Oilers Scouting Flyers For Third Time In Four Games

The NHL trade deadline is only weeks away. Scouts are traveling to rinks around the NHL to watch their players of interest live and in action. That said, the trade rumours start as insiders leak information, on which NHL teams have representatives in attendance of the teams they’re covering. Last Thursday night, it was tweeted by Sam Carchidi, who covers the Philadelphia Flyers, that the Edmonton Oilers had a scout in attendance to watch the Flyers, which would be the third time in their last four games.

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The Oilers beat the Flyers in Philadelphia 3-0 last Tuesday. Was there a player that caught their eye? Let’s take a look at possible players of interest.

Justin Braun Can Upgrade the Oilers Defense

Justin Braun is an ideal player the Oilers should have their eyes on. He’s a 12-year NHL veteran defender who is in his third year with the Flyers. Throughout his career, he’s proven he can move up and down the lineup, but he’s filled in on the top pairing alongside Ivan Provorov this season due to the injury to Ryan Ellis. According to Natural Stat Trick, he leads the Flyers in defensive zone starts (270), second on the team in blocked shots (99), while averaging 20:01 minutes on ice. In 54 games this season, he’s tallied four goals and 10 assists. An interesting stat, Braun’s plus/minus rating is 0 on a poor Flyers team that has a -54 goal differential, which is fourth-worst in the league.

Justin Braun Danton Heinen
Philadelphia Flyers’ Justin Braun and former Boston Bruin Danton Heinen (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The defensive-minded player is on the last year of his contract worth $1.8 million AAV, and would be an ideal rental. He’s a right-shot defenceman who would be able to provide stability on the right side of the blue line for the Oilers. There have been rumors around more notable defensemen, including Jakob Chychrun and Ben Chiarot. The starting point for the higher-profiled players would cost a first-round pick and more, and hockey analyst Elliotte Friedman feels general manager Ken Holland is reluctant to use the asset. But acquiring Braun should come at a much lesser cost. The Oilers traded a conditional fourth-round draft pick for defenseman Dmitry Kulikov last season, and the cost to acquire Braun should be roughly the same.

The Oilers Were Interested in Ristolainen in the Off-Season

Rasmus Ristolainen could be an interesting piece for the Oilers. Flyers’ general manager Chuck Fletcher traded for the 6-foot-4 Finnish defender this past off-season. They paid a big price to acquire him, dealing a first-round pick (14th overall in 2021), a second-round pick in 2023, and defenseman Robert Haag.

The defender is in his ninth season in the NHL, and as he’s closing in on 600 games, he’s tallied 48 goals and 210 assists in that span. He’s had an up-and-down year playing on the second pairing alongside Travis Sanheim. He’s prone to bad reads and he’s a minus-12 on the year, yet he plays an intensely physical game. He has 170 hits on the season, which is first on the Oilers. Like Braun, he’s a right-shot defender, and he’d bring the sandpaper that’s currently lacking on the Oilers right-side, with the current personnel of Cody Ceci, Evan Bouchard, and Tyson Barrie.

He’s in the final year of a contract that pays him $5.4 million AAV. That said, to acquire him would cost less than what the Flyers traded for him, most likely a second-round pick and a prospect. Additionally, the Flyers would have to retain salary and the Oilers would have to send a player (Zack Kassian) the other way to make the cap-space work. Still, Ristolainen would be an interesting acquisition and TSN’s Darren Dreger said Edmonton had an interest in him, this past off-season. Currently, Oilers’ rookie defender Markus Niemeläinen is demolishing forwards and providing the physicality on the blue line, but he’s still very raw. Ristolainen would bring a veteran presence and could serve as a mentor for his younger countryman, Niemeläinen.

The Oilers were Rumoured to be Interested in Martin Jones

It’s no secret that the Oilers need to improve their goaltending despite Mikko Koskinen’s record of 7-0-2 in his last nine games. The Finnish goaltender had a bad start against the Chicago Blackhawks and had a blunder when he played the puck onto Dominik Kubalik’s stick, which resulted in a goal. But is Flyers’ goaltender Martin Jones the answer? Friedman reported that Holland made an offer on Jones, almost a month ago. Nothing new has transpired, but the fact that the Oilers had representatives scouting the Flyers for the third time suggests that Jones is still a player of interest.

On that note, let’s take a look at the 32-year-old goaltender’s numbers. He’s 6-10-3 in 20 games with a 3.51 GAA and .898 save percentage (SV%). When comparing him to the Oilers current goaltenders, Koskinen (3.05 GAA & .904 SV%) and Mike Smith (3.53 GAA & .893 SV%), Jones is not much of an upgrade.

Jones is in the last year of his contract worth $2 million AAV and to acquire him, the Oilers would have to send one of their goaltenders the other way. He would likely cost a third-or fourth-round draft pick, but with similar numbers to the Oilers’ current goaltending duo, it might be in the team’s best interest to avoid this player and save their asset.

Would the Flyers Deal Carter Hart?

Carter Hart is considered the Flyers goaltender of the future. It’s a long shot, but the 23-year-old from Sherwood Park, AB would be the ideal pickup for the Oilers. He became a top prospect with an outstanding junior career with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL) and he helped Team Canada capture a gold medal at the 2018 World Junior Championships. The Flyers signed Hart to a three-year deal worth $3.9 million AAV this past off-season.

He collected 40 wins in 74 games in his first two seasons in the NHL and had an average save percentage of .916 SV%. He faltered in 2020-21 with the worst single-season save percentage among regular NHL goaltenders since the 2009-10 season (from ‘Flyers 2020-21 report card: Grading everyone from Claude Giroux to the coaching staff to Carter Hart,’ The Athletic, 5/13/21).

The Flyers are struggling this season with one 10-game losing streak and a separate 13-game losing streak. However, individually, Hart has had somewhat of a bounce-back season. He’s faced 40 or more shots four times in 2021-22 and in the process, he has a 2.94 GAA and .910 SV% on the season — which are superior numbers to the Oilers current goaltenders.

Hart is young, a local kid, with an attractive cap hit, and long-term control. He’s an enticing piece, and the cost would be heavy to acquire him, starting in the neighbourhood of a first-round pick(s), and grade A prospects (Stuart Skinner and Dylan Holloway). If I’m Holland, I’d make a pitch for him, but at the same time, the Flyers would have to be open to moving the promising goaltender.

Related: Oilers Likely Sticking With Goaltenders, Targeting Defence

All in all, the player that makes the most sense for the Oilers to pry from the Flyers is Braun, but If Edmonton is making a deal with Philadelphia, which player(s) do you feel they should acquire?

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