The Edmonton Oilers were coming off a 4-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, and also an injury to Kailer Yamamoto in Game 2 after a questionable high hit by Gabriel Landeskog. Heading into Game 3, it was rumoured that Yamamoto was going to be out of the lineup, and there were questions over which player would be called on to be his replacement.
Head coach Jay Woodcroft went with a familiar face, and inserted the captain of the Bakersfield Condors, Brad Malone, into the lineup. The pair have familiarity with one another with their time working together in the American Hockey League (AHL), and Woodcroft rolled his 11 forwards and seven defensemen system for Game 3. The Oilers ended up losing the game 4-2 in heartbreaking fashion, and are now on the brink of elimination.
Malone, who in Game 3 played in his first Stanley Cup playoff game since April 18, 2014, wasn’t necessarily the difference between a win and a loss, but the Oilers shouldn’t have played the safe route with a player known more for his two-way game and physicality. The Oilers have struggled to generate high-danger scoring chances, and have been outscored 16-8 in the series. With Yamamoto’s speed, skill, and tenacity out of the line up, his suitable replacement should’ve been and still should be, Dylan Holloway.
Safe Choice to Play Malone Didn’t Work Well for the Oilers
No disrespect to Malone — who appeared in eight games with the Oilers this season in early March — but the captain of the Oilers’ minor league club isn’t exactly known for his offensive prowess at the NHL level. He registered 39 points in 52 games with the Condors this past regular season, but in 207 NHL games, he’s only tallied 32 points. When he’s recalled to the big club, his role is to hit, keep his feet moving and get pucks deep.
As hockey analyst John Shannon tweeted, Woodcroft made the decision to put Malone into the lineup due to the familiarity of more than four seasons working together and the decision to play him was more of a cautious, “play it safe” approach.
In Game 3, the veteran played 6:40, had four hits, and played half his minutes on the penalty kill. Additionally, he also received 12 minutes in penalties, when Woodcroft sent him out to take the last shift when the game was out of reach.
In the faceoff circle, he crossed-checked Darren Helm and received a 10-minute misconduct. I understand what the coach was trying to do in that situation by “sending a message,” but it seems like sending a message with 30 seconds to go, soon to be down 3-0 in a series, was too little too late.
Holloway’s Speed is Needed Against the Colorado Avalanche
Nonetheless, what the Oilers needed in Game 3, coming off a 4-0 loss to the Avalanche in Game 2, were speed and skill, especially with Yamamoto out of the lineup. Colorado limited their chances in the second game, and Edmonton couldn’t get its offensive game going. Also, with the likes of Cale Makar and Bowen Byram, the Avalanche have smooth-skating defensemen and the Oilers need speedy forwards to close in on them quicker. As previously mentioned, Holloway, out of the Black Aces available, is the player that could’ve provided that skillset, and still should.
Oilers’ Colour Commentator Bob Stauffer previously mentioned on his “Oilers Now” radio show, “I’m not the coach, I’m not the manager, but Holloway — when he does get in Edmonton’s lineup, you’ll be surprised as to who he reminds you of because there was a guy that was here, that was picked higher in the draft than Holloway, not in the same draft year, and they have a very similar skating style.” He’s alluding that Holloway’s skating stride and speed are similar to Taylor Hall’s. If true, that speed has the potential to be game-breaking, unlike Malone.
I understand that putting a rookie into the Western Conference Final for his first NHL game is a strong ask, and there are definite downsides to it, but I previously wrote an article mentioning the former 14th overall pick has “big-game” experience. He suited up for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2021. With his varied skill set, he played in all situations— on the power play and the penalty kill — and by the end of the tournament, he worked his way up from a checking role onto the first line and helped Canada capture a silver medal.
Related: Oilers Should Give Dylan Holloway an Opportunity to Play
Some would also argue that inserting a rookie into the playoffs without playing an NHL game would be bad for their development. However, there have been many NHL players that made their NHL debut in the Stanley Cup playoffs. An example is former 19th overall pick, Chris Kreider. Like Holloway, he was a former National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) player, and he made his NHL debut in the first round in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2012 for the New York Rangers. He played in eight playoff games and recorded a goal and an assist. In the end, I don’t think there were any signs of his development ruined, as he most recently came off a 52-goal campaign this past season.
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Adding Holloway into the lineup is a high-risk high reward play, but the reward could be enormous. The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman is also in favour of the decision, noting Holloway’s effective puck skills, speed and strong forechecking abilities would bode well against the Avalanche (from “Why the Oilers Should Play Dylan Holloway Against the Avalanche,” The Athletic, 6/1/22).
Malone only played just under seven minutes, so why not try Holloway in those limited minutes? In Game 3 the Oilers had home ice advantage and the last change, which they’ll also have in Game 4 and they can use it to their benefit.
To not throw him to the wolves and keep him away from the likes of Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen, Woodcroft can use his last change and deploy Holloway in offensive zone starts against Colorado’s bottom-six players. If it works, then you’ve just injected speed and skill into the lineup on the fly, but not only that, a jolt of energy and a shakeup the team desperately needs.
It’s a gamble to insert a rookie into the Western Conference Final for their first NHL game, but the Oilers, who have been outplayed by the Avalanche for most of the series, are on the brink of being swept and could use Holloway’s skill. At the time of writing there is no word yet if Yamamoto will return to the lineup for Game 4.
Moreover, it was confirmed on Sunday that the NHL’s leading goal scorer, Evander Kane will be suspended for one game for his dangerous hit on Nazem Kadri. It’s a terrible blow for the Oilers because it’s more skill leaving the lineup. So now, more than ever, should be Holloway’s time.