November 31-in-31: Edmonton Oilers

Jameson Ewasiuk

2020-11-12

The 31-in-31 Summer Series is an annual event here at DobberProspects! Things being what they are, we had to move it to November. Every day in November we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s draft, and insights into their off-season movements thus far. Following this up, the December 31-in-31 Series will dive into every team’s prospect depth charts with fantasy insights and implications for the upcoming seasons. Check back often, because we plan on filling your hockey withdrawal needs all fall/winter long. 

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Coming into the draft, Edmonton did not have picks in the second or fourth rounds, while also having the option to lose their third in either this year’s draft or next, as part of the Milan Lucic for James Neal trade. General Manager, Ken Holland, made the smart decision to keep their third-round pick this year, instead of the alternative, which would have had the Oilers waiting until the fifth round to make their first pick on day two.

Over the years, Edmonton has had a habit of not making the obvious picks, drafting size over talent, and generally thinking that they are smarter than everyone else. Obviously, you never know how a player will develop and turn out. However, you cannot be surprised when that second (or third) year draft-eligible Junior-A player, that you just selected (who was not even producing that well at 19, or 20-year-old), does not turn out. To give some perspective, the last time the Oilers drafted a forward outside of round-one that did actually develop into an NHL’er, was Jujhar Khaira in 2012, and even he struggles to stay in the lineup full-time. Tobias Rieder, drafted in the fourth round in 2011, would otherwise be the first “full-time” NHL player, but he left the organization before playing an NHL game.

A couple of interviews by the Oilers’ Director of Amateur Scouting, Tyler Wright, prior to draft day, foreshadowed the team’s draft quite well. In one interview he said, “We have to become harder to play against. You can’t have enough players who drag others into the fight”. Now, this was scary to hear from a director of amateur scouting, as it implies strength and physicality are key attributes that they look for in their draft picks. When in reality, talent should be the attribute that they want.  But, the team got both when they used their first-round selection on Dylan Holloway at 14. The pick received mixed reactions on social media, mainly because people tend to focus on stats alone. However, Holloway has the potential to be a total package power-forward that can skate and contribute at both ends of the ice. His 17 points in 35 games as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin does not exactly stand out. But, he has been a point producer at every level, was the CJHL and AJHL player of the year the season prior, and he recorded five goals and nine points in the final 10 games of last season. Not to mention the quality of his team, which had just 14 wins in 36 games and only one point-per-game player (Cole Caufield).

In Wright’s other interview, “It’s not just going up to the draft board thinking we’re going to be smarter than everybody and we’re going to make this pick”. Wright said, “It’s about maximizing your position”. Well, Edmonton did exactly that when they opted to trade their third-round (76th) in exchange for the 100th and 126th picks. At 100, they selected Carter Savoie, whose consensus ranking was 65th and the lowest public ranking was 84th. At 126th, they selected Tyler Tullio, whose consensus was 57th and lowest public ranking was 80th. They definitely maximized value with those two picks. Fun fact, this was the Oilers’ first draft since 1991 that they did not draft at least one defenseman.

Now with all that being said, here is a pick by pick breakdown of the Oilers’ 2020 selections.

Draft Recap

Round 1, 14th overall – Dylan Holloway, C/LW

Do me a favor, give the kid a chance before you continue to put this pick down, and stop calling it a surprise/reach selection. Holloway was seen as a consensus mid-first-round pick for most of the season, other than being a predicted top-10 pick prior to, and early into the season. Physical tools, two-way play, and a track record of offensive production indicate that he should be a dominant NCAA player very soon and is exactly what Edmonton could use in their top six.

Connor McDavid does well with power-forwards on his line and knows how to get great production out of them. If he can get top-six level production out of Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon, imagine what he can do with a more talented power-forward in Holloway. He is not the flashiest pick but there is solid upside here.

Round 4, 100th overall – Carter Savoie, LW

As stated earlier, with a consensus public ranking of 65th, this is excellent value. This is the exact type of pick you want your team to make in the mid-late rounds, that is, pure offensive upside and talent.

The Edmonton product lacks NHL quickness for his below-average size, and he will never be mistaken for a two-way forward. But, he has strong offensive instincts and is a dangerous finisher. He also has an underrated in-your-face, pest-type attitude to his game at times.

Round 5, 126th overall – Tyler Tullio, C/RW

See above for the value in this pick. Tullio is a versatile player that can play any forward position. He lacks size but is a quick skater who plays bigger than you would expect and is very tenacious. He is strong on the forecheck and is a threat as both a goal scorer and a playmaker.

His 27 goals and 66 points in 62 games for the Oshawa Generals (OHL) last season was very nice production for a first time eligible fifth-round pick.

Round 5, 138th overall – Maxim Beryozkin, LW

The Russian forward was seen as a sleeper by many in the public scouting community, so it is nice to see Edmonton utilize a later round pick on a player with his abilities. The power-forward will need to work on his skating if he hopes to be an NHL player, but he can be a force once at top speed. His playmaking can be described as average at this point, but he is a dangerous goal scorer with a strong release.

