SIZING UP POTENTIAL ROSTER
Who makes Oilers’ forward ranks? Who starts in net on opening night?:
Trying to pick the opening night roster for the St. Louis Blues is child’s play because they were carrying the Stanley Cup around the ice in June and you don’t fix what ain’t broke unless you can’t afford somebody like Patrick Maroon and they walk away.
But the roster for the Edmonton Oilers, who missed the playoffs by 17 points?
That’s a fool’s errand with way more questions than answers.
This might be the 23-man roster by line, or not.
Leon Draisaitl - Connor Mcdavid - Zack Kassian.
Thomas Jurco Ryan Nugent-hopkins - James Neal.
Joakim Nygard - Colby Cave - Alex Chiasson.
Jujhar Khaira - Riley Sheahan - Josh Archibald.
The 13th and 14th forwards? Markus Granlund and Sam Gagner.
Gaetan Haas was very good in Calgary in the last exhibition game on Saturday, but Cave was better through camp and Haas doesn’t need to clear waivers while Cave does (Boston might want him back).
Haas, on a two-way deal, could go to Bakersfield, but for a short time because he has an out to return to his Swiss team with no stomach to make cheap money in the AHL after being a semi-star back home.
Patrick Russell may lose out even though he only makes $700,000 and he has shown his versatility through most of his six exhibitions as a bottom-six, penalty killer because, well, there’s always optics at play here. They signed Granlund to do just that and he’s more experienced at it, even though Russell has outplayed him. Sometimes life isn’t fair. Russell has caught the eye of other teams, though. He has to clear waivers. Nygard’s speed gets him the room to adapt to the NHL game, plus he set up both goals in Calgary Saturday and they need skill with so may role players. He’s a top-nine player, for sure. Jurco had five pre-season points.
If his back holds up and he gets over the knock of inconsistent play, he’s a keeper.
Gagner is a specialty player who can be on the second power-play unit, plus he’s able to complement skill guys
and coach Dave Tippett knows what he can do from their time in Arizona. His $3.25-million salary is problematic, of course, if he’s a 13th or 14th forward, but he’s a veteran voice in the room. Now, of course, GM Ken Holland could see somebody better on the waiver wire. He’s got enough guys who can check; does he have enough who can score? He could make a trade but he doesn’t want to give up assets.
“We found out a lot about our team in the last two to three weeks, we know where we stand,” said Tippett. “I think there’s more than just 12 forwards we’re looking at, and the key is finding rhythm on the lines, people in the right roles as to power play and penalty killing, all part of the decisions we make. It’s skill level, overall team speed, how well do players hound pucks and play in our structure.”
While the Oilers lost 3-2 to the Flames to finish pre-season 3-4, Tippett liked what he saw with Mcdavid, Ryan Nugent-hopkins, Neal, Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell at home.
Some grasped the opportunity and really played well, like Nygard.
“He was very good, quick on pucks, tenacity, real strong,” said Tippett.
Tippett thought he was good all game, Nygard for 20 minutes.
“I created some passes, our line scored two goals in the third,” said Nygard. “But the first and second periods weren’t that good. I know I can perform better.”
And Haas? Tippett got an eyeful of the Swiss centre who had struggled with adapting to the NHL game in exhibitions but was very effective in Calgary.
“This was Haas’s best game by mile, so we’ll evaluate,” he said.
“While we had players not having to play for much, others do and it’s great that they show up and give you what they’ve got.”
Haas, a solid No. 2 C in Switzerland and a matchup guy on their national team at the worlds, was noticeable in his 16 minutes against pretty much Calgary’s NHL lineup. But, again, he doesn’t have to clear waivers.
Maybe it’s easier to send him down for a few weeks and keep Cave, who’s shown the ability to make some plays but isn’t a shooter and played in six of seven exhibitions.
Buyer beware with pre-season offensive stats. Jurco tied Klefbom and Ethan Bear for the team high, but Ty Rattie was great last fall and Kailer Yamamoto made the club off exhibition prowess, too. But, if Jurco goes on waivers, somebody might take him because he had three goals in his four games and 12 shots.
Tippett thought Granlund, bothered by a sore groin in camp, was “OK.”
“He’s got some smarts, the penalty kill was pretty good. Not bad, not bad,” he said.
Sam Gagner (above) would provide a veteran voice in the Oilers dressing room, while Colby Cave (inset, left) has shown the ability to make plays and suited up in six of the Oilers’ seven pre-season games.
Joakim Nygard, who was impressive in the Oilers’ pre-season finale on Saturday, has the speed needed to get him the room to adapt to the NHL game.