Oilers Biggest Training Camp Battles Heading Into 2022-23 Season

Now that the Edmonton Oilers’ preseason has begun, many players are vying to lock down a roster spot. With the Oilers’ cap so tight, it has made a number of players’ jobs in the NHL less safe. A player who should have been on the opening night roster may very well find himself in the American Hockey League (AHL). There are also a lot of training camp battles including those involving a number of young players and prospects.

We’re going to look at the right-wing position and which players are fighting for a chance to play in the top-six, then we’ll shift to Dylan Holloway, who is making a strong case for a roster spot. Next, is the battle for the fourth line positions and, finally, who will be the seventh defenceman?

How the Oilers’ Right-Wing Will Play Out

The Oilers have many players who can or have played on the right wing. Here’s a list of all the players who could get a look on the right side this season: Kailer Yamamoto, Evander Kane, Zach Hyman, Jesse Puljujarvi, Holloway, Warren Foegele, and Derek Ryan.

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Of that group, Kane will only play on the right wing if Leon Draisaitl moves up to the top line, as we saw during the 2022 playoffs. Otherwise, you can expect him to stay on the left side. Hyman may find himself on the right more often than Kane, but only if the Oilers decide to keep Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the second line and not move him down.

Holloway can play all positions and is a natural centre, but it’s rare for a young player entering the league to start in the middle, and the Oilers’ centre position is already quite strong. If Holloway is going to make the team, it will be on the right and most likely on the third line, as he should have a strong veteran presence in Nugent-Hopkins on his line.

Dylan Holloway Bakersfield Condors
Dylan Holloway, Bakersfield Condors (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Last season, Puljujarvi was pushed down the lineup after his production completely dried up. This season, he plans on coming back strong. It doesn’t seem like he will get an initial look on the top line with Connor McDavid and Kane, but he will get a chance in the top-six to prove himself. His defensive game has never been questioned, but if his offensive production doesn’t improve, he will be a bottom-six player. Otherwise, he will be fighting for a chance to again play on the top line over Yamamoto.

Yamamoto earned his spot on the top line based on his performance in 2021-22. He has great chemistry with Draisaitl and has typically been slotted in on the second line instead of the first. If Nugent-Hopkins is also off the line and set to play on the third, there is less of a point in keeping Draisaitl and Yamamoto together just for the sake of it. The Oilers are trying to spread the wealth for three efficient scoring lines.

As for the fourth line, Ryan is a centre but can and has played right-wing. He is strong defensively and in the faceoff circle, which makes him more likely to centre that line. Meanwhile, Foegele was shifted to the right side since the left is so crowded. He has experience on the right wing from his time with the Carolina Hurricanes, and it could spark some more production from him this season as a result.

Holloway Making Strong Case

Holloway had a great Young Stars tournament in Penticton and came out flying when training camp opened. In the Oilers’ first preseason game, he earned first star honours, and rightfully so. He dominated from his very first shift, creating an opportunity for the first goal and added one of his own in the third period.

Holloway led the team with six shots, nine shot attempts, and three takeaways in the preseason opener and had three hits and over three minutes on the power play and penalty kill (from “Player reviews: Dylan Holloway shines as Oilers stop Jets 4-0 in preseason opener”, Edmonton Journal, 9/25/22). When was the last time we saw a prospect come out of the gates this hot in the preseason? Not for a while. If his stellar play continues, he will lock up a spot and be a great addition when the Oilers very much need his low cap hit.

Fourth Line Roster Battle

The Oilers need every bit of cap space they can get. Ryan and Mattias Janmark earn the same salary and are unrestricted free agents after this season. Both can play centre, and one will centre the fourth line this season. The other player likely slotted in there is Foegele. The problem here is even though these three are the most logical players to form the Oilers’ fourth line, one will have to be moved for the team to be cap compliant.

The most obvious choice is Janmark since Ryan is great on draws, solid in his own end, and can contribute on special teams. The Oilers also have more left-wing options to replace Janmark on the fourth line. The wild card is if the team decides to send Foegele down instead.

Foegele would also clear the same amount of cap space as Ryan or Janmark if he were to clear waivers and be sent down ($1.125 million). The difference is that Foegele has the best shot at being claimed and relieving the Oilers of his cap hit ($2.75 million) for this season and next. Management likely already has their favourites and a plan, but great or poor performances will change that very quickly.

Players in Contention for Oilers’ Seventh Defenseman

Looking at the back end, the top-six is almost guaranteed to make the team. That leaves the battle for the seventh spot mostly up for grabs. Names in contention – in order of likelihood – include Ryan Murray, Dmitri Samorukov, Markus Niemelainen, Vincent Desharnais, Jason Demers, and Michael Kesselring.

At this point, there is a very slim chance the final three players make it. They will hang around in preseason, but nothing will come of it other than some gained experience.

Murray was the seventh defenceman for the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche and was signed to a league-minimum contract ($750,000) this offseason to play the same role in Edmonton. Though there is a strong chance he makes the team because of that and his cap hit, Samorukov is no longer waiver exempt if he is sent down. Considering he is one of the best young prospects in the organization’s system, it would be a shame to lose him. He will likely be playing top minutes for the Bakersfield Condors if all goes well and be one of, if not the first, call-up if needed (from “How Edmonton Oilers’ salary cap and training camp impacts roster decisions”, The Athletic, 9/25/22).

Dmitri Samorukov Bakersfield Condors
Dmitri Samorukov, Bakersfield Condors (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Niemelainen played 20 games for the Oilers last season, and considering he is waiver-exempt, the choice is that much easier. He, too, will be one of the first call-ups if the team needs a defender, but the battle is really between Murray and Samorukov. Murray makes $25,000 less than Samorukov, and that makes a difference when every dollar matters this season.

This preseason is an important and somewhat difficult one for Edmonton. The team is finally in a position to compete for the Stanley Cup and will make whatever moves they can to put the best team on the ice every night. Players may be lost, and there may be surprises, so stay tuned as the battles intensify.

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