Speaking of value, Beryozkin’s 25 goals for Yoko Yaroslavl ranked first in the MHL among first-year draft-eligible players and his 1.06 points-per-game (54 points in 51 games) ranked second to Maple Leafs’ 2020 first-round pick, Rodion Amirov.

Round 6, 169th overall – Filip Engaras, C

It would not be an Oilers’ draft without at least one head-scratcher pick. As of right now, Engaras is that pick. The biggest concern is that the Swedish forward is already 21-years-old and was in his fourth year of draft eligibility.

Now, his 15 points in 25 games as a freshman at the University of New Hampshire may not sound great, given his age. But, perhaps it can be taken with a grain of salt, as it was his first season in North America and he missed the entire 2018-2019 season.

He is a good skater with an improved release on his shot and works hard both on and off the ice. With a year of play in North America under his belt, Engaras should see an improvement in his offensive production this season.

Round 7, 200th overall – Jeremias Lindewall, LW

The Swedish winger is a power forward, who is effective along the boards and has a strong presence in front of the opposition’s net. He moves well around the ice and knows what he has to do to be effective.

Last year he recorded a respectable 12 goals and 28 points in 39 games for MODO Hockey (J20) of the J20 SuperElite. Like all seventh-round picks, if Lindewall even develops into a bottom-six NHL forward, it should be considered a successful pick.

Offseason Moves

When you have arguably the best hockey player in the world on your team and also the league’s leading scorer and Hart Trophy winner, making the playoffs should not even be a question. The Oilers had a chance to do something special in a “once in a lifetime” playoff scenario, with so many teams in their hometown. So, how did they respond? By getting absolutely taken to the cleaners by a Blackhawks team that sat 12th in the Western Conference. That same Blackhawks team then went on to get easily eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights, an actual playoff team.

That play-in series against the Blackhawks made Edmonton’s weaknesses even more apparent than they already were. The hope was that their defense would be serviceable during the series, but it was not, and it was evident that they lack a true leader on the backend who can elevate his game when the going gets tough. On top of that, Dave Tippett was out coached and the Oilers top-six was in disarray following his decision to break up one of the best lines in hockey, placing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on McDavid’s line before the series started, then, refusing to switch them back when all the lines were struggling. To top it all off, having players like Zack Kassian, who can change the tone of the game with their physicality, deciding not to show up, really hurt the team. To sum it all up, changes needed to be made.

So, let us start with the Draft weekend. With so many players rumored to be available around the league, there was hope that Edmonton may make a splash which potentially involved trading their 14th overall pick. Unfortunately, Edmonton did not acquire any big-name players, but they did make a long-awaited move. On day two of the draft, they announced that they had ended the Jesse Puljujarvi soap opera by signing the Finnish forward to a two-year contract worth 1.175 million per season. Not only was it a surprise that the Oilers convinced Puljujarvi to sign, but it’s also a surprise that they got him to agree to two years and for just 1.175 million AAV. This is an excellent value contract, as Puljujarvi is not the same player he was when he left Edmonton for Finland, where he finished fourth in points and fifth in the league in goals last year. Not to mention his hip surgery, which has by all accounts helped his overall mechanics. At just over one million, this contract is an excellent value that Edmonton can afford to play anywhere in their lineup. He will likely start on the third line but do not be surprised if he truly has improved his game and developed, that he eventually sees some time on Mcdavid’s wing.

Also on day two of the draft, Edmonton sent qualifying offers to Ethan Bear and William Lagesson, neither of which was a surprise. On November fourth, Edmonton signed Lagesson to a two-year contract worth 725K per season. This is a nice contract for Edmonton, as the Swedish defender did not look out of place when called upon to play in the NHL. As of right now, Ethan Bear has yet to sign a contract, which is likely due to the Oilers not having enough cap space until they put Klefbom on long-term injured reserve, which would free up over four-million in cap space.

The “biggest” names that the Oilers lost this off-season were RFA defender Matt Benning and skilled RFA winger Andreas Athanasiou. Neither of which was a surprise. Benning is a six/seven defender who has value as he is right-handed but can be replaced by Evan Bouchard and/or Caleb Jones, the latter of which can play either side and have likely already surpassed Benning.

There was some controversy over not qualifying Athanasiou, but let us make something clear, it was a smart move. In order to qualify the skilled winger, it would have cost 3 million. Further down, I will talk about Holland’s excellent cap utilization this offseason, which would not have been possible if they had signed Athanasiou. Regardless, a lot of fans were not happy that they acquired the winger at the deadline and gave up quite a bit to get him to the tune of a 2020, and a 2021 second-round pick. But, not only did Athanasiou not fully fit in with the team’s play, Holland could not have predicted a worldwide pandemic, nor his battle with injuries during his time in Edmonton. On top of that, the hope was that he would play with Mcdavid, but Athanasiou wants to be the speedy puck carrier on his line and you just cannot be when you play with Mcdavid. The two did not mesh in limited time together. In the regular season, he did not get a chance with Draisaitl, as his line was set in stone with Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto until the play-ins. So, in other words, Athanasiou was relegated to the bottom-six, which was a terrible place for him as he has very little defensive ability and despite him being 6-foot-2, was the softest Oilers’ forward. These two aspects of his game do not make for a good bottom-six forward. Near the end of the play-ins against Chicago, Tippett briefly put Athanasiou on Draisaitl’s line and he flashed some upside there, but it was too late in the series at that point.

