July 32-In-32: Edmonton Oilers

Jameson Ewasiuk

2023-07-12

The 2023 draft was expected to be a quiet one for the Edmonton Oilers and those expectations came to reality. The Oilers held just three picks in this year’s draft, one in the second round at 56, one in the sixth at 184th and lastly one in the seventh at 216th. In terms of how Edmonton ended up with so few picks, the traded their 1st away in a package deal for top-pairing defender Mattias Ekholm, their third was sent to Arizona for Nick Bjugstad, the fourth went to the Flyers for Derick Brassard and finally their fifth was moved to the New York Rangers for prospect Jayden Grubbe.
There was some hope that Edmonton would be able to add a draft pick when trading Kailer Yamamoto who was seen as expendable due to his inconsistencies and the Oilers’ horrible cap situation. To the disappointment of most Oiler fans, Kailer Yamamoto and fan favourite Klim Kostin were moved to Detroit for future considerations. What is the most disappointing about the trade is the desperation move to clear cap and get nothing in return for a 24-year-old NHLer who had 41 points two seasons ago and played at a 35 points pace this past season. Kostin was rumoured to be moving on from Edmonton anyways but it is still disappointing after he finally started to show his potential. Detroit was able to resign Kostin but decided to buy out Yamamoto who then signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Kraken to play in his home state.

Draft Recap

Round 2, 56th Overall – Beau Akey, RD

To be blunt, Edmonton’s prospect pool desperately lacks talent at all positions. With a number of high upside options available at this point of day two of the draft, as long as Edmonton did not go off the board (like they often do past the first round) or select a player based on physical tools rather than upside, they were in a good position at 56th. Enter Beau Akey. Akey is a right handed defender with excellent skating abilities and who was a bit of a sleeper pick. Early in the season, he was the Barrie Colts number one defender until Brandt Clarke returned to the OHL, but even with the addition of Clarke, Akey finished the season with an impressive 47 points in 66 games. He flashed some dynamic offensive upside but does have some defensive deficiencies to go with a bit of a slighter stature. Overall, this is a very astute pick by the Oilers based on them targeting mobility, skill and upside. Akey has the potential to be a point-per-game defender for Barrie this season and a top four rearguard for the Oilers in the future. He should be considered Edmonton’s top defenseman prospect right now.

Round 6, 184th Overall – Nathaniel Day, G

Yes, it is a sixth round pick but at this point it is hard to be excited with this selection. Playing on the Flint Firebirds, a playoff team in the Ontario Hockey League, Day recorded a 17-10 record to go along with an underwhelming 0.874 save-percentage and goals-against-average of 3.91. To say the young netminder’s numbers were not great would be an understatement and in the last 20 years you would likely be hard pressed to find a CHL goaltender on a playoff team find NHL success with a goals against or save percentage similar to Day’s. There are concerns about his ability to track pucks and his foot work/stance has also been criticized. A lot can happen developmentally between now and his pro debut but there is a ton of work to do and consistency to build before he should be considered a future NHL goaltender. With so few picks this year, targeting some of the players with strong production and more proven success may have been a better choice in this spot.

Round 7, 216th Overall – Matt Copponi, C

This was a smart pick by the Edmonton Oilers. Copponi may have been passed over in the two previous NHL drafts but he definitely earned a selection this time around. Playing for Merrimack College of the NCAA, Copponi recorded 14 goals (tied for 1st on his team) and 29 points (second on Merrimack) in 37 games. His 29 points were a very strong jump from the nine he recorded the previous season as a freshman. His jump in production and development is especially nice considering that he did not play the entire 2020-2021. With all that said though, the 20-year-old forward should still be considered a project as a prospect. At 5-11 and 174 lbs he is considered undersized for the NHL and he is not exactly the best skater. His puck skills are pretty average at this point but his hockey sense and willingness to contribute in all areas have served him very well up to this point. Overall, Copponi is showing solid year-over-year improvement and if he can refine his skating and puck skills then he could quietly become a sleeper in Edmonton’s system.

