Oilers Could Hit Another Redemption Home Run with Jake Virtanen

If you’re looking to redefine your image in the NHL, apparently, you should look towards the Edmonton Oilers. If you need a place to go on a one-year deal in the hopes you can up your production and hit it big when the season is done, it’s possible the Oilers are your team. Should you be considered skilled but slightly problematic, Edmonton could be the right fit. At least, that seems to be the case as player after player with a checkered past has joined the club or is rumored to.

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Reports coming from Vancouver Canucks insider Rick Dhaliwal have the Oilers among a handful of teams linked to former NHL forward Jake Virtanen. Dhaliwal said, “All I was told was there’s a rumor about the Oilers, I do believe the Oilers are one of the teams in the mix.” This comes after a season in which the team added another player who had nearly worked himself out of the league, but found a comfortable fit alongside a couple of the best players in the NHL.

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The Oilers do this time and time again and they are quickly developing a reputation as a place you go if you need a redemption deal.

Oilers Have a History of Offering Second Chances

Last season it was Evander Kane, but he wasn’t the first. You can date all the way back to Craig MacTavish when looking at this franchise’s propensity to do what other clubs won’t and see the potential good that can come from adding a player who is looking to get thrown a bone. MacTavish was signed by the Oilers during the 1985-86 season after being convicted of vehicular homicide. His signing was essentially a favor to then-Bruins general manager Harry Sinden. It was a move that panned out fairly well.

Craig MacTavish
Former General Manager Craig MacTavish speaks about the state of the Edmonton Oilers, December 5, 2014. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Zack Kassian was another player who got a second opportunity in Edmonton. Troubled with substance abuse issues, he was acquired by the Oilers from the Montreal Canadiens and became an effective depth player for the franchise until being shipped off this past offseason as a salary cap dump. A player few thought could rehabilitate his image, Kassian spent parts of seven seasons with the organization.

Related: 3 Oilers With Plenty to Prove in 2022-23

Kane had very publicly worked his way out of San Jose, and created quite the reputation for himself. Still, he found a home in Edmonton, where the Oilers were among the only teams willing to see what he could do on the ice and bet on him as a player who’d potentially learned his lesson. He scored at a torrid pace and earned himself a four-year extension this summer. The jury is still out on whether he can maintain his professionalism, but all arrows seem to be pointing in the right direction.

Is Virtanen the Next Oilers Reclamation Project?

If Virtanen makes his way back to the NHL, it will be after having spent a season in the KHL. He played for Spartak Moskva where he scored nine goals and 16 points in 36 games. He was there because he’d worked himself out of the NHL after allegations of sexual assault surfaced. He was found not guilty by a jury this year but there are still going to be NHL teams that won’t go near that situation. If the rumors are accurate that Edmonton has kicked tires on the player, clearly they aren’t concerned.

Jake Virtanen Vancouver Canucks
Jake Virtanen, Vancouver Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Oilers have already shown a willingness to look past the mistakes of a player and try to separate their on-ice ability from their off-ice issues. For a player like Virtanen, Edmonton could make for a good fit. Not only are they a team that will be open-minded upon his arrival, but he’ll get every opportunity to prove he’s still got the goods. He’s skilled, he’s got size and can skate, but he needs a team willing to give him an opportunity.

The Oilers’ top nine is among the best in the NHL. If he can find his way into that mix, there’s potential to produce.

Little Risk for Oilers

If Virtanen does come to Edmonton, this is a calculated gamble by GM Ken Holland that has the potential to pay off in a major way. Virtanen won’t cost much more than the league minimum and he might not even get a one-way deal. Should he not pan out, the Oilers won’t be locked in and could potentially move him down to Bakersfield. If he does work out, Holland looks like a genius.

Virtanen had a career year in 2019-20 with 18 goals and 36 points in 69 games with the Vancouver Canucks. He might not be able to reproduce those totals in 2022-23. Then again, if he gets ice time with one of Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl, anything is possible.