3 Remaining Questions the Oilers Must Answer Before 2022-23

The majority of the work this offseason has been done for Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers, but there are still a few more things to address, which focus generally on the forwards. The first is Jesse Puljujarvi’s future with the team. Though it may seem like he could be sticking around in a third-line role with the Oilers next season, he could also very well be traded. The team still has one remaining unsigned restricted free agent in Ryan McLeod with little to no money to work with. And finally, do the Oilers feel the need or have room to add another free agent up front before next season? All will be discussed.

Puljujarvi’s Future With the Oilers

Puljujarvi has reportedly asked for a trade twice from the Oilers, the team that drafted him fourth overall in 2016. He hasn’t lived up to the same expectations of the other high picks from that draft even though there have been some signs. The young forward has repeatedly been praised for his ability on the defensive side of the puck and is a strong and tenacious forechecker who uses his long reach.

Jesse Puljujarvi Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After spending time overseas, Puljujarvi returned with a different attitude, and the team had a new general manager and head coach. He worked his way up the lineup and it resulted in him finishing the 2020-21 campaign well on the top line beside Connor McDavid. Last season started even better as he was over a point per game, and everything was clicking. An injury derailed his season, and he just couldn’t find the scoring touch he had, slowly being moved down the lineup. He was almost a non-factor in the playoffs, and it left everyone to wonder what the future held for the restricted free agent (RFA) at the time.

Ken Holland signed Puljujarvi to a one-year, $3 million deal which is a fair price for someone with his potential and for a player who scored 14 goals and 36 points last season in 65 games. It will either be a big season that dictates his future in Edmonton, or he is traded before he gets what may be his final chance. He believes he can play a bigger role for the Oilers next season and has the tools to do so (from ‘I want to play in a big role’: Jesse Puljujarvi with all the right words about new season with Edmonton Oilers,’ Edmonton Journal, Aug. 8, 2022).

Moving Money to Sign McLeod

McLeod is the final player the Oilers still need to re-sign. He shouldn’t cost too much, and Holland stated that a deal will get done before training camp and have the young centre signed for one to two years. That being said, the Oilers need to still clear a bit of money to fit under the cap, even if they decide to have less than 23 men on their roster.

There are three candidates that make the most sense, and their names continue to appear in trade rumours. The players being Puljujarvi, who I talked about above, Warren Foegele, and Tyson Barrie. There has been interest from both the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs in Puljujarvi, while each could offer more of what the Oilers need in return, defensive help and a little cap relief (from “Murphy: With Puljujärvi Signed, Canadiens Should Circle Back,’ Montreal Hockey Now, July 26, 2022). Foegele has a cap hit of $2.75 million on the fourth line, and with how the Oilers are looking up front, he won’t get much of a chance to move up.

Ryan McLeod Edmonton Oilers
Ryan McLeod, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As for Barrie, $4.5 million for a third-pairing defenceman was a luxury the Oilers can no longer afford. If they are able to trade him for a good return and get back a more defensive third pairing defender that is paid as such, that’s a win. The Oilers have two top-four defencemen already in Evan Bouchard and Cody Ceci manning the right side, and sticking Barrie with a rookie in Philip Broberg won’t likely give a good outcome.

It’s a no-brainer that the Oilers have to get McLeod signed for next season as he was a key piece of the success and will only get better from here.

Are the Oilers Adding Another Free Agent Forward?

Assuming Puljujarvi and Foegele stick around for next season, and McLeod gets signed, the Oilers have some spots up for grabs in their bottom six. The three players I just mentioned, as well as Mattias Janmark and Derek Ryan, should take up five spots, while one more position on the roster as well as potentially two scratches can make the team.

As it stands, Devin Shore should not be in the lineup full time and should be the 13th or 14th forward at best. Dylan Holloway will be given a good chance, but if he isn’t playing 82 games for the Oilers, he will be sent down to play in the American Hockey League (AHL) to get the maximum playing time. As for the two other fringe NHL players in the mix, Tyler Benson and Gregg McKegg haven’t proven they can be everyday NHLers and may not even make the team out of training camp.

Related: Oilers’ Benson Still Figuring Out Role in Organization

Now if Puljujarvi or Foegele are traded to help clear cap space, that opens up a spot that will need a more suitable NHL talent to fill it. Free agency has turned into a buyers market with the remaining players willing to take less money to play for a team next season. This could save the Oilers money without impacting the effectiveness of the bottom six. It may even improve it with some of the talent that remains unsigned.

The Oilers may have less to do and figure out than some teams with bigger concerns, but nonetheless have work to do before the team is set to make a run for the Stanley Cup in 2022-23.

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