Next, let us talk about goaltending. There were rumors that Edmonton was in on Jacob Markstrom, who signed a six by six contract with Calgary, as well as Brayden Holtby, who signed a two year, 4.3 million per season contract with Vancouver. To make it clear, Edmonton could not afford either of these options with only 8.766 million in cap space, and numerous holes to fill, such as a third-line center. Not to mention an Oscar Klefbom “replacement”, as he might miss the entire upcoming season. Edmonton opted to re-sign Mike Smith to a one-year contract, with a base salary of 1.5 million. His contract can go up to two-million, should Smith play a significant role in the Oilers making it to round three of the playoffs (so in other words it is very unlikely). This signing does not exactly instill confidence in Oiler fans, but at that point in free agency, there were no better options left in terms of performance. An argument could be made that a guy like Aaron Dell is similar statistically, and only got 800K, but the team obviously decided that for 700K more, they will stick with the guy they have. A player who is well-liked by both head coach, Dave Tippett, and among the locker room.

Players in: Jesse Puljujarvi, Kyle Turris, Tyson Barrie, Dominik Kahun, Adam Cracknell, Anton Forsberg, Alan Quine, Seth Griffith

It’s time to give Ken Holland the respect that he deserves. Not only did he sign one of the top UFA defenders, Tyson Barrie, to a one-year “bounce back” contract worth a friendly 3.75 million, but he also brought in a proven veteran center in Kyle Turris for two-years at just 1.65 per season – another friendly contract. But wait, it gets better. Holland also signed underrated offensive forward Dominik Kahun, to a one-year deal worth just 975K, re-signed Tyler Ennis to a one-year contract worth one-million, and as mentioned earlier, signed Puljujarvi as well for two-years. He signed all these players for just 8.55 million. Edmonton now has a legitimate third-line center, the best winger depth they have had in years and the best puck-moving defender they have had in over a decade. Barrie is Edmonton’s biggest signing this offseason. He has his warts defensively, but when utilized properly (which he was not in Toronto), has proven to be a 50-point defender. Heck, he was on pace for 45 points in a poor year last season with the Leafs. To give some idea of how desperate Edmonton is for a point-producing defenseman, the last time the Oilers had a rearguard tally 45 or more points was 12 years ago, during the 2008-2009 season when Tom Gilbert had 45 and Sheldon Souray had 53 points. With Klefbom being out for an extended period, Barrie will be pegged as his replacement. The latter may not be as reliable in his own end, but he is a superior puck mover and producer. As discussed earlier the Oilers also re-signed goalie Mike Smith.

Holland also addressed the Bakersfield Condors’ regression last year by signing three AHL all-stars in goalie Anton Forsberg and forwards, Alan Quine and Seth Griffith. He also brought in veteran, Adam Cracknell, who was in the KHL last year but is a proven AHL producer.

Players out: Matt Benning, Andreas Athanasiou

Nobody should be overly upset at the loss of these two players. Both were replaceable, and now, have been replaced. Holland had a fantastic offseason and has made the team better than it was.

Also leaving the organization, due to not being qualified, are Bogdan Yakimov, Anton Slepyshev (disappointing but he opted to resign in the KHL for two-years instead), Ryan Mantha (has not played hockey due to injury since 2017-18), Angus Redmond, Nolan Vesey, Logan Day, Cameron Hebig, Shane Starrett, and Ryan Kuffner. None of these are overly surprising. Slepyshev would have re-signed if he wanted to come back to North America as the team did make him an offer. Logan Day and Shane Starrett are likely the next best players on this list, but both had down years in the AHL compared to their seasons prior, and with both being 26-years-old, could not afford to regress statistically.

 Now let us finish up with some positives to hold onto:

  •  The Oilers did not have many early draft picks this year but they got excellent value in players like Savoie, Tullio, and Beryozkin.
  • Kahun has produced well in his NHL career but has never been put in a spot to succeed like he will this season. Most of his production comes at even strength, which is a welcome addition to the Oilers. He will start the season likely on either Mcdavid’s or Draisaitl’s wing, which could give him a career year.
  • Barrie is the best point-producing defender that the Oilers have had in 12 years.
  • The Jesse Puljujarvi soap opera is over. He is better now than when he left for Finland and should be a legitimate top-nine option.
  • Actual competition on the wings. Kassian, Neal, Kahun, Ennis, Puljujarvi, and Yamamoto will need to earn the right to play with Mcdavid or Draisaitl. With Nugent-Hopkins being a lock as a top-six left winger, there are only three spots available. Expect more bottom-six offensive contributions

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Thanks for reading! Leave a comment or question on whether you agree or disagree. You can find me on Twitter  @JamesonEwasiuk DM’s are open and welcome! Stay safe and here’s to a January start to the season.

 

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