It may have been pitched to the masses as a battle heading into training camp but in actuality it was nothing of the sort. After agreeing to leave the KHL and signing a one-year/one-way deal in hopes of securing a spot on the Edmonton Oilers opening night roster, this was always about Anders Nilsson and no one else.
Outside of suffering an injury or falling flat on his face during the Oilers exhibition schedule, there was essentially zero chance of the 25-year old Swede not starting the 2015-16 season as Cam Talbot’s backup. To his credit, Nilsson made the most of his opportunity, stopping all 53 of the shots he faced during his three pre-season appearances, and essentially made the organization’s decision for them.
Anders Nilsson beat Ben Scrivens out for the #oilers second job in goal.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 4, 2015
Despite putting together a somewhat similar performance during his three outings, blocking 52 of the 56 pucks he had fired his way, Ben Scrivens’ fate was sealed long ago. After what truly was a dreadful campaign in 2014-15, the former Toronto Maple Leafs guardian needed much more than a strong showing during the preseason in order to keep his roster spot.
Talbot Is Clear-Cut No.1…At Least For Now
How else would you explain a team going with an unproven commodity over a guy making $2.3 million and a track record of being a decent No. 2 when used in said role? With all due respect to both players, their performance against inferior competition in meaningless exhibition games is not how Todd McLellan and Peter Chiarelli came to the decision they did on Sunday morning.
Considering the Oilers had already placed Nikita Nikitin on waivers, doing the same with Scrivens was likely something the owner of this club wanted no part of doing. While it may have been the previous regime who forked over multi-year deals to the aforementioned duo, my guess is Daryl Katz is not overly thrilled about having to bury $6.8 million in Bakersfield. Never mind the fact he will be dishing out another $3.25 million to have Andrew Ference be a No.7 defenceman for the coming year.
[Related Article: Oilers Take A Flyer On Anders Nilsson]
With that being case, would it not make more sense to have the veteran stick around as Talbot’s caddy and allow him walk via free agency in the summer? From a financial standpoint it most certainly would but there is one very important piece of the puzzle that we cannot overlook. In my mind, the Oilers are not 100% sold on their new No. 1 being the answer beyond this season and actually see Nilsson as a potential long-term solution in goal.
Nilsson Could Push For More Playing Time
After being drafted in the third round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and struggling to find his way his way in North America, Nilsson decided to go to Russia in 2014-15 in hopes of rejuvenating his career. Mission accomplished. While minuscule goaltending totals are not exactly unheard of in the KHL, the numbers the towering netminder posted during his lone season with the AK Bears speak for themselves and caught the attention of more than few NHL scouts.
It is no secret the Boston Bruins took a run at acquiring Nilsson from the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the Oilers nabbing him in early July for prospect Liam Coughlin and apparently there were a few other teams who were sniffing around. At first glance, he looks like your prototypical goaltender. Big, athletic and moves extremely well. With that said, one of the knocks on him during his time with the Islanders was the fact he moved too much and was far from being positionally sound.
That clearly was not the case in the KHL and the same appears to be holding true in Edmonton. While it is still far too early to tell how things will play out, there has been nothing but positive signs when it comes to his overall game. If he can maintain a similar level throughout much of the season, you can bet the Oilers new bench boss will give him more than his fair share of starts to prove his worth.
Make no mistake, this is Cam Talbot’s gig and if he lives up to expectations, it will probably earn him a multi-year extension. However, should the former New York Rangers backup struggle with the weight that comes with being a team’s No. 1 goaltender, it could open the door for Anders Nilsson to show if he has what it takes to seize yet another opportunity. Let the battle begin.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.