Oilers’ Free Agent Free-For-All — Predicting Holland’s Moves

As teams typically always have, there are free agents, restricted and unrestricted, that the Edmonton Oilers must deal with before free agency. Excluding a couple of minor contracts, we are going to look at and make predictions for the 12 free agents Ken Holland must make decisions on soon.

Restricted Free Agents (RFA)

Kailer Yamamoto

Of the RFAs (restricted free agents), Kailer Yamamoto may be at the top of the priority list to get re-signed by the Oilers. He was given a one-year, prove-it deal last offseason, with both parties betting on him to elevate his performance, and he delivered. He finished the season with 20 goals and 41 points in 81 games and proved he is a legitimate top-six winger for the team.

He gained more favour than Jesse Puljujarvi with the organization and his linemates, even though Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff had both of them as an option for the Oilers to move this offseason. Yamamoto is tenacious and the type of puck-retriever that both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl need on their line. He set career highs in every category and is a winger who can actually finish and be impactful for the Oilers. He is one of the driving forces of a much-improved second power-play unit, kills penalties efficiently, and was very noticeable in the postseason on their run to the conference finals before getting injured.

Kailer Yamamoto Edmonton Oilers
Kailer Yamamoto, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He is able to stay relatively healthy despite his size and the physical game he plays, but the Oilers can and will bring Yamamoto back for next season. He will receive a raise and a longer term, but it will be worth it as he is developing and making a difference at the NHL level under former AHL (American Hockey League) coach Jay Woodcroft.

Jesse Puljujarvi

Puljujarvi started the season very hot alongside the Oilers’ high-powered offence, and it was looking like they finally got the player they drafted at fourth overall. He then got injured, and the season went sideways, as he struggled mightily to finish plays, even though he was skating with world-class talent.

In the first 46 games before his injury, he scored 12 goals and 28 points. After he returned a month later, he scored two goals and eight points in 19 games, even though he had ample opportunities to finish plays. His potential is a happy medium of that, as he isn’t the point-per-game player right now that he was when he started the season on a six-game points streak scoring two goals and nine points. But he’s also not as bad as his luck showed, considering Woodcroft said he’d be concerned if Puljujarvi wasn’t getting to the right spots to score.

Puljujarvi is one of the best forecheckers, and his underlying numbers continuously say he’s more impactful than just his offensive numbers show. The Oilers will bring him back on another short-term deal so he can once again prove he is worth keeping around. If things go sideways, there are more than enough interested parties around the league who will jump at the opportunity to give him a shot.

Ryan McLeod

Ryan McLeod was a very important and underrated player for the Oilers. He even spent a little time in the AHL before returning to the NHL club and showing drastic improvement over the course of the season. He moved up the lineup and should be the third-line centre moving forward, as he possesses the skating ability to carry the puck up the ice on his own at five-on-five and on the second power-play unit.

In his rookie season, McLeod scored nine goals and 21 points and proved to be the team’s swiss army knife as he can play in any situation, with anyone, and on any line if needed. He is a great option for the Oilers on the penalty kill as he is quick and has a good active stick to block passing lanes. The Oilers will be effective in locking him up, but it may be on a bridge type of deal for three years considering the growth and potential he has already shown and here he will be playing for a few seasons.

Tyler Benson

As Allan Mitchell of The Athletic states, Tyler Benson is at a career crossroads. He has very good numbers in the AHL in his career but hasn’t been able to transfer that over to the NHL. He is also a stellar playmaker but was stuck on the fourth line in Edmonton due to his lack of production in his 36 NHL games, where he has just one goal and three points (from ‘Lowetide: Edmonton Oilers’ Tyler Benson is at a career crossroads,’ The Athletic, June 17, 2022).

Tyler Benson Edmonton Oilers
Tyler Benson, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Benson was expected to be in the Oilers’ top-nine already as he was picked high in the second round of the 2016 draft and dominated in the minors. The Oilers were hoping his production and talent would look like what McLeod is doing in the NHL already as a high second-round pick. He altered his game to be more physical, as it’s the only way he will stick in the NHL if he can’t produce, but it wasn’t enough to warrant keeping him on the team over other depth forwards who can play physical and contribute offensively.

Benson cleared waivers during the season, but that doesn’t mean teams don’t want him. The Oilers will do what they can to trade his rights this offseason, possibly for another once highly touted prospect that may be needing a change in scenery as well. If not, a draft pick would do just fine in helping the Oilers restock their picks for the 2022 draft.

Brendan Perlini

When the Oilers brought on Brendan Perlini at the start of the season, the hope was that he would be able to find his scoring touch from a few seasons ago and be a solid depth forward. He had flashes of solid play and popped off in the preseason, but he never really got going during the regular season.

Perlini scored four goals and five points in 23 games but averaged under 8:30 of ice time a night. He was sent down multiple times and did come back stronger the first time, but the Oilers’ forward group just became too strong and crowded for him to stick around and provide minimal offensive production. There wouldn’t be much of a use to keep him around from the Oilers’ standpoint, so they will likely not qualify him, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent (UFA).

