There is some good and a little bit of bad when it comes to what Ken Holland did this past offseason for the Edmonton Oilers. He signed Jack Campbell, Mattias Janmark, and Ryan Murray in free agency and traded for Klim Kostin. The general manager also brought back Brett Kulak and Evander Kane on great deals after they became unrestricted free agents.
The Oilers may be just three games over .500 and sit out of a playoff spot at the Christmas break, but they have been playing well and have been without one of their top players for the majority of the season. Not only have some of the decisions made by Holland got the Oilers through a tougher time, it has set things up nicely for the future.
Kostin & Janmark Have Elevated Depth Immensely
Signing Janmark and making what seemingly was an American Hockey League (AHL) transaction has turned out to be two great moves. Nobody could have anticipated the freak accident that took Kane out of action for months, but Janmark and Kostin were the two players the Oilers called up to fill roles in the NHL.
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Initially, both were in smaller roles, but quickly Janmark was put alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and they had instant chemistry. Things have been working between them so well that Nugent-Hopkins has had the full support of running his own line for a while now and has been producing at 5-on-5. Even with more players returning, Janmark has stayed by Nugent-Hopkins’ side.
It’s a bit odd for a veteran like Janmark to go from playing in the AHL to the second line almost immediately, but that’s what was needed from him with the injuries to the Oilers’ forwards. He has just three goals and six points in 21 games on the season, but he put together his best game of the season against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 21. In that game, Janmark scored two goals and added an assist.
As it turns out, Kostin has now joined those two on a line and has looked right at home. Kostin is an interesting case seeing as he is a former first-round pick from not too long ago (2017), and has a lot of potential upside. He was swapped with Dmitry Samorukov in the offseason since both needed a change in scenery and started his time in Edmonton in the AHL. Holland knew what he was doing here as Kostin has quickly blossomed into a skilled power forward who can shoot.
What has surprised me is the speed and aggressiveness of Kostin. It allows him to put pressure on the opposing players and will always finish his check. This adds two layers to forechecking that has and will continue to cause turnovers. His confidence is very high and looks to be a permanent fixture in the Oilers’ lineup moving forward.
Returning Free Agents in Big Roles
Kane has only played 14 games of the Oilers’ 35 this season, but scored five goals and 13 points. There’s no doubt he was going to continue a pace very similar to that and even elevate his goalscoring. He proved he can be very effective and has chemistry alongside both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Having Kane in the lineup allows the Oilers to keep McDavid and Draisaitl on separate lines and still have each of the lines be a very high scoring threat.
Kane is on the mend and it shouldn’t be too much longer until he returns to the lineup. That will really show how much the Oilers have missed him in just his first year of four at a great price. Speaking of great price, Kulak was also torn between returning to Edmonton and signing somewhere else, but Holland got Kulak to return as the second-pairing left defenceman for just $2.75 million. He is worth more than that from the role he plays.
It is now well documented that Kulak has made Tyson Barrie much better defensively, so much so that Barrie is having the best overall year among Oilers’ defencemen. Kulak is one of the smoothest skaters in the league, is focused on defence, but has been showing the ability to create offensive chances and move the puck very well up the ice.
One Obvious Blunder Thus Far With Jack Campbell
Of course, I must discuss the blunder that has been the Jack Campbell contract thus far. The Oilers thought they were finally getting that No. 1 goalie they’ve been needing, but it turns out Stuart Skinner is the saviour in net for the team.
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Campbell has gotten off to a horrible start to his tenure as an Oiler with a 4.02 goals-against average (GAA), .876 save percentage (SV%), and a minus-13.6 goals saved above average (GSAA). Not only that, but he has just five quality starts of the 15 total starts on the season. The Oilers have been able to shower him with tons of goal support so that his record is 8-6-1. If Campbell had given the Oilers even a half-decent season to this point, they would be in a much better position. There’s no reason he can’t come out of this bad stretch and be what the organization signed him for, but for this offseason move to not be considered bad this season, it will take a lot of great outings.
I wouldn’t want to miss talking a bit about Ryan Murray, except he hasn’t been anything to write home about. He’s played just 13 games as the sixth defenceman, logged just over 13 minutes per game, doesn’t play impactful minutes, and has recorded three assists. He was rotated in the lineup earlier in the season when Markus Niemelainen and Philip Broberg were struggling. Now, though, both of them are better choices. Murray is currently injured, so he should return to either the seventh-defenceman role or even be demoted to the AHL once Kane returns to the lineup and the team lacks cap space.
Though Kane hasn’t played half of the games this season, it has already paid off to bring him back along with Kulak. Kostin looks like one of the best moves Holland has made as the Oilers general manager, while Janmark has been more than the team could have asked for. It would help if Campbell would step up his game, but there’s only up from here. Overall, the offseason moves have paid dividends so far this season.