3 Oilers Who Could Surprise This Season

The Edmonton Oilers know they’ll be getting big seasons from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in 2021-22. They’re banking on it from newcomer Zach Hyman and believe Jesse Puljujarvi can take another big step forward to help Edmonton contend for the Stanley Cup.

Of course, nothing ever goes completely according to plan, and even the greatest teams can’t win a championship without getting significant contributions from surprise sources. So, who could provide that on the 2021-22 Oilers? Here are three such players that no one expects much from but might be much more appreciated once the puck drops.

William Lagesson

It seems like every year, Lagesson enters training camp on the verge of being an Oilers regular. That has never materialized, however, and now at age 25, the Swedish blueliner is looking up at seven or eight defencemen ahead of him on the Oilers’ depth chart.

Lagesson actually had a stint on Edmonton’s top shutdown pairing alongside Adam Larsson early last season. He played seven consecutive games from Jan. 31 to Feb. 15, a span that saw Edmonton go 5-2, with Lagesson posting either an even or positive plus/minus rating in each game.

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But after being hurt against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 15, Lagesson was out of the lineup until March 10 and never did regain his place in Oilers head coach Dave Tippett’s lineup. He ended up a healthy scratch for 17 of Edmonton’s final 19 regular-season games and didn’t dress for any of the Oilers’ four games in their first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Jets.

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Over three seasons of playing pro in North America, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Lagesson has shown to be a physical player that skates well and can move the puck. He’s been capable on the penalty kill, albeit in a small size of 27 career NHL games. He ranked top three on the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors in plus/minus in both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 AHL seasons.

There’s reason to believe there’s an NHL player in Lagesson. But seven years after being drafted 91st overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Swedish rearguard, for whatever reason, is yet to stick. His strengths are much greater defensively than offensively, and his best chance may be to stick on the roster as a seventh or eighth defenceman, potentially leading to an opportunity on Edmonton’s third pairing.

Alex Stalock

The former Minnesota Wild goaltender was claimed off waivers by the Oilers on March 1, but he never played a game for Edmonton last season. He had taken some time to recover following a myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) diagnosis after testing positive COVID-19. 

When last seen in the NHL, in 2019-20, Stalock was playing the best hockey of his decade-long pro career. He had wrested the role of Minnesota’s starting goalie away from former All-Star Devan Dubnyk. He went 9-3-1 with a 2.22 goals-against average (GAA) and .934 save percentage (SV%) in February and March before the pandemic brought the season to an early end. He started all four games and had a shutout for the lone Wild’s victory in their Stanley Cup Playoffs qualifying round loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Alex Stalock Minnesota Wild
Alex Stalock last played in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild in 2020. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The veteran netminder, who turned 34 at the end of July, caught a few eyes this summer with his play in Da Beauty League, a pick-up league in Minnesota that features high-end pro and college players, including NHL stars. He appears to be back to full health and perhaps returning to his form of a year and a half ago.

Stalock is ostensibly third on Edmonton’s goaltending depth chart, behind Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. Smith Is coming off a terrific campaign and the de facto starter but will be turning 40 this season. Koskinen is inconsistent and even his best is not on Smith’s level, but the 33-year-old’s $4.5 million contract has basically forced the Oilers to keep him on the roster.

It’s not at all unlikely that Stalock could outplay Koskinen, nor is it that far-fetched to think he could be better in stints than Smith. And with a modest $785,000 cap hit, Stalock is very affordable should the Oilers have a role for him.

Kyle Turris

Edmonton general manager Ken Holland’s signing of Kyle Turris to a two-year, $3.3 million contract last offseason drew wide praise as a low-risk, high-reward move. The hope was the veteran forward would bolster Edmonton’s depth down the middle, providing veteran presence with solid offensive ability.

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Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Turris dressed for less than half of Edmonton’s games and recorded just two goals and three assists while posting a team-worst minus-11 rating. He appeared in just two of the season’s final 15 contests and watched the playoffs from the press box, having been supplanted in Tippett’s lineup by rookie Ryan McLeod.

Turris turned 32 last month. Before last season, he had a run of averaging at least half a point per game in nine of 10 seasons. At his peak, he topped 50 points four times in five seasons between 2013-14 and 2017-18. He is better than 50% on faceoffs for his NHL career, which is an area the Oilers have notably struggled.

With Edmonton adding forwards like Warren Foegele and Derek Ryan this offseason, Turris has certainly not moved up the Oilers depth chart. But he is versatile, capable of playing both centre and right wing.

An added twist is that RFA Kailer Yamamoto remains unsigned, creating a void at right wing Edmonton’s second line where Yamamoto has played the last season and a half. Turris could potentially fill that spot or at least benefit from the domino effect Yamamoto’s absence has on the lineup.

Training camp gets underway in just about a week. Whether Yamamoto is on the ice is just one of the intriguing questions relating to the line combinations, defensive pairings, and goaltender designations. Even though the Oilers lineup may seem its most solidified, there will still be a surprise or two, and players like Lagesson, Stalock and Turris hope to be among them.

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