Former Edmonton Oiler Georges Laraque was a guest on the “Oilers Now” show with Bob Stauffer on Nov. 18 and the topic of conversation was Alexander Edler’s kneeing incident with Connor McDavid on Nov. 16 in the game between the Oilers and Los Angeles Kings.
The Oilers lost 3-1, but Edler’s knee on McDavid caught everyone’s attention when the Kings’ defenseman stuck his right leg out and connected with the Oilers’ captain’s right knee. Luckily, he was fine, but Stauffer mentioned that other than Darnell Nurse, no one else stepped up and got in the face of the Kings’ players, and also, with Evander Kane out due to injury, there’s a lack of toughness and intimidation on the Oilers’ roster.
Laraque, a former tough guy for the Oilers for eight seasons, mentioned his disappointment in the lack of response from the team, but also provided a suggestion of a player that could provide toughness in Kane’s absence, saying, “I have an idea of someone that could be available and someone that could fill in while Evander Kane is not there, and it’s Josh Anderson.”
The 6-foot-3 Anderson can skate, and is physical, but has a history of injuries. Laraque mentioned the rumours of other teams that are interested in his services and depicted a scenario that to acquire him another team like the Arizona Coyotes would have to be involved to take on half of his $5.5 million cap hit. Stauffer added to that, saying, “If Montreal were to [retain] some of the money on Josh Anderson and they were to facilitate Arizona as the third team, I would give up Bourgault, [and] a first-round pick. They’d have to take a guy like Puljujarvi back in the short term, I would do that for Josh Anderson.” He also added, “We know the Canadiens like Xavier Bourgault.”
With Kane out of the lineup for another few months due to injury, I agree that the Oilers should look for a deal to add toughness to the team; however, the solution shouldn’t be Anderson if the cost is Bourgault and a first-round draft pick.
Anderson’s History of Injuries Is Concerning
When Anderson is at the top of his game, he’s fast, physical, and can produce points. Through 16 games this season, he’s scored five goals, added two assists, and thrown 32 hits so far. At first glance, he does look like a suitable replacement with Kane out, with his combination of toughness (15 NHL fights) and skill; however, the history of injuries is concerning. Three seasons ago, he missed 56 games due to a shoulder injury that required surgery before he was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and last season he missed 13 games for the Canadiens. At the same time, at 28 years of age and four years remaining on his current contract, one has to wonder how many more seasons he has left in him playing a physical style, as most power forwards often slow down when they enter their 30s.
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With that in mind, trading a first-round pick and also the former first-rounder, Bourgault, for Anderson, seems like a risky bet to address team toughness. Bourgault was a standout in junior, scoring 206 points in 197 games with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and he’s showing promise in his first campaign as a pro, recording seven points in 14 American Hockey League (AHL) games this season. Also, The Athletic’s Allan Mitchell indicated Bourgault is showing that he can succeed against AHL competition and added he could see NHL time this season, and may even push to become a regular with the Oilers next fall (From “Lowetide: What’s Xavier Bourgault’s NHL ETA? Does He Get a Look This Season?” The Athletic, 11/12/22).
That said, with how tight the salary cap is and how little offensive production they’re getting from players like Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto, the Oilers need players like Bourgault on cheap entry-level deals to (hopefully) provide secondary scoring in the future.
Oilers Should Add Toughness at a Cheaper Cost
On that note, I do feel the Oilers do need more toughness with Kane out of the lineup. As it stands now, Nurse is the team’s most likely player to step up without question if other teams start taking liberties with Edmonton’s star players, as we saw with Edler on McDavid. Yes, the Oilers captain has shown in the past that he can handle himself, but adding a tough guy can keep other teams honest.
For example, Laraque said Canadiens’ forward Cole Caufield has enjoyed having a tough player on the roster like 6-foot-4, 238-pound Arber Xhekaj because they noticed other teams were more honest with them and not as mean. On the other hand, the Oilers don’t have anyone on the roster that’s as intimidating as Xhekaj. At the same time, the team’s fourth-line players play less than ten minutes a game and have struggled to produce offence. For example, in Devin Shore’s last three games, he’s averaged 6:56 of ice time and has only registered an assist in 16 games.
If the Oilers’ fourth-line players are playing limited minutes and not producing offence, they should at least have a physical player that hits and wears opponents down. They should have a player that isn’t afraid to fight if other players are taking liberties with McDavid. I previously wrote about a player that fits that description, that Stauffer alluded to as well, and it’s Philadelphia Flyers’ forward Zack MacEwen. He’s 6-foot-3, hits, fights, and has scored more goals (three) than the entire Oilers’ fourth line. A player of his ilk would likely cost a late draft pick, and the Oilers would be able to keep their first-rounder and a prime prospect like Bourgault.
Edler’s kneeing incident on McDavid has raised the need of acquiring a player that can answer the bell when other teams start taking liberties, especially with Kane out of the lineup. Yet, with the high cost it would take to acquire Anderson from the Canadiens, the Oilers should look elsewhere and avoid trading away high picks and promising prospects.
He’s the first ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – He’s been featured on CBC Radio providing hockey analysis for the Edmonton Oilers – He’s a freelance writer and Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.