Through five games, the on-ice parts of the NHL preseason have been pretty encouraging for the Edmonton Oilers. The goalies, young and old, are looking sharp, Finnish forward Jesse Puljujarvi looks like he’s taking another step after his breakout season of 2020-21, and unheralded free-agent addition Brendan Perlini is turning out to be a revelation. But there are also a few players who haven’t been able to show what was hoped, if not expected, of them, leaving their respective futures with the Oilers is in question.
Just three preseason games remaining for the Oilers, and the clock is ticking on the likes of Tyler Benson, Ryan McLeod, William Lagesson, and Ryan McLeod to make a statement before the Oilers have to set their 23-man roster for the opening of the 2021-22 season in just over a week.
Five years after he was drafted 32nd overall, 2021-22 looked like the year Benson might get his shot at finding a home on the Oilers roster. The 23-year-old left winger has spent the last three seasons toiling in the American Hockey League (AHL) and played seven career NHL games.
Determined not to let this chance pass him by, Benson put in some serious work this summer and arrived at training camp in the best shape of his career. The door to Edmonton’s lineup seemingly swung open with winger Josh Archibald out of action (Oilers coach Dave Tippett has since revealed that Archibald is sidelined indefinitely with a heart condition).
Unfortunately, Benson hasn’t been able to seize the opportunity. While the Edmonton native has played in four preseason games, averaging over 15 minutes of ice time, he hasn’t recorded a single point, has just five shots on goal, and his minus-two rating is tied for third-worst on the Oilers.
Going back to his days lighting up Alberta’s bantam and midget leagues as a member of the South Side Athletic Club, Benson’s calling card has consistently been scoring. If he’s not contributing offensively, the speedy forward hasn’t necessarily shown enough in other facets of his game to find a role in the NHL.
Competition for roster spots is stiff at forward, and Benson has fallen behind the likes of Perlini, who has four goals and five points in four games, and Colton Sceviour, a versatile utility type who is in Edmonton on a professional tryout agreement (PTO).
Benson has to clear waivers and is likely to be scooped up by another team should the Oilers send him back to the AHL. There is also the possibility that Oilers general manager Ken Holland tries to trade Benson if Holland doesn’t see the forward sticking in Edmonton.
Lagesson has been on the fringes of the Oilers lineup for years. Still, the blueliner has never quite been able to supplant one of the veterans, and now the 25-year-old is being surpassed by some of the Oilers gifted young defensemen, like 2019 first-round draft pick Philip Broberg.
The Swedish rearguard has played four preseason games, recording no points, two penalty minutes, and six shots while registering a minus-2 rating. Lagesson has been caught of position on multiple occasions, and the pairing of Lagesson and free-agent addition Cody Ceci stuck out like a sore thumb on an otherwise sound blueline in Edmonton’s 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place on Saturday (Oct. 2).
Seven years after they drafted Lagesson in the fourth round, the Oilers may very well have seen enough to determine he’s just not cut out to be an NHL regular. Lagesson has played only 27 career NHL games, including 19 last season.
In the mix for the left slot on Edmonton’s third defensive pairing, Lagesson remains behind veteran Kris Russell, who has been recovering from injury but is hoped to make his preseason debut Thursday (Oct. 7). He’s also looking up the depth chart at 6-foot-2 Slater Koekoek, who can play both right or left side, meaning there may not even be a roster spot for Lagesson as a seventh or eighth defenceman. Like Benson, Lagesson is waiver eligible.
Unlike Benson and Lagesson, McLeod’s longer-term future with the Oilers is rock solid: the 22-year-old forward is seen as a key piece moving forward. It’s the immediate future that’s suddenly not so certain.
McLeod made his NHL debut last spring, suiting up 10 times in the regular season and for all four of the Oilers’ playoff games. He was so impressive in that stint that throughout the offseason and even into the start of training camp, McLeod was being projected as Edmonton’s third line center for 2021-22.
But thus far into the preseason, potential bottom-six centers Derek Ryan and Devin Shore have looked a lot better in the middle than McLeod, who has zero points in five games and a team-worst minus-3 rating.
Notably, McLeod is one of only two Oilers to suit up for every preseason game. The other is the auditioning Sceviour. So clearly, Tippett wants to get a serious look at McLeod and has a lot to consider with the 2018 second-round draft pick.
McLeod should be a fixture in Edmonton for years to come. But his spot in the lineup at this moment is tenuous, particularly given that he doesn’t need to clear waivers. Again, unlike Benson and Lagesson, there is no risk in the Oilers sending McLeod back down to the AHL.
On Sunday (Oct. 3), Edmonton reduced its roster to 29 players, including 16 forwards and nine defensemen. Benson, Lagesson, and McLeod will likely all see action at least twice more in the preseason, with only a few more cuts to come.
The Oilers host the Calgary Flames on Monday (Oct. 4) and Vancouver Canucks on Thursday (Oct. 7) before closing out their preseason schedule in Vancouver on Saturday (Oct. 9). That will be the absolute last chance for those Oilers on the bubble to make a final impression.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.