Oilers Roster Depth Could Use the Addition of Kevin Stenlund

The moves at forward recently for the Edmonton Oilers have been a lot, but all good. We have seen returns of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from the injured reserve, Zach Hyman from COVID-protocol, and the signing of Evander Kane. So far so good, as the Oilers have won three in a row and look to continue that climb back into contention as they make up games and approach the halfway point of the season.

There’s one more move they should look into if they haven’t already. Despite being a young team and giving a number of young players and rookies chances this season, Kevin Stenlund has found himself out of the mix on the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has played just three games this season after consecutive seasons suiting up for 32 games. He has spent most of his time this year in the American Hockey League (AHL) and has done well.

Kevin Stenlund Columbus Blue Jackets-Oilers Roster Depth Could Use the Addition of Kevin Stenlund
Kevin Stenlund, Columbus Blue Jackets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Elliotte Friedman brought up on 32 Thoughts that “If Edmonton does a deal with Columbus, and I’m not convinced Korpisalo is the right move, watch to see if the Oilers also look at Kevin Stenlund.” Though goaltending is a bigger need right now for the team despite the recent play by Mikko Koskinen, I agree and am not so sure Joonas Korpisalo is the goalie who could help turn things around in Edmonton.

What Stenlund Would Bring to the Oilers

Friedman also mentions “He’s in the AHL on a one-way contract. Big body who can play. Edmonton needs some beef.” The Oilers have more than enough smaller players in the lineup with the size of Kailer Yamamoto, Derek Ryan, Tyler Benson. A 6’4 Stenlund could really add to that bottom-six and be utilized more in games vs larger opponents.

Speaking of size, Zack Kassian is now solidified as a bottom-six player for the Oilers, and generally, with his size and physicality, it’s difficult to replace. After the team signed Kane, that adds another element of size, skill, and physicality to the lineup, just more than what Kassian has managed to do this season. Stenlund is larger than Kassian in height and weight, is younger and is making $1.05 million rather than $3.2 million, which Kassian makes.

I’m not saying that the Blue Jackets will take Kassian back in a trade, but it is definitely something Ken Holland should ask. The Oilers wouldn’t have as much to worry about with just subtracting a big presence from the team when they have their sights set on the playoffs. Kassian’s time in Edmonton won’t last until his contract is up after the 2023-24 season, and acquiring Stenlund could be the key in doing that.

Stenlund isn’t only a big body, he also would bring with him the ability to score and put up respectable points as a depth forward who would be in and out of the lineup. As I mentioned, he played 32 games in each of the past two seasons. In those two seasons, he recorded at least five goals and 10 points in each. Those five goals would be tied for sixth on the Oilers this season in about the same number of games and his 10 points would be ranked ninth in points.

Is Benson a Candidate to Swap for Stenlund?

A change in scenery may be needed, and though it could be too early to tell, I think the same is in order for Tyler Benson on the Oilers. Benson was great in the AHL while Stenlund has put up 63 points in 125 games on the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL.

Related: Kane Signing Forces Oilers to Decide Which Forward to Demote Next

The script has been flipped in the NHL despite Stenlund not performing at nearly a point per game in the NHL. He has been able to score, something Benson still hasn’t been able to do since breaking into the NHL. Stenlund already has the size and ability to play physically, but Benson has had to alter his game in order to stick around and get into the lineup. But in today’s game, you have to be able to put up points as well as be physical because there are many players who are capable of that already.

Additions to the Forward Group Already

I mentioned the return of Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman to the Oilers’ lineup as well as the recent signing of Kane, but how about the expected arrival of Dylan Holloway this season. Originally Holloway was on track to start the season with the Oilers, this may have already bumped a player like Benson from the opening day roster.

Dylan Holloway University of Wisconsin-Oilers Roster Depth Could Use the Addition of Kevin Stenlund
Dylan Holloway of the University of Wisconsin (Greg Anderson/UW Athletics)

With how Holloway is tracking and the impact he’s made in such a short time since playing his first pro games in the AHL, the timeline should be a month or less until we see him with the Oilers. It is very crowded upfront, and the Oilers are in win-now mode, so a player better be effective when getting playing time or else there are many players laying in wait to take that spot. Stenlund would be hungrier than most, seeing as he hasn’t even really been given a shot on a Blue Jackets team that is lower in the standings.

Oilers’ Main Focus Should Shift to Defence and Goaltending

It’s never a bad idea to keep your options open as a general manager and still have talks to make a less needed area better. This is especially if players are underperforming or may not be a part of future plans. But the focus should shift to first acquiring a starting goaltender for now and the future and looking to upgrade the defence with a more defensively-minded player.

There are a number of defensive defencemen that could be available before the trade deadline this season, but it’s a matter of if Holland can swing a deal that doesn’t involve giving away a first-round pick or top prospect in doing so. If the defenceman has term, those assets are on the table. Regardless, the Oilers cannot keep alternating Kris Russel, Slater Koekkoek, and William Lagesson and expect high-end results which also affect the goaltenders if the team goes out and acquires one.

I don’t believe the Oilers are done making moves, and signing Kane should signify that they are really making a push this season to do some damage. Whether it’s a rental or a player with term coming in, we will most likely see one or more roster players on their way out as well before the season is over.

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