The Edmonton Oilers have grown substantially since Ken Holland took over.
They are 121-71, .630 in his 3 regular seasons as Oilers General Manager. And they have been to the post-season all 3 years, including the Western Conference Final berth in 2021-22.
But as the club enters its 4th season of the Holland era, the makeup of the roster has taken on one particularly unique trait.
That and more in this week’s edition of…
9. Parting words from Zack Kassian: “I want to express my extreme gratitude to everyone within the (Oilers) organization from the front office staff to the trainers, everyone outside of hockey, our fans, and most importantly my teammates. Our friendship will last a lifetime. I can’t thank you enough. Edmonton will always hold a special place in my heart.”
8. The Oilers have inked 2022 1st Round pick Reid Schaefer to a 3-year ELC. Because his birthday is not until after September 15th, it acts like a 4-year ELC with 2 slide years. A tidy little piece of foresight by Ken Holland. I will not pretend to have watched Schaeffer this year. But people I know who witnessed the Edmonton-Seattle 2021-22 WHL final say Schaeffer was the Thunderbirds best player. Physical. Big shot. Good hands in tight. Straight-ahead speed.
7. Development camps do not tell you much. It is just an orientation, really. Players arrive at different levels of skill, stature and maturity. Notables from this year: G Ryan Fanti, F James Hamblin, F Carter Savoie, F Matvey Petrov, F Noah Philp and F Reid Schaefer. Philp is of immediate interest. New Bakersfield head coach Colin Chaulk has an opportunity in the 6’2 200 LB Philp to develop something the entire organization only has 2 of…right-shot centers. The only other one is Derek Ryan.
6. The Brett Kulak deal has the potential to be a real value contract for the Oilers. That is a whole lot of Defenceman for just $2.75m/year. Erik Gudbranson signed for $4.4m in Columbus, Ben Chiarot for $4.75m in Detroit. In a league getting faster by the day, a guy with the high-end wheels of a Brett Kulak is increasingly valuable. I have respect for both Gudbranson and Chiarot, they are solid pros. But is Chiarot twice the D-man (he’s almost twice the cost) as Kulak? I think not.
5. I submit that no other NHL player active today has the same level of combined skill, finish, and toughness as Evander Kane. But more important is his chemistry with Connor McDavid. There is always lots of talk about how easy it is to score on McDavid’s flank. Sure, Pat Maroon scored 27 with him and Zack Kassian scored 15. But while I have lots of time for both of those guys, neither are at the skill level Evander Kane…who just might score 40 in 2022-23. It is a big difference.
4. Jack Campbell may eventually become an elite #1 with the Edmonton Oilers. But looking at him with a more critical eye, I think I see a 1A. To me, the real potential is in the pairing of Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner. I believe Campbell’s and Skinner’s success will become co-dependent on one another. If Skinner can deliver a solid 30 starts, then Campbell is way more likely to deliver a solid 50. Conversely, if Campbell gives you those 50+, the pressure is off the rookie to play above his head. Win, win. We hope…
3. Ken Holland has a few more roster spaces to firm up, between now and training camp. I expect the Ryan McLeod contract to be done ASAP, as he has no arbitration rights. The other 3 RFA’s, Kailer Yamamoto, Jesse Puljujarvi and Tyler Benson all need to be dealt with. I would look for 2-3 other signings. Perhaps a veteran NHL-AHL D-man, almost certainly 2 more veteran forwards. RSC Evan Rodrigues had 43 points in Pittsburgh last year and is budget friendly (made $1m in ’21-22). Winger Sonny Milano scored14 in Anaheim last season (at just $1.7m). LSC Mattias Janmark made $2m in Vegas (9-16-25 in 67 games). He would be a good fit but would need to take a bit of a haircut to fit under the cap. (Update at 10: 00 MST, Janmark has signed a 1-year, $1.25m contract in Edmonton. The details from my Cult of Hockey colleague Bruce McCurdy can be found here).
2. It is easy to assess the value of the Connor McDavid & Leon Draisaitl contracts in terms of their production and contributions on the ice and in the room. There are already Hart, Lindsay and Art Ross trophies to illustrate that. But what is consistently overlooked is their value in terms of acquiring and keeping good talent. Do Evander Kane, Jack Campbell and Zach Hyman come here at all if there is no 97 or 29? No chance, especially Kane and Hyman. Brett Kulak maybe looks harder during free agency without them. The very presence of McDavid and Draisaitl means the Stanley window is wide open for this franchise, both on the ice in terms of performance and off it in terms of roster building. Speaking of which…
1.The off-season roster churn has seen 3 notable names go from the Oilers dressing room: Duncan Keith (retired), Kris Russell (unlikely to re-sign) and (although probably on LTIR and so not “gone”, per se) Mike Smith. In amalgamated experience and leadership, that adds up to 2,838 NHL regular season games and 256 Stanley Cup Playoff performances. That is a lot of “been there, seen that” that will no longer on the ice, on the bench or maybe not even the room. To me, this is a poignant and highly significant changing of the leadership guard in Edmonton. And it marks a turning point for the franchise. Think about it…
For years, going back to the Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins drafts, we have been talking about the need to surround the kids on the roster with a veteran presence. 15 years of insulating young draft picks. A lot of that was through the Decade of Darkness. And many of those names have been at or near the end of their NHL careers. But finally, for the first time in almost two decades, the core performers of the Edmonton Oilers roster now ARE the club’s experienced leadership group. They are one in the same.
Who watched Leon Draisaitl tough it out for much of the playoffs on one leg and still produce an elite-level 32 points in 16 games and did not think “that is leadership defined”? Connor McDavid captained this club all the way to the Western Conference Final at a 2-point/game clip while playing 23: 00/night. He won Round 2 in dramatic fashion in OT. And when most players would have been in the press box Darnell Nurse was gutting it out through a torn hip flexor, playing 21 minutes/night against the other team’s best guys.
You bring in experience hoping that the veteran cunning and influence that Keith, Smith, and Russell rub off on the roster in a very good way. And if it indeed does, then you should be able to watch those examples continue to pay off in the players that they influenced for years (and perhaps cups) to come.
Based on the evidence we witnessed and the returns we enjoyed in the 2022 playoffs, I think we can say that it has already begun for the Edmonton Oilers.
Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins
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