41), and on the top line, he scored a goal in seven of eight games during one stretch, also adding five assists.
The Oilers and Yamamoto will likely agree on a four to five-year deal at a fair price, definitely for less than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman. He will be in his prime by the time his contract is up, and it’s not a huge risk for the Oilers. If he breaks out, that’s perfect, but if he underperforms, it won’t be the most difficult thing to move him, either.
Puljuajrvi isn’t as good as he showed at the beginning of the season, scoring six goals and 13 points in the first 11 games. But he also isn’t as bad offensively as he played down the stretch and into playoffs, with just four goals and 13 points in the final 37 games after the Christmas break.
In the playoffs, Puljujarvi averaged just 10 minutes of ice time per game and scored two goals and three points. He was a non-factor but, as it goes, if you’re playing well and producing, you will play more. The Oilers had an important run that couldn’t be slowed down by giving a player more ice time than he deserved despite an impressionable time in the NHL.
I would love for Puljujarvi to stick around on a solid deal, turn things around and become as consistent offensively as he is defensively, but it seems his time in Edmonton has come to an end after a second unsuccessful attempt to get his career going. Now that the 2022 NHL Draft has passed and the Oilers forward wasn’t traded to add picks, it’s more likely he will be swapped for another struggling young talent also in need of a fresh start. If he somehow makes it to the Oilers’ training camp without being dealt, expect him to play no higher than the third line and signed to a very short-term deal with a low AAV (average annual value) to prove himself, yet again.
McLeod really impressed in his rookie season and gained the trust of the coaching staff to play in any situation. He has great speed and can carry the puck up the ice with control. He may not have been the most offensive player, scoring nine goals and 21 points in 71 games, but he did so much more around the ice.
I said it all season, McLeod was the Oilers’ Swiss Army knife, killing penalties, playing an important role on the second power-play unit and playing both centre and on the wing when needed. The team suffered through injuries in the first half of the season, and the young forward came in and slotted into the top-six when needed. He also mostly played down the middle in the bottom-six this season and has a firm grip on the third-line centre position for next season.
McLeod should earn himself a short-term deal (two to three years max), so the Oilers can see him develop, and he can get paid in due time if he does. It will be difficult for him to earn anything more than third-line ice time for the foreseeable future since the team has McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins, but for the Oilers to have an effective third-line centre is very important, especially young and homegrown talent.
The Oilers must still have some hope and plans for Benson, or they would have let him become an unrestricted free agent. He has had a very impressive AHL career but hasn’t been able to transfer that offensive success to the NHL. He finally scored his first NHL goal in his 30th game (23rd this season) and has just two assists in 36 career games. In the AHL, he has scored 38 goals and 153 points in 174 games and is known as a great playmaker.
He hasn’t been given an opportunity to play higher than the fourth line due to the lack of space on the roster, but players find ways to produce with less ice time and opportunity, and that’s how their time and chances increase. Benson played 29 games for the Oilers this season before the team put him on waivers, and he finished the season with the Bakersfield Condors.
Since he wasn’t producing offensively, he transformed his game to become a physical and hard-working depth player, but the team had a few physical players and a couple more hard-working small players. However, there may be an opportunity for him this season with Zack Kassian traded, Evander Kane’s return in question, and Josh Archibald set to hit free agency. Benson will likely just get a one-year deal, and if he can’t stick around as a depth player, he will be gone by the following season.
The three players that the Oilers didn’t qualify are Brendan Perlini, Ostap Safin, and Filip Berglund. Perlini was sent to the minors twice last season and wasn’t in the NHL for the most important games after the Oilers took a chance on him. Safin didn’t really amount to much in Bakersfield and split time between the AHL and the ECHL over the past three seasons. While Berglund, despite showing promise in the Swedish Hockey League over the past few seasons, didn’t stand out in Bakersfield in his first season and is now 25 years old. The Oilers were making room and couldn’t see a future where any of these players made a difference.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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