Oilers Have Some Tough Decisions to Make Before the Deadline

There’s been a lot of speculation about Edmonton Oilers’ general manager Ken Holland’s shopping list for the March 21 NHL Trade Deadline. He might be looking at solidifying the goaltending, the defence or possibly the third or fourth line. Knowing that the Oilers are close to the cap ceiling, Holland and his staff have to consider moving assets within the organization. Who will stay, and who will go? Can you unload the final months of Mikko Koskinen’s $4.5 million contract for goaltending help?

And what about players such as Tyler Benson, or dare I suggest Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto. Both the Bison King and Yamamoto are restricted free agents (RFAs) after this season and need new contracts. After close to three years of evaluating the talent on the Oilers and within the organization, Holland must have a good idea of how he wants to shape his team moving forward.

Oilers Tyler Benson Could Use a Fresh Start

We don’t really know how good Benson could become. He seems to be an afterthought now that the Oilers have added left winger Evander Kane. And with Dylan Holloway looking good with Bakersfield in the American Hockey League, you have to wonder what the Oilers’ long-term plans are for Benson. The same could also be said for Oilers left winger Brendan Perlini. Since the signing of Kane, who has been a strong addition to the Oilers lineup, Benson hasn’t seen the ice.

Tyler Benson Edmonton Oilers
Tyler Benson, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

In fact, Benson’s last appearance for the Oilers was on Jan. 22 in their victory over the Calgary Flames when he went without a point but was +1 on the scoresheet. There’s a chance that Oilers head coach Dave Tippett could put Benson in the lineup a few times between now and the March 21 trade deadline to have fresh legs during an incredibly busy second-half schedule. However, based on recent personnel decisions, it doesn’t look promising for Benson to stay in the lineup on a consistent basis and build some positive momentum for his career.

Benson Has Shown Improvement at Every Level

Since being selected in the second round (32nd overall) at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Oilers management and fans were hoping Benson would develop into an everyday NHLer. His track record has been impressive on his way to the NHL, as he’s excelled at every level from AAA Bantam in Edmonton to the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants and eventually the Bakersfield Condors. Benson is caught between having nothing more to prove in the American Hockey League and yet not being able to crack the Oilers’ lineup on a regular basis.

Related: Oilers’ Evolving Forward Benson Deserves Greater Opportunity

If the Oilers aren’t going to play Benson and can’t send him down to Bakersfield for fear of losing him for nothing on the waiver wire, it might be time to give him a fresh start somewhere else. Hopefully Holland can use Benson as a trade chip to land help for the remainder of the season. It would be best for Benson and best for the Oilers since he seems unable to stay in the lineup on a regular basis.

Does Jesse Puljujarvi Fit Into the Oilers’ Long-Term Plans?

At the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Oilers selected Jesse Puljujarvi fourth overall, Benson at 32nd and then drafted Markus Niemelainen 63rd overall. Based on where the team is at right now in the 2021-22 season, Niemelainen might have the most potential to have a long-term career with the Oilers. Puljujarvi has shown flashes of brilliance since coming back to the club last season but now seems stuck offensively. COVID might have slowed Puljujarvi down a bit in the past few weeks, but he’s going to have to get things going if he wants to earn a big pay raise in the offseason.

Jesse Puljujarvi Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As it sits today, there are 14 players from the 2016 draft with more career points than Puljujarvi. However, it’s worth noting that he’s played significantly fewer games than many of his 2016 draft counterparts. But, when you get a regular shift with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl as Puljujarvi has for at least one season, there’s an expectation that he should be further ahead in points than he is, especially in the 21-22 season.

Puljujarvi signing could be one of the most debated issues before the trade deadline. Does Holland believe the Bison King has the potential to emerge as a star similar to a Micheal Goulet or Guy Lafleur, who took a few years to reach their potential? Or will Puljujarvi go down in Oilers history as a popular player who just couldn’t take it one step higher? The next 40 games of this season could provide the answer to see if they believe in him enough to wait it out a little longer.

Will Yamamoto Be Traded by the Deadline?

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