This Oilers roster can look to upgrade in some capacity with some good UFA options still available. There are four players in mind that would suit the current Edmonton Oilers roster well and would compete for playing time. With room for some more contracts added to the organization for this season, one or more of these options may be in play.
There are two possible forwards and two defenders. It is surprising that some of these players haven’t been picked up by a team yet. The potential forwards include a scoring winger in Nikita Gusev and a versatile player in Alex Galchenyuk who is looking for another chance.
Heavily criticized for how the defensive group has shaped up after the offseason, the Oilers should look to add another option on the back end. Both of these defenders can play either the right or left side: Sami Vatanen is still without a contract, while offensive defenceman Erik Gustafsson will look to contribute as he has since breaking out in Chicago.
Gusev was highly touted for his offensive ability before coming over to North America and playing his first season with the New Jersey Devils. He performed very well for a player that would need time to adjust to the different ice and style of play. In his first season with the Devils, he recorded 13 goals and 44 points in 66 games. Though he could be better in the defensive zone, that could be worked on or sheltered on a line with better defensive forwards.
The Oilers could really use a forward like this to create better matchups down the lineup. They would be able to sign Gusev for cheap, as clearly teams haven’t been making a hard push for him since he’s still a free agent this close to the opening of training camp.
Gusev did have a down year to start with the Devils, only posting five points in 20 games. He was able to turn it around with a change in scenery after the Panthers acquired him for their run. In 11 games after being dealt, he then scored five points.
Gusev may not be a top-six player on the Oilers with their top two lines set in stone, but he will give the team a dangerous option lower in the lineup.
After starting his career off nicely as a Montreal Canadien for six seasons, Galchenyuk has bounced around every year since. Since the trade, apart from his first season with the Arizona Coyotes, he has struggled mightily. In the past two seasons, he has been a part of four different teams and hasn’t found his place on any of them. Dealt during the season both years, he has been in and out of the lineup and even spent time with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League during part of 2020-21.
Galchenyuk is a talented player that needs to find a home and stick to be able to get confidence in his game back. We started to see that when he was playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs. With spots up for grabs on the bottom two lines, he may be able to make an impact and fill in where needed, even if it is as an extra at times.
As a former third overall selection, he was chosen for a reason, and he still has the tools to succeed. He is not old in any sense, and his offensive capabilities didn’t just vanish. In the right situation, he could flourish once again.
Vatanen is a talented defenceman, but injuries have derailed his career a bit in recent years. It’s not the most appealing to a team to sign a player to a deal almost certainly knowing that they won’t be able to give them a full season. During his nine-year career, he has only exceeded the 70 game mark on three occasions. This was in consecutive years from 2015-2018. This was at the peak of his career, where he was putting up the most points while staying mostly healthy.
Vatanen has never had a problem posting solid numbers as a top-four defenceman until recent years, where it seems injuries have really caught up to him. When healthy, he can give a team over 20:00 min average time of ice (ATOI) per night and can contribute offensively and defensively while doing it.
A possible reason for missing more time than normal through his career may stem from the number of blocked shots he records on a nightly basis. In 473 career games, Vatanen has blocked 727 shots, 115 of them coming while on the penalty kill. He also plays a physical game, with 540 hits. After the loss of Adam Larsson to the Seattle Kraken, Cody Ceci won’t be able to make up for what the Oilers lost all by himself. The Oilers may want another option besides Ceci and Kris Russell to be a force in the defensive zone, while also being a threat offensively.
It seems as though Gustafsson has got the short end of the stick thus far in his career. He had an odd start to his NHL career, as the Chicago Blackhawks were jammed up on defense, so earning consistent playing time was difficult. The first time he saw action in the NHL was in 2015-16, where he split time between the AHL and NHL. He recorded 14 assists in 41 games in his first season with the Blackhawks. The following season was spent entirely in the minors. In the 2017-18 season, he was given another look in the NHL, playing 35 games and putting up five goals and 16 points.
Breaking out in a big way in 2018-19 with the Blackhawks, Gustafsson dropped 60 points and was a key part of the power play. He recorded 18 power-play points as the unit’s quarterback and scored 17 goals that season.
Gustafsson has seen a reduced role since leaving the Blackhawks, as he has barely cracked the 18:00 ATOI mark. In his career year, he played 22:35 ATOI and was an all-star. He would be a great player to fill in if one of the Oilers’ offensive contributors on the back end were to miss games.
Any of these players would be great additions to sign to a cheap one-year contract or a PTO, as they would all provide a low-risk, high reward opportunity for the Oilers. A team can never have enough depth, and with that comes competition to earn time in the lineup. The more players in the mix fighting for a spot, the Oilers should see the compete level from each and every one of their depth players increase, as well as possibly acquiring a diamond in the rough.
Longtime Edmonton Oilers fan with a background in hockey analytics. Writer for the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers.