The day has come and gone and the Oilers have made some surprising moves as they finalized their 2014-15 opening night roster.
Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl will be making their NHL debuts on October 9th versus the Calgary Flames.
The Oilers re-assigned eight players with four of them (Keith Aulie, Anton Lander, Steve Pinizzotto and Tyler Pitlick) being put on waivers for purpose of re-assignment to the AHL Oklahoma City Barons. Joining them will be some players that made some big-time impressions in camp in Jujhar Khaira and Bogdan Yakimov who have forced their way into the Oilers future plans. Both players could form a formidable punch up the middle in the future. Another player going to start the season with the Barons is a former Olympian for Slovakia in Martin Marincin whose early preseason struggles allowed him to be passed over on the depth chart.
Tough guy Kevin Westgarth was released from his PTO as the Oilers will elect to go with Luke Gazdic instead.
That leaves the opening night roster to look like this:
- Goaltenders (2): Ben Scrivens, Viktor Fasth
- Defense (8): Mark Fayne, Andrew Ference, Brad Hunt, Oscar Klefbom, Jeff Petry, Nikita Nikitin (IR), Darnell Nurse & Justin Schultz
- Forwards (14): Will Acton, Mark Arcobello, Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Luke Gazdic (IR), Boyd Gordon, Taylor Hall, Matt Hendricks, Jesse Joensuu, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, David Perron, Benoit Pouliot, Teddy Purcell & Nail Yakupov
So what does it all mean?
Nurse/Klefbom over Marincin/Aulie…
High competition for defenseman attributed to the decision to send Martin Marincin down to join the Barons. In his last year of his ELC, the Oilers felt they would’ve lost Marincin in waivers next season so giving him one more season of seasoning before becoming a regular NHLer. Marincin had a little bit of a slower start to the pre-season than management would have liked.
The hope is for Nurse to play his 9-game NHL stint before deciding if they will keep him for the season. The Oilers are feeling that with the injury to Nikitin it has opened up a spot for Nurse to get more of a focused extended look and deservedly so. The Oilers however need to put Nurse in a position to succeed at the NHL level and that means putting him with Fayne or the much underappreciated Petry.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 5, 2014
Hunt had a great camp and has put himself into the Oilers plans after being an undrafted player out of NCAA Bemidji State University. MacTavish caught sight of him when he was with the AHL Chicago Wolves for a short-stint and made sure he was with the Oilers developmental system for 2013-14. Hunt, 26, has impressed and will start the season quarterbacking the second-powerplay unit.
The surprise on defense was the waiving of Aulie who was one of the defensive signings made by MacTavish to shore up the defense.
Many felt Aulie was penciled into the seventh spot on the Oilers unit but a poor camp and the inability to keep up with the NHL game made the management team give it another thought. Aulie, 25, similar to Lander is running out of chances at the NHL level (more on Lander below). He has an impressive 6’6 222lbs frame but mobility and read-and-react skills need to improve if he wants to become an NHL regular. It’s still just the start of the season but a slow start has Aulie needing to work his way back into the lineup and show he can push players around and be something of resemblance even on a smaller level as he was in junior.
Tough Decisions Upfront…
23-27-6, 4-93-14, 67-55-10, 57-26-16 to start practice
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) October 5, 2014
For all the “by the numbers” talk that Oilers fan should take note of it should be the number of 1st round picks the team will be icing this year. The Oilers will ice ten, you heard me, ten 1st round picks to start the season! Let that sink in. That number breaks down to eight forwards and two defenseman in Klefbom (19th overall, 2011) and Nurse (7th overall, 2013). Dont believe the stat? Here are the forwards
Leon Draisaitl – 3rd overall, 2014
Jordan Eberle – 22nd overall, 2008
Boyd Gordon – 17th overall, 2002
Taylor Hall – 1st overall, 2010
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – 1st overall, 2011
David Perron – 26th overall, 2007
Benoit Pouliot – 4th overall, 2005
Nail Yakupov – 1st overall, 2012
That group includes (Of those eight four of them are Top 3 selections. Of those four are three 1st overall selections. The one with the most pressure is Hall who needs to continue to drive the bus for the Oilers this season. Although he struggles on the defensive side of the puck, Hall has been on the verge of becoming a Top 5 player in the league after cracking the Top 10 in back-to-back years in the scoring race.
Look for more dominance, but for that dominance the rest of the group needs to be better.
Pitlick has made some great strides but the final decision came down to a positional bias as the Oilers elected to keep an extra center. The same story can be made for journeyman Pinizotto. Joensuu in fact had one of the stronger camps of any Oilers forward and forced the door for both Pinnizotto and Pitlick.
Draisaitl is ready to play in the NHL and outplayed all of his competition in camp outside of Nugent-Hopkins and Gordon who are permanent bookends as the first-line and fourth-line centers. Lander had a better camp than last year but was outplayed by several players.
It seems like the Oilers are running out of patience with Lander who has had numerous opportunities to take a hold of the fourth-line center position. This could be the end of the line as Lander, age, now risks being passed over by Yakimov and Khiara who had an impressive camp. MacTavish stated he feels the Oilers are better at center than they were a year ago when the team was crippled down the middle, especially the start of the season when both Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner started the season on LTIR.
Now that the roster is set the expectations will be high on the Oilers forward core to finally live up to the hype.
Too much inconsistency from Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Yakupov and the rest of the group outside of Hall cost them any chance at making a surge up the Western Conference standings last year. A breakout season for Yakupov who seems to have developed some chemistry with Draisaitl would do wonders for the Oilers second powerplay unit. Look for the Oilers to rotate Pouliot and Perron on the wing to find a compliment that doesn’t make this line look too defensively irresponsible.
There’s reason for optimism
“There’s no question in my mind we’re better. We’re significantly better. But we still have a significant gap to close.” – GM MacTavish — Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 5, 2014
The Oilers goaltending situation, however much you can question trusting your faith in a combined 109 game sample size between the two, has stabilized. The defense prospects has been a strength in the organization and the Oilers are starting to see the fruits of labour that come with drafting and developing. The forward ranks have the size they lacked last season.
In no way, shape or form has this team regressed. On paper this team has improved and finishing with a Top 3 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft shouldn’t be in the cards for the 2014-15 Oilers (sorry Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel fans).