I recently wrote a piece stating that the Edmonton Oilers signing of Jussi Jokinen was a smart bet. Monday, the Oilers made a similar play, albeit with a much less proven NHL player, when they signed defenseman Yohann Auvitu on a one-year deal worth $700K.
Auvitu the Player
Auvitu, 27, appeared in 25 games with the New Jersey Devils last season, recording four points (2G, 2A) and two penalty minutes. He comes to the Edmonton Oilers as a player whose reputation is that of a puck-moving defenseman, willing to take risks and excellent at generating shots from the point. In fact, he’s so good at it, he spent some time on the left wing and while he’s going to be a defenseman in Edmonton, could potentially give the team an option in a real pinch.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) July 10, 2017
He’s best to be deployed as a sixth or seventh defenseman and will play a depth role for the Oilers, likely teaming up with someone more defensively aware. If there’s a knock on him as a player, it’s that he can get himself out of position looking for offense. Therefore, he wouldn’t fit well with a player like Oscar Klefbom or perhaps a Darnell Nurse. Where he may shine is the power play and in offensive zone starts where his underlying numbers are pretty good.
The pro-analytics crowd is likely pleased with this signing. In terms of shot generation in 5-vs-5 situations per 60 minutes, Auvitu ranks right near the top of the pile. He’s ranked fourth, behind only Brent Burns, Dougie Hamilton and Aaron Ekbald in shots/60 in the entire NHL in 2016-17. It’s the same statistical analysis the ‘fancystats’ guys use to suggest Darnell Nurse will be a huge player for Edmonton (Nurse ranked fifth).
Why Yohann Auvitu?
The 5’11”, 191-pound blueliner has a small sample size worth of NHL games from which to evaluate his play. That said, he’s played well in the AHL, where in 29 games with the Albany Devils in 2016-17, he posted 13 points (5G, 8A) and two penalty minutes. Prior to that, he spent six seasons in the Finnish Elite Leauge, appearing in 216 games and registering 57 points (19G, 38A).
The key here is that the arrows point in the right direction. On a team that was not good at keeping the puck out their own net, Auvitu was actually doing better than most of the team. A 57% goals for percentage (GF%) shows the Oilers that he didn’t get crushed as a relatively new player in the NHL.
Another Safe Bet
It became obvious after the first day of free agency that the Oilers weren’t going to be major players in free agency. What is becoming more clear is that general manager Peter Chiarelli is going to add smaller depth pieces to round out what he believes is a very strong core.
Jussi Jokinen was the first of those types of signings and getting him pen-to-paper on a short-term inexpensive deal was considered a win. Adding Auvitu has the potential to be another well-played move. His low salary is not an issue for the team, nor is his one-year deal. If he pans out, he adds depth and scoring. If he doesn’t, he can try his luck somewhere else.