At an important and pivotal point in the season for the Edmonton Oilers, Jesse Puljujarvi suffered an injury that will likely keep him out three to four weeks. The Oilers’ schedule is crammed, and they are finally in a good spot, holding third in the Pacific Division just two points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for second with one game in hand.
Puljujarvi was just getting going and had been playing on the top line with Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman. He has also been a key part of the power play, as he’s their net-front presence. With the injury that hopefully keeps him out for just three weeks, there will likely be someone getting their shot, whether it’s another young player or a veteran.
Reason to Go Younger Rather Than With a Veteran
If the Oilers go with a veteran, Colton Sceviour, who was the most recently demoted player to the American Hockey League once the Oilers got healthy and signed Evander Kane, could be an option. Since then, the team signed Brad Malone to a one-year $750k deal and put him through waivers, making him another potential choice. But they could also bring up Kyle Turris even though I believe his time with the Oilers is done unless they are really needing bodies.
But a more exciting option would be to look younger and to players with more skill, especially with a young coach who has coached these players. The options that I think could benefit under Jay Woodcroft are Dylan Holloway, Cooper Marody, or Seth Griffith.
Some may say that Holloway is too young and inexperienced, but Woodcroft has not been shy of giving young players playing time and an opportunity since taking over as head coach. It’s still likely that he needs a little more time to get accustomed to professional hockey, as he has only appeared in 11 games this season with the Bakersfield Condors.
Holloway will be with the team sooner than later, and his big frame would replace what the Oilers lose in Puljujarvi for possibly a month. But the biggest issue would be to rush Holloway to the NHL and stunt his development, as Oilers fans have seen too often.
Marody would be an intriguing option, as he is the last of the former line made up of Ryan McLeod and Tyler Benson that is not with the Oilers. Marody got into one game with the Oilers when they were dealing with COVID earlier in the season, but they sent him right back down to the American Hockey League (AHL) (from ‘Griffith back in AHL after long-awaited NHL return with Oilers’, The Chatham Daily News, Dec. 19, 2021). Witnessing the success that line had for the Condors when Woodcroft was the head coach could influence the decision to reunite them at the NHL level and see how it goes.
Griffith has been dominant with the Condors this season after a slower time adjusting to the team last season. He would be able to make a number of NHL teams as a depth scorer, but it has been crowded in Edmonton. With a right winger out for a while, he could slot in. Maybe not in a top-six role, but you never know. The third line of the Oilers is not getting broken up any time soon, meaning Woodcroft will work around that.
Holloway, Marody, & Griffith Have Played Well This Season
Holloway’s numbers to start his professional career are as to be expected as he adjusts. Don’t forget that he was also injured all season before playing just 11 games this season. In that time, he scored his first goal and added four assists.
Marody is having himself another season for Bakersfield in which he is dominating the scoresheet. He has 14 goals and 35 points in 32 games, which warrants a real shot in the NHL after putting up those kinds of numbers in his fourth consecutive season.
Griffith has been spectacular offensively, sitting fourth in the AHL in points with 46. He has 17 goals and should get another opportunity to prove he can also score at the NHL level and not just stew in the AHL in different organizations his entire career. By the way, he’s played, it couldn’t hurt to see if some of the scoring touch carries over in a less impactful role.
How Woodcroft Would Utilize Each Player
Holloway, like most high prospects, would be best utilized in a scoring role, and who better to play alongside than Leon Draisaitl, who has a similar style of play. Holloway is a legitimate two-way player and has shown it. He backchecks hard and is good at pickpocketing opponents unknowingly. Sound like a certain superstar we know?
Holloway also has a very active stick, breaking up plays and picking off passes. Despite his offensive ability, he is very responsible defensively and makes sure the puck gets out of the zone before leaving early to get an offensive chance or break. He is also able to shield the puck well and make it hard for opponents to take the puck from him. Something interesting to note, back at the start of January when Holloway was practicing with the Oilers, Kailer Yamamoto was pulled from practice because of COVID, and Holloway took his spot on the second line beside Draisaitl. If Yamamoto moves up to the top line, which we saw in the game against the Ducks, that spot on line two is now vacant.
If Marody were to get the call, Woodcroft would very likely want to see the first line of Bakersfield play together at least a little. But in general, he would be playing on the fourth line or as an extra despite proving himself in the minors for a few years now. He is done all he can do, and now it’s time for the Oilers to make a decision on him like they had to with Benson.
As for Griffith, his scoring ability has been on full display, and as a player who has been around a while, he’d be able to jump right in and hopefully contribute. He must have gained a ton of confidence with his play and would get even more if he received an opportunity in the NHL again after one game where he played less than six minutes earlier in the year as well.
Since Woodcroft seems to trust his young players to play a certain way that fits his system, it’s not out of the question to bring up one of these talented players instead of going back to a veteran for the time being. The Oilers have been playing great regardless, but the injury to Puljujarvi will hurt them. It’s how the team navigates without him that will dictate where they are in a month.