******

The Off-Season

Incoming

  • Connor Brown, RW
  • Lane Pederson, C
  • Drake Caggiula, LW
  • Noel Hoefenmayer, LD
  • Ben Gleason, LD
 

Outgoing

  • Klim Kostin, LW/RW – Traded
  • Kailer Yamamoto – Traded
  • Nick Bjugstad, C – UFA (Arizona)
  • Oscar Klefbom, LD – UFA
  • Mike Smith, G – UFA
  • Slater Koekkoek, LD – UFA
  • Devin Shore, C/LW – UFA
  • Jason Demers, RD (minors) – UFA
  • Ryan Murray, LD – UFA
  • Noah Philp, C (minors) – RFA (retired)
  • Tyler Benson, LW (minors) – UFA
  • Justin Bailey, RW/LW (minors) – UFA
 
 

Re-signed

  • Derek Ryan, C
  • Mattias Janmark, C/W
  • Phil Kemp, RD
  • Olivier Rodrigue, G
  • Jayden Grubbe, C (entry-level contract)

The goal of this Summer was for the Bakersfield Condors to get better right? Right? Up to this point, Edmonton’s summer has been underwhelming and there is an argument to be made that they are not any better than last season. The big UFA that they targeted was Connor Brown and while he is better than the exiting Kailer Yamamoto and Klim Kostin individually, after only playing four games last season, is he for sure better than both of them combined? Is a player that is known as an ok second line forward or great third line player that much of a difference maker that he will give the Oilers that much needed consistency in their secondary scoring? The answer will likely be no.

On top of the on ice impact and how much Brown bounces back after essentially missing all of last season, there are concerns about how Ken Holland used the cap to obtain this player. With a base salary of only $775,000 going against the cap this season, this looks like an amazing signing for the team but when you factor in his bonus, this contract becomes a bit ugly for their salary cap. All Brown has to do is play 10 games this season then he will automatically receive a $3,225,000 bonus that will count against next year’s salary cap. The cap is expected to jump up five to six million next season and Edmonton just lost 3.225 of it to a player that is not even signed for next season. The contract is great for this season but horrible for next. There were reports that Brown had offers from other teams of four million base salary with term but looking at the forward contracts handed out to UFAs this Summer, that is incredibly hard to believe. As a 29-year-old 2nd line tweener who just missed an entire season to injury, you probably are not passing up that kind of guaranteed money.

Ken Holland was in a big hurry to resign Derek Ryan and Mattias Janmark. While they are serviceable fourth line forwards, there was no real reason to rush out and do this and there was much better value to be had in the UFA market. For example, the two resigned forwards will cost Edmonton $1.9 million against the cap next season but Daniel Sprong, who signed with Detroit, only got two million after recording 21 goals and 46 points in just 66 games. Matt Duchene and Max Domi, who both had 56 points last season, only got $3 million from Dallas and Toronto. Would these players have signed in Edmonton? We will never know but they are significantly more productive players for not very much more cost. Ryan and Janmark type players are typically the players that sign late in free agency or are camp invites but nevertheless, what was the need to hurry up and sign them when Edmonton’s bottom six struggled in the playoffs?

Edmonton has $5.62 million in cap space and need to resign RFAs Ryan McLeod and Evan Bouchard. Bouchard is destined for a two-year bridge deal worth somewhere in the 3.5-4 million range while McLeod has filed for arbitration. It should be expected that one way or another, the young forward receives a deal around 1.5 million per season. The Bouchard and McLeod contracts, if they sign for the expected amounts, will eat up the rest of Edmonton’s cap.

So where does everything above leave Edmonton? Well their top-six is set with the McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Hyman, Kane and the addition of Brown. Their bottom-six however is currently composed of Foegele, McLeod (assuming he is resigned), Ryan and Janmark. Two more bodies are needed to fill the gaps but with next to no cap available these holes may have to be filled internally with the likes of Drake Caggiula, Dylan Holloway, Raphael Lavoie, Lane Pederson or Xavier Bourgault. Woof. The current base four are strong skaters (aside from Derek Ryan) but desperately lack scoring consistency and any sort of grit minus Warren Foegele.

Defensively, Edmonton’s backend is soft and inconsistent in their own end. Ekholm, Nurse, Bouchard, Ceci and Kulak make up the core five with only Nurse and Ekholm providing any sort of grit. The front runners for the sixth defense spot are Vincent Desharnais and Philip Broberg, neither of which looked like NHLers last season. Desharnais became a fan favorite early due to his punishing physical nature but that physicality disappeared after awhile and his decision making and puck skills were clearly not NHL caliber. Broberg is mobile and flashed some upside but has not taken the steps forward that were expected of him but at the same time, he just turned 22-years-old. He has size but did not possess even a bit of grit in his game which made him a liability in any sort of battles. As has been said the past couple seasons, this core is not consistent enough defensively and does not provide enough bite to to be reliable in the playoffs when the game gets tighter. The addition of Mattias Ekholm last year was a big boost but he cannot be only player capable of playing consistently in Edmonton’s zone. Changes should be made here but I would not expect them.

Lastly, the last line of defense, goaltending. Stuart Skinner started the year strong but faded as the season went on and then really struggled in the playoffs. As he was only a rookie last season, there are hopes that he can improve this year and be Edmonton’s goalie of the future. Jack Campbell was a disaster from the start but there is hope that he can bounce back to the player he has been for the majority of his NHL career.

During the past two seasons, Edmonton has flourished in the second half due to the acquisitions of Evander Kane in 2021-2022 and Mattias Ekholm last year. Still, in both playoffs, Edmonton’s soft and inconsistent defense and bottom-six forwards, as well as their lacklustre goaltending, have caused them to falter. Has Kenny Holland addressed any of these concerns this Summer? Not as of yet. Is the team in win-now mode and therefore should be doing everything they can to improve? Yes. Some solid bottom-six options are still available in free agency, but Holland will need to work some cap magic to fill in these depth forward holes. Some of these options include Jonathan Toews (if he he does not retire), Noah Gregor, Max Comtois and Jesper Boqvist. To improve their defence one of Ceci or Kulak would likely need to be moved out to create cap space.

So what can Edmonton fans expect this season? Well first off, never underestimate a team that possesses the planet’s best hockey player and another forward that is top-five in the league. However, McDavid, Draisaitl, Hyman and Nugent-Hopkins all had career years last season. Expect regression from these players at least from Hyman and Nugent Hopkins. At the same time, expect a better season from Evander Kane. Edmonton will also go into the season with the best defenseman (Mattias Ekholm) that they have had since 2008-2009 Sheldon Souray or possibly even 2005-2006 Chris Pronger but still lack consistency on the backend. As for goaltending, as I said last Summer, if Campbell can play at a level close to his NHL career before Edmonton, this will be the best tandem Edmonton has had in a very very long time. Lots to like with their squad but lots of concerns too.

The August 32-in-32 article will cover organization depth charts in more detail, so come back in a month!

*****

Development Camp

The Oilers held their development camp from July 3-6 including their annual Billy Moores Cup, which is comprised of seven scrimmage “games”. The scrimmages are a great way to compare the players and the closest things to games that you get in development camp.
You could see Xavier Bourgault’s skill and game processing being more polished than most of the other players. However, after a season in the AHL and the only first-round pick at camp, it would have been nice to see him stand out a bit more.
 Matvei Petrov was the biggest standout and scored goals at will in the scrimmages. There are things to improve as he enters his first season in the AHL but the arrows are pointing in the right direction and Edmonton desperately needs a mid-late round pick forward to manifest into an NHL player. Tyler Tullio also showed much more poise and more of his hard-working style than he did in camp last year. After a solid rookie season in the AHL, there is hope for Tullio to be an impact player for the Condors this season.
Beau Akey did not stand out too much aside from his slick mobility. Lastly, Max Wanner was the most noticeable defender with his combination of size/skating, his solid two-way style and his developing offensive elements.

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Thank you for reading! For more Edmonton Oilers prospect coverage I can be found on Twitter @JamesonEwasiuk

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Name Fantasy Upside NHL Certainty
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