Oilers’ Ken Holland Has At Least 3 Options to Upgrade Team

It’s not news that there are some major holes that need to be filled if the Edmonton Oilers want to stand a chance and compete once playoffs come. After their fifth straight loss, and injuries piling up, general manager Ken Holland may be forced to make moves earlier than the trade deadline to address the urgent needs right now.

As seen on Sportsnet between periods of the Oilers game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Elliotte Friedman speaks on the decisions facing the Oilers this season. He sees at least three options for the Oilers to upgrade this season. “I see goal (goaltender), I see third line centre, and I see left defence.”

Friedman doesn’t know if the Oilers can address all of those positions before the trade deadline. To acquire an upgrade at one position sometimes costs a decent amount, but three may be pushing it, and too much for what the Oilers are willing to pay. Maybe if upgrades come in the form of non-rental players, then it makes more sense to spend more. But seeing as mid-season moves to upgrade are generally to help the team win that season, I also don’t think all three positions can be addressed.

Which Position Will Holland Take Priority in Upgrading?

There are a number of factors that go into making moves in the NHL, especially during the season when teams are in the thick of it, and most teams don’t see themselves out of the playoff race just yet. It is also difficult, as there is less room to maneuver the cap and contracts with a limited amount of risk when every general manager has to worry about losing players through waivers.

Ken Holland Edmonton Oilers
Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers, 2019 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Holland will first have to make an educated decision as to which position is the most impactful if not upgraded. Then he will have to see when players will be returning from injury and if they are enough to have confidence in for the rest of the season. Something to keep in mind, cap space will come into play and could be an issue stopping the Oilers from pulling off some deals.


Judging between a starting goaltender, third line centre, or left defenceman, the most urgent need is in net. Since Mike Smith went down to injury, Mikko Koskinen has been very hit or miss during games. He will make a number of great saves and give the Oilers a chance, and then he will make a costly mistake or allow some weak goals that need to be stopped, hurting the team’s chances of winning.

Stuart Skinner could do with a little more time in the American Hockey League (AHL), but he looks close to being someone the Oilers could turn to as a backup option in the near future.

Third Line Centre or Left Defence?

There are good reasons why both the third line centre position and the left side of defence need to be upgraded. Though the goaltending of the Oilers hasn’t been top tier, the defence has a role to play in keeping pucks out of the Oilers’ net. Devastated by injuries throughout the back-end, a number of young defencemen have stepped up to play their part.

Only Tyson Barrie and Evan Bouchard have yet to miss any games from defencemen this season. Bouchard has really stepped up and exceeded expectations, while Barrie isn’t one to be relied on defensively. The Oilers have a number of players who can generate offence, so an upgrade in a two-way or offensive defenceman is not needed. What they would have to target is someone who is very solid defensively and can help protect the shaking Oiler crease.

Not allowing the first goal in a game this season could do wonders for the Oilers confidence once they are in the rhythm of the game. Especially early, a goal can suck the life right out of the team. Then they are playing from behind, having to alter their game and as the game progresses, take more chances that open up their own defence for more chances against.

Young defencemen from Bakersfield have stepped in and been able to try and help the Oilers stay afloat, but not starting the year on the team shows that they all could use a little more time in the AHL to develop even more. Even with a healthy group, there is lots of room for improvement on the left side, particularly the third pairing to go out and get an upgrade for Slater Koekkoek or Kris Russell.

Kris Russell Oilers
Kris Russell, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As far as the third line centre need goes, Ryan McLeod has played well, and shown great improvement in his game since being recalled from the AHL. Ideally, he would create a better matchup if he were to be bumped down to the fourth line, and the team brings in someone that can be more impactful than Derek Ryan. That could spark the offence of Warren Foegele.

A more pressing need may be to upgrade the left defence before the third line centre position, unless the right deal comes along or Holland can in some way swing both from one team.

What Holland is Willing to Move to Get What the Oilers Need

Holland is not afraid to use the team’s first round draft pick to acquire a player, especially with the last three first rounders of the Oilers developing nicely in their system. But looking at it another way, if all of the most recent first round picks are hits, then wouldn’t Holland want to continue to acquire those pieces so they can help the Oilers? Maybe one of those players could turn out to be much more valuable than what trading the first before a player was picked would have been.

Holland states that he is willing to trade the first round pick of the Oilers, and he has done it before. But the Oilers will have to play their way into a position where he is comfortable spending a significant amount to upgrade and have a real shot at the Stanley Cup, because winning is really what it is all about. He also mentions that the players you need would have to be available, and that is yet to be seen.

Related: Oilers’ Trade Targets on the New York Islanders

If recent history is any indication, rentals are not worth a first round pick. It could go south real quick, and your team loses a valuable asset for the near future.

Holland has to Reward Stars’ McDavid & Draisaitl

The way Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have started the season and played the last number of years, they have to be rewarded and given a chance to win every single year. This was attempted by Holland in the offseason by adding pieces like Zach Hyman and Duncan Keith.

Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers
Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

This can, of course, go one step further. Every team goes through adversity, and with all the injuries and scoring dried up a bit, the Oilers are going through it right now. The Oilers have to make some strides while both superstars are under contract so the team doesn’t risk the chance of them getting more frustrated with the organization for falling short after how each of them perform year in and year out (“Edmonton Oilers need more offence to help McDavid and Draisaitl”, Edmonton Sun, June 4, 2021).

They also need help from within an already good group of players who have been struggling lately to produce much.

Possible Trade Targets for Each Position

I won’t go into much detail about who the Oilers could have their sights set on to upgrade their roster, I’ll leave that to the in-depth trade target pieces written by the great Edmonton Oilers team here at THW. So here are some names to keep an eye on as we move deeper into the season.


  • Marc-Andre Fleury
  • Tuukka Rask
  • Jake Allen
  • Semyon Varlamov
  • Anton Khudobin
  • Petr Mrazek
  • Thomas Greiss
  • Jaroslav Halak
  • Joonas Korpisalo
  • Alexandar Georgiev

Third Line Centres

  • Chris Tierney
  • Nick Bonino
  • Robby Fabbri
  • Dylan Strome
  • Max Domi
  • Cody Eakin
  • Derick Brassard

Left Defencemen

  • Ben Chiarot
  • Hampus Lindholm
  • Calvin de Haan
  • Olli Maatta
  • Zdeno Chara
  • Marc Staal (NMC)

There are a number of options that will become more clear closer to the trade deadline. Do you think the Oilers should act sooner than later? Who makes sense to you for the Oilers to target for this season and beyond? Let’s hear your thoughts below.

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