3 Options for Oilers to Create Internal Competition at Right Wing

The Edmonton Oilers signed Kailer Yamamoto to a two-year extension, tackling one of their RFA issues prior to the start of next season. While he’s likely set to take a top-six spot on the roster to open the 2022-23 campaign, there is still a potential issue for Edmonton as they look to improve on their Western Conference Final appearance in 2022. The Oilers aren’t deep at right wing and the fact that Yamamoto is virtually assured a spot is not ideal.

This isn’t to say that Yamamoto won’t succeed in the top six (even on the top line) or that he can’t earn his way into that role consistently. This is more an assessment or observation that good teams create internal competition for roster spots and the Oilers don’t have that coming into this season.

As such, it would be wise for GM Ken Holland to find a way to force the issue. How can he make Yamamoto — and to a lesser extent Jesse Puljujarvi — a bit less comfortable, knowing that the job isn’t necessarily theirs to lose but one each still has to earn?

Move Zach Hyman Over

The quick fix is to shift Zach Hyman over to the right wing. Evander Kane was so effective on the left side that it would be silly to disrupt that chemistry with Connor McDavid. Hyman can play both sides and that would make for a dangerous top line or a useful second line if he was in one of the right-wing spots.

Zach Hyman Edmonton Oilers
Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Hyman is a workhorse no matter the side he’s playing on and his being slotted as a right-winger to open the year means one of Yamamoto or Puljujarvi has to earn the right to force head coach Jay Woodcroft to move Hyman back. That’s a great problem to have as the surplus of talent and skill trickles down throughout the rest of the roster and gives the Oilers a dangerous third line with a number of possible player combinations.

Don’t Trade Jesse Puljujarvi

There is still plenty of chatter that Puljujarvi’s future in Edmonton is uncertain. Signed to a one-year, $3 million contract extension, insiders have it pegged at about a 50/50 chance he’s traded versus retained. Moving the player only exacerbates the issue for the Oilers as it takes another right-winger off the roster who is being considered a middle-six and potentially top-six forward.

Jesse Puljujarvi Edmonton Oilers
Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Dustin Nielsen and Tom Gazzola of the Oil Stream podcast joked that there could be some external competition when it comes to Yamamoto and Puljujarvi and their respective status on this team. Their agents might be looking at both players and when one gets $100K more than the other, it’s fair to wonder if getting the tiniest of bumps is a thing the players and the agents look at. While Gazzola didn’t think it was an issue in this particular case, it does make one wonder if these two players are competing with each other over who has more personal success. Yamamoto and Puljujarvi have often battled it out with each other for the same roster spot and that will continue if both are on the roster to start the season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Related: 10 Reasons Why the Oilers Are Stanley Cup Contenders

Players can be friendly and competitive at the same time. It’s all for the betterment of the team and Puljujarvi remaining on this roster could be the kick in the pants Yamamoto needs (assuming he needs one).

Sign Another Low-Cost Free Agent

There are plenty of deals to be had on the free agent market right now. Among them, Phil Kessel‘s name is popular among insiders who have the Oilers and the winger linked together. Kessel is a right-winger who has been a top-six guy for most of his NHL career. He’s coming off a down season which will likely translate into him signing a bargain deal with a competitor and the Oilers make a lot of sense if he sees an opportunity to slide into one of the top-six spots.

Phil Kessel Arizona Coyotes
Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Some fans will argue Kessel doesn’t have it any longer. They may even suggest he’s got character flaws. The same things were argued about Duncan Keith who performed admirably during his one season in Edmonton. So too, Kessel’s name carries some pedigree with it in any locker room. Both Yamamoto and Puljujarvi would be keenly aware that their nightly slots on the top six were no longer a guarantee.

There’s got to be a level of pride still attached to Kessel and a motivated player with something to prove can be a useful asset to have. It just so happens that he’s exactly the kind of scoring winger the Oilers could use in their top six if he’s productive and if Edmonton does choose to trade Puljjujarvi, they’ll need a viable replacement right away. If Kessel is available for cheap, even better.

Kessel isn’t the only option out there. Evan Rodrigues still hasn’t signed as he’s coming off a 19-goal season with 43 points in 82 games. At 28 years old, he might want to sign a “show-me deal” with a team to up his numbers in a major way and make himself an extremely attractive option in free agency next summer.