Oilers Bring in Much-Needed Help Up Front

After what transpired in the first round of last season’s playoffs and the play-in round in the bubble, Ken Holland has done a nice job in finally surrounding the Edmonton Oilers’ top talent with skilled and hard-working players. There have been multiple seasons of a revolving door on the top line alongside Connor McDavid. This seems to have ended with the acquisition of Zach Hyman this offseason on the left side and the continued growth of Jesse Puljujarvi on the right wing. (‘NHL Free Agency: Edmonton Oilers sign Zach Hyman, trade Ethan Bear to Hurricanes,’ Edmonton Sun, July 29, 2021) The second line is set and will most definitely stay together if they can find the success they had playing as the top line in the 2019-20 season while McDavid was out with an injury.

The Oilers also added some depth wingers that they hope will pan out in Warren Foegele and Brendan Perlini. These two players, along with the emergence of Tyler Benson into the bottom-6, will create competition and hopefully raise the level of play. This has been a struggle for many years in finding pieces that will produce and contribute down the lineup. Competition is usually the best way to get the most out of players, and with that being the case in the upcoming season, the team is set to see hard-working shifts every time the third and fourth lines get out on the ice.

Zach Hyman

A workhorse all over the ice, Hyman will likely slot in on McDavid’s left wing for this coming season and hopefully many in the future. Hyman has experience from the past couple of seasons playing with elite players who can put the puck in the back of the net. His role in Toronto should be very similar to the role he will be playing with the Oilers, and that is retrieving pucks and going to the front of the net. Edmonton has seemed to introduce a cluster of these types of players into their lineup recently to compliment the skilled players very nicely.

Zach Hyman Maple Leafs
New Oilers forward Zach Hyman. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In two of the past three seasons, Hyman has reached the 20 goal mark, which will be crucial alongside an elite playmaker in McDavid. He didn’t reach 20 goals this past season but was on pace to hit 28 if the NHL played a full season. Hyman has had injury trouble in the past, and his style of play increases the risk. But the focus shouldn’t be on the bad that may come with Hyman, such as injuries or his contract down the line. The Oilers are in their window to win with their top five players locked up for years.

Jesse Puljujarvi

After split seasons with the Oilers and the Bakersfield Condors since being drafted in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Puljujarvi has finally earned himself a spot on the top line in Edmonton. Though he isn’t considered someone that Edmonton has just brought in, his development at the NHL level will prove a success. He was just not able to find his game at the NHL level, and people started to think he was another high drafted Oilers bust. A much-needed time away from North America to alter his mindset and attitude before returning on a team-friendly deal has proven beneficial already for both player and team.

Puljujarvi spent a season and a bit in Karpat, playing in SM-liiga, a team he played for in his two years prior to being drafted. He learned that nothing is given and that he has to earn a spot on the team. As opposed to expecting to be inserted on the top two lines with the best players without demonstrating that he could play at that pace, Puljujarvi came back to North America and worked his way up the lineup with his hard play without complaint. His hard work eventually earned him that top-line right wing and kept him there.

Jesse Puljujarvi Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Puljujarvi also got some time on the top power play unit in games, where he was noticeable. It helped that his competition for that net-front spot on the top unit was James Neal and Alex Chaisson, who were recently bought out and not re-signed. Look for Puljujarvi to compete with Kailer Yamamoto and Hyman for the net-front, puck retriever role on the league’s best power play.

Kailer Yamamoto

A player that has proven time and time again that he is willing to work and go to the dirty areas despite his size. This is part of why Kailer Yamamoto meshed with Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the Oilers’ second line two seasons ago. Before that, he had two short trials that didn’t see him sticking around much longer. But since he played very well and developed quickly in the AHL, Yamamoto forced their hand in bringing him up.

Since the third call-up in the middle of the 2019-20 season, Yamamoto hasn’t looked back. He was inserted on the aforementioned line with Draisiatl and Nugent-Hopkins and put up 26 points in 27 games. He was part of the success that this team has started to see over the past couple of seasons after missing the playoffs for 12 of the previous 13. Though it seemed like a regression or a tough season for Yamamoto last season if you were to only look at his points, he was the same player that buzzed around the ice being physical and retrieving pucks.

Warren Foegele

Foegele is the other key addition to the wing that was brought in through a 1-for-1 trade, sending Ethan Bear the other way to Carolina. A third-year full-time NHL player, Foegele has already had success in the regular season and playoffs. In the 2018-19 season, he was a key contributor for the Hurricanes, posting five goals and nine points in 15 postseason games for the club.

Foegele reached the 30 point plateau in just his second season with less than 82 games played and was on pace for 30 again in 2020-21. He is a player who will most definitely slot in on the third line and will provide energy and much-needed scoring down the lineup with what looks to be an improved bottom-6 group. The bottom-6 forward group has been weak for the Oilers for quite some time, so the insertion of new blood with proven ability will hopefully spark some life into the team, and they will be able to contend with other skilled depth on other teams each night.

Tyler Benson/Brendan Perlini

Both of these players project to be vying for a spot on the opening day roster in the bottom-6 at left wing. Along with competing with each other, Devin Shore seems to be an option after re-signing with the Oilers for two more years. There is nothing more that Benson can gain from playing in Bakersfield at this time since he was part of the most productive line in the AHL last season with Ryan McLeod and Cooper Marody.

Benson looks to join his former line-mate in McLeod on the Oilers next season, and it may be beneficial for the coaching staff to consider a trial of these two players together at some point to see if they can rekindle their magic from the minors. Since there are multiple players fighting for limited bottom-6 spots, games might be spread about, and with Benson only having seven games of NHL experience, he will have to prove himself.

Brendan Perlini Detroit Red Wings
Brendan Perlini, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Brendan Perlini joins his fourth team in his young NHL career and hopes to return to his previous form and find a home. Perlini has 30-point potential, and we saw him hit it in his second season with the Arizona Coyotes. At an AAV of $750,000 for one season and an RFA after that, Perlini could be a key piece to the success of the bottom half of the lineup in creating uneven matchups and taking advantage of playing against other teams’ less skilled bottom-6 groups. Even if the left wing is filled up, he is versatile and can play both wings. With his shooting ability, it might be beneficial to slot him in on the RW so his stick can see more of the net from the middle of the ice.

There are bound to be injuries or games missed at some point by the wingers on the Oilers’ team, so these players will look to take advantage of any opportunity given in 2021-22. All these additions to fill out the Edmonton lineup nicely will hopefully pay off. If not, there isn’t too much of a commitment to any of them other than Hyman yet. Since all of these players are young in a league that is just getting younger, this should pay off for them to see what they have. The Edmonton Oilers have put together a forward group that is much better than anyone has seen in a long time, and the organization and fans alike should be excited for things to get rolling on the upcoming season.