The Edmonton Oilers finally delivered on what we all thought was a reasonable plan of attack: Add another defenseman. The surprise of the transaction? Kris Russell is the answer. We were looking for a more offensive defender, who clearly wasn’t there. My current pick for trigger man on the power play? Jesse Puljujarvi.
- Cam Talbot, 29. Sleep when your kids sleep. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- Jonas Gustavsson, 31. He played well Thursday. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- LD Oscar Klefbom, 23. He was fabulous Thursday night, ridiculous skater and he is far more prepared than his actual NHL experience implies. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- LD Andrej Sekera, 30. He was splendid Thursday night, I think he will flourish on the second pairing. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- LD Brandon Davidson, 24. Appears to have avoided injury in British Columbia, a major opportunity for him to cement his status as an Oiler for years to come. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- LD Kris Russell, 29. Signed for one year and $3.1 million, I think he is a reasonable option for third pairing, left side. The Leftorium continues to be a thing, and I do think we will see five of the seven defenders opening night being portsiders. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- LD Darnell Nurse, 21. Hasn’t played this week, expect he will see action tonight. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- RD Adam Larsson, 23. His last two games have been outstanding to my