The Edmonton Oilers are going to need to add heading into this year’s NHL trade deadline — a goaltender and a left-shot defenseman are among the top needs for the organization. At the same time, should a potential top-six forward become available and the Oilers can make a clear upgrade on right-wing, they may elect to do so if the salary cap allows for it.
When you factor in the fact the Oilers have some incredibly skilled and high-end forwards coming up through the system, all of this might equal the exit of Kailer Yamamoto this season, a player who could be an attractive addition for a rebuilding team looking for young pieces.
The Oilers Win-Now Window
In most other situations, Yamamoto would be a piece the Oilers might like to hang on to. But, because the focus will be on extending Jesse Puljuarvi this offseason and because the team’s window to compete for the Stanley Cup with this core is about four-five seasons long, Yamamoto quickly becomes a piece GM Ken Holland might have to move to get what he needs this season and put the Oilers over the top.
There are a lot of things Yamamoto does well. That said, he’s not exploded offensively and he may not be the right piece in the Oilers’ top six to be a playoff team that goes deep this season. Instead, Holland may elect to look around the market and see what kind of rentals might be out there with proven playoff production and a contract that doesn’t require a commitment.
The list of players that insiders believe might help will vary, but Phil Kessel, Alexander Radulov, Joe Pavelski, Dustin Brown, Vladislav Namestnikov are pending UFAs on teams that aren’t likely looking like playoff contenders this season. Some are known for their scoring, others for their grit, and some for their leadership. All are older and likely moving on. The Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, and Detroit Red Wings might all take an interest in Yamamoto if he becomes available.
The Oilers’ Prospect Forward Depth
This wouldn’t be a move the Oilers contemplate if there wasn’t skill bubbling up from underneath. Fortunately, letting Yamamoto go for immediate help, then not retaining that help is an option because the likes of Matvei Petrov, Dylan Holloway, Xavier Bourgault, and others are working their way through the Oilers system and a couple of years from potentially being players ready for NHL duty.
Bourgault is dominating the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 15-15-30 in just 15 games. Petrov inked an entry-level contract with the Oilers this past week and he appears to be a major draft steal for Edmonton. The forward is 11-9-20 in 15 games. A lot has been said about Holloway and while he’s currently injured, many insiders say he’s ready for NHL duty now. If he heals properly, he should be competing for a spot in the Oilers’ top six next season.
This is not to mention the team Carter Savoie, Tyler Tullio, Raphael Lavoie, and Ostap Safin are all also in the system.
Yamamoto Can Be Used to Fill An Area of Need
Should the Oilers elect not to move Yamamoto for another forward, he’s likely got enough cache around the NHL that he could be used as a piece to acquire what the Oilers need — a goaltender or a left-shot defenseman. Should Edmonton prioritize a shutdown d-man to limit shots and goals against, Yamamoto may be enough to acquire that piece. If the Oilers prioritize a goaltender, Yamamoto could be a piece used to land someone significant.
In the NHL, you often have to give to get. If it isn’t Yamamoto, it’s Edmonton’s first-round draft selection next season and if there’s not enough room on the salary cap to sign both Yamamoto and Puljujarvi, why move the first-rounder if you don’t have to?
Can Yamamoto Save His Spot?
All of this could change if Yamamoto finds another gear. He’s currently got two goals and no assists in 12 NHL games this season and while he’s playing a style that seems to suggest the goals and points should come, they haven’t yet. And, this is while playing with some incredibly gifted forwards who are sound defensively and should give Yamamoto the freedom to be creative and drive the play offensively.
Part of the problem is that Yamamoto isn’t shooting. With only 19 shots on net, he ranks last in terms of top-six forwards on the team. Even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who has no goals on the season is shooting more in an attempt to get the monkey off his back. The good news is, Yamamoto is offering other things of value that will keep him in the lineup for the time being. With 1:51 per game on the penalty kill, he’s been effective in that role, and the Oilers penalty killing ranks second in the NHL. He also leads the team in penalties drawn/60. That’s important considering how potent the Oilers’ power play has been.
Is that enough? If another 12 games go by and Yamamoto’s point totals haven’t improved, expect to hear his name brought up in trade talks. It will make sense too because there’s no room on the Oilers roster for players who aren’t producing and the time to win is now. The longer he goes without the production, the more he looks like he might not be a part of the team’s long-term plans.
Jim Parsons is a senior THW freelance writer, part-time journalist and audio/video host who lives, eats, sleeps and breathes NHL news and rumors, while also writing features on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s been a trusted source for five-plus years at The Hockey Writers, but more than that, he’s on a mission to keep readers up to date with the latest NHL rumors and trade talk. Jim is a daily must for readers who want to be “in the know.”