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA)

Evander Kane

Evander Kane is a tricky one, considering he warrants a big raise. The Oilers got very lucky to be able to add him mid-season for just $2.1 million. He was much more than the team could have hoped for, as he is a big reason why they not only sustained the strong play down the stretch but also won two playoff rounds.

Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kane scored a combined 35 goals and 56 points in 58 games and is still leading the playoffs in goals with 13, two more than the next closest players. He brings physicality and grit along with a very high level of offensive talent, as he is able to finish plays. He mostly produced at even strength since the Oilers have a ton of help on their top power-play unit, but he is able to fill in in an instant. There are complications with the San Jose Sharks while other teams are interested, so it will be tough to bring Kane back. The Oilers have expressed the want to do so, and they have the advantage considering who he gets to play with every night and the chance to consistently make the playoffs and possibly win. I say they work around their money as they are expected to do and keep him around for four to five more seasons.

Brett Kulak

It seems as though Brett Kulak has narrowed his decision on where he wants to play next season and beyond down to two teams, the Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Those are two different paths for the immediate future, and he will have to decide what he values more. Does he want to play on a team that has a chance to win right away and be in a lesser role, or does he want to be a part of a rebuilding team and help mentor young players while having a larger role?

Related: Penguins’ Free Agent Issue Could Result in a Trade for Oilers’ Barrie

Kulak was a huge part of the improvement on the back end, especially to the third pairing with Tyson Barrie. Kulak elevated every partner he had and won’t break the bank to bring back. He is at the age where he should be playing the best hockey of his career, and after two strong playoff runs with the Canadiens and the Oilers, he is still without a Cup. I think he will choose winning over a larger role, therefore staying with the Oilers, as most hockey players are the type of person who will do what they can for the team, especially seeing how he plays the game.

Josh Archibald

Josh Archibald fought back after being diagnosed with a heart condition last year and was an effective piece for the Oilers near the very end of the season and especially during playoffs. This season, he wasn’t the most effective in the points department, recording just two assists in 21 games, but he brings a lot more to the table that the Oilers loved in his fourth-line role.

Josh Archibald Edmonton Oilers
Josh Archibald, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Archibald consistently works very hard and will hit anything that moves, which is even more impressive considering his size. The way he plays the game, he is able to create energy for the team and wear them down. He had 51 hits in 13 playoff games. He doesn’t have to play every night, but what he did once he returned to the lineup surely made it hard to keep him out. There will be some depth players on their way out of Edmonton, so they should try to keep a few around as well. The Oilers will bring him back for cheap for one to two seasons as they know what they’re getting, and hopefully, the offensive production returns.

Kris Russell

Kris Russell may have played his last game with the Oilers. It is getting pretty crowded on the back end with the young talent pushing for spots in the NHL. Expected to be competing are Philip Broberg, Markus Niemelainen, and even possibly Dmitri Samorukov if the team doesn’t trade him.

The Oilers brought him back on a one-year deal before the expansion draft to be able to prove the Seattle Kraken with enough options. The 35-year-old only got in 31 games but played very well at the end of the season. He often got in the lineup when the Oilers were running seven defencemen and continued to be counted on in the defensive end. He should be approaching the end of his career, and though he has provided the Oilers with consistent play during his tenure with the club, they will let him go to free agency and once again count on their prospects to fill a hole in the lineup.

Derick Brassard

Derick Brassard made an initial splash when he came over and joined the Oilers from the Philadelphia Flyers with a goal in his first game and immediate chemistry on the third line, but he tailed off after that. He only ended up playing one game and less than 8:30 of ice time in that game in the playoffs.

Derick Brassard Edmonton Oilers
Derick Brassard, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

There should be no doubt that the Oilers won’t opt to bring back the 34-year-old, as they have younger prospects at forward also trying to get into the lineup. The Oilers will take their chances on their youth and let Brassard hit the free agent market, that is, if he doesn’t call it a career.

Kyle Turris

The Kyle Turris experiment didn’t work out after the Oilers signed him for two years. He was expected to initially be the third-line centre the team had been searching for but played a total of 50 games over the two seasons and spent time in the minors instead. He also recorded just three goals and nine points, not warranting a new deal or even a thought from the Oilers in bringing him back for another chance.

Colton Sceviour

The Oilers got a nice surprise from Colton Sceviour this season, as he was a PTO (professional tryout) who turned that into a one-year deal. He ended up playing 35 games with the Oilers and clearly worked hard every shift he was on the ice. He played under 10 minutes a night but scored two goals and five points. Most of his time with the team was in the first half of the season, as he was then sent down when the forward group crowded up. The Oilers won’t bring him back, but he may have played himself into an actual deal with another team for next season.

General manager Ken Holland and the Oilers have a lot of work ahead of them in what should be a busy offseason for acquisitions, signings, and trades. Stay tuned to see how many of these predictions come true.

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