The Oilers had themselves a Day 1 of free agency to remember re-signing Evander Kane, Brett Kulak, and getting their goaltender in Jack Campbell. They also went out and added a third goaltender, Calvin Pickard, in case of injury while they also signed Greg McKegg.
As good as the Oilers did, they still have some depth needs to fill and missed out on a couple of names that would have fit great in holes they have yet to fill. Take a look.
Dylan Strome may not be a depth piece, but he would’ve been able to slot into the middle six of the Oilers’ lineup or even on the wing alongside Connor McDavid to have that Erie Otters connection. That was a big reason why so many thought he would come to Edmonton and why he would have done well in rediscovering that chemistry. It would have been more so for Strome than McDavid as the Oilers’ captain has found a stellar winger in Kane but is still looking for another.
Strome showed he can still score despite the criticism and lack of trust the Blackhawks had in him, even scratching him. Twenty-two goals and 48 points in 69 games is nothing to brush off, and the Washington Capitals signed him for fairly cheap considering. The deal was for one season, so it’s very low risk. He can also play on the wing or at centre, so there’s some flexibility.
With Jesse Puljujarvi expected to be traded in the coming months before the season, Strome would have been able to fill the spot he left behind and likely put up more points without the headache of long droughts. No lines are really set in stone for the Oilers, so there will likely be some testing of chemistry again once training camp opens, a perfect time Strome would have had to get going again beside McDavid. There’s always next season as $2.25 million comes off the books from buyouts, but the Oilers also have a number of young players coming through their system and may not have the space or cap to pay even more next season for Strome.
Nic Deslauriers is the definition of a fourth-line grinder who will provide any form of physicality when called upon. He will play around 10 to 11 minutes a game as he has since he entered the league and has the perfect size to play the role. Standing at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, he will make a great number of hits every time he’s on the ice and would have been a great replacement to losing Zack Kassian, plus much cheaper.
The Philadelphia Flyers locked down Deslauriers for four years at $1.75 million per season. The contract he got was not extremely cheap and a short enough term, but it’s also better than paying Kassian $3.2 million to show up 33 percent of the time, get injured, and get scratched at times. Deslauriers has played nearly every game the past two seasons and has even picked up his offensive production goals-wise recently. He would have been able to take the role responsibility of being the man when in comes to fighting and hitting away from Kane who should be focused more on scoring goals and playing top minutes.
Deslauriers was an underrated move by the Minnesota Wild this past trade deadline and made his mark, and they surely didn’t get out in the first round because of his play. The Oilers are going to be a playoff team for years to come, so getting someone that plays the way he does would be a big help when the games start to get harder and more physical.
As far as seventh defencemen go, Jordie Benn would have been solid. It’s also not a huge deal that the Oilers didn’t sign someone of his play style and age to fill that hole. At this point there are many options that are better than Slater Koekkoek who should play the final season of his contract in the American Hockey League (AHL). On top of that, the Oilers haven’t acted on signing anyone to fill that role, not just Benn in particular.
The reason I list Benn is because he has always been a role player on the back end and teams know what they are getting. He has never averaged over 20 minutes a night in a season, and in the past two seasons has played under 15 minutes a game when he’s been in the lineup. He has already shifted into the role of sixth/seventh defencemen and done well doing so. He got paid league minimum ($750,000) by the Toronto Maple Leafs, has a ton of experience and great veteran leadership while being able to play both sides — all what a team wants from a player who should play half of the games or fewer.
Benn hits, blocks shots, is defensively minded, and plays the game hard while taking few penalties. Unlike some other veterans, he has yet to win a Stanley Cup, so there’s some extra incentive to his game. On a team like the Oilers with 22-year-old Evan Bouchard and 21-year-old Philip Broberg, he would be able to help even more with their development and adjustment to the NHL.
The Oilers did well thus far, but Ken Holland still has a bit of work to do. Even depth players can make a big difference in parts of every game. None of these players are huge losses, but it makes you think what could have been. Time will tell if any or all have impressive seasons.