After the abysmal end to last year’s atrocious, hair-pulling, bald-head-scratching season, the Edmonton Oilers needed a major shake-up, which came to fruition when Daryl Katz and Bob Nicholson hired Ken Holland as general manager. Cue the choir of angels! If Connor McDavid is McJesus, well, Holland is Oiler God. Holland earned his God-like status when he swapped Milan Lucic for James Neal. However, he underwhelmed some with his numerous bottom-six offseason signings.
Some of Holland’s additions have noticeably underperformed, while other players have added some well-needed depth to the Oilers’ lineup. Out of Markus Granlund, Tomas Jurco, Josh Archibald, Riley Sheahan, Gaëtan Haas, and Joakim Nygård, who has made the biggest difference? Who looks the most promising?
Let’s find out where each bottom-six addition ranks 26 games into the season.
2019-20 stats: 12 games played (GP), 0 goals (G), 2 assists (A), plus-1 plus/ minus
Jurco showed tiny glimpses of NHL-ready brilliance at the start of the season. He produced two assists in his first two games as an Oiler, but his play dropped significantly afterward, resulting in getting sent to the Oilers’ American Hockey League affiliate, Bakersfield Condors.
Jurco is the worst of the offseason additions so far: #6 out of 6. His flashy assist to Darnell Nurse during the high-scoring game against the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 5 highlighted his potential. However, his lack of influence and on-ice invisibility thereafter pushed the former Detroit Red Wing from the NHL to the AHL.
2019-20 stats: 17 GP, 0 G, 0 A, minus-6
Over the last couple of seasons, the Oilers have struggled to kill penalties. In 2018, NHL.com reported that “Edmonton’s penalty-kill percentage at home of 65.8 percent” during the 2017-18 season “was the lowest since the NHL began tracking the statistic in 1977-78.”
A bonafide penalty-killer, expectations surrounding Archibald’s abilities were high going into the 2019-20 season. And he’s excelled. He can attack pucks on the penalty kill (PK), forcing opponents to lose possession.
During the 2018-19 campaign, the Oilers’ PK ranked 30th, but this season, thanks to Holland’s offseason signings (most notable bottom-six additions on the PK: Archibald and Sheahan), the organization has the second-best PK in the NHL.
Archibald hasn’t contributed to depth-scoring: #5 out of 6. Archibald may not have any points (let’s hope he’s not the next Tobias Rieder), but his PK abilities prove that he’s needed on the ice.
2019-20 stats: 12 GP, 1 G, 1 A, minus-3
Holland wanted the Oilers’ 2019-20 lineup to encompass more speed. And Nygård possesses the ability to attack the offensive zone at a quick pace, making him one of the most promising offseason additions. Nygård got off to an early start and scored his first NHL goal against the Kings on Oct. 5.
Nygård struggled for a few games after returning from his rib injury, but his recent play highlights that he has found his groove again. During the rematch against the Kings on Nov. 21, Nygård generated multiple grade-A chances. The speedy forward was one of the rare players who played with a spark in that embarrassing loss to the last-place-in-the-West Kings.
Nygård shows the most promise with his ability to attack with speed: #4 out of 6. His injury may have hurt his overall production, but he’s a promising, fun-to-watch player who has the ability to play with speed and — fingers crossed — provide secondary scoring.
2019-20 stats: 21 GP, 0 G, 1 A, minus-8
Before the season began, Dave Tippett said that he wanted to use both Leon Draisaitl and McDavid less on the penalty kill, granting a bottom-six player like Sheahan the chance to make an impact.
Has he made an impact? Yes and no. His stellar moments on the penalty kill have helped to propel his effectiveness, but his lack of production has lowered his ranking.
However, while Edmonton’s superstars dominated both the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche in triumphant 6-2 victories, Sheahan excelled at killing penalties; he can protect defensively while the big guns command the game offensively.
Sheahan can kill penalties, but can’t score: #3 out of 6. When it comes to killing penalties, Sheahan ranks as one of the highest among Holland’s offseason additions, but his plus/minus is another story. He currently sits at minus-eight, which is unacceptable for a defensive-minded forward. And his one assist in 21 games doesn’t help his ranking, either.
2019-20 stats: 21 GP, 3 G, 1 A, even plus/minus
In 2016-17, Granlund notched 32 points (19 goals, 13 assists) in 69 games for the Vancouver Canucks. Will he have a similar season in 2019-20? Probably not.
He’s a solid, hardworking checking-line centre-wing who has value when it comes to killing penalties, but he goes unnoticed most nights—until recently. The former Vancouver Canuck has scored three goals in his last four games.
Granlund’s recent play boosts his overall score: #2 out of 6. When Holland first signed Granlund (for $1.3 million), he said: “We need more players who can get double-digit goals. Markus Granlund’s resume says he should be able to score double-digit goals.” If he continues his current play, it’s likely he’ll meet Holland’s pre-season expectations.
2019-20 stats: 18 GP, 2 G, 3 A, even plus/minus
Haas has the ability to provide much-needed depth scoring for the Oilers. Out of all of Holland’s bottom-six additions, Haas has accumulated the most points. His first NHL goal was clutch, too. With under five minutes left in the Oilers’ 3-2 OT loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 4, Haas tipped Matt Benning’s shot through traffic to tie the game.
Haas can help out on defence, while also showing flashes of offensive flair, but like most players on this list, it’s easy for viewers to overlook him some games. (When you’re on a team with superstars like McDavid and Draisaitl, it’s hard not to slip under the radar.)
Haas’s offensive production earns him the highest-ranking of Holland’s bottom-six offseason additions: #1 out of 6. His combination of grit, speed, and offensive production (albeit small) earns him the number one ranking after 26 games. Oilers need secondary scoring, and Haas has proved that he can help fill that role here and there. However, if Granlund keeps up his current play, I expect him to skyrocket to number one by the half-way mark of the 2019-20 season.
This season the Oilers look more like a complete team — in comparison to the 2018-19 campaign — and Holland’s bottom-six signings have influenced the Oilers’ success in a subtle (some may tack very in front of subtle), but impactful way. Let’s just hope that by the half-way mark of the season, the bottom-six forwards continue to contribute defensively while also providing much-needed secondary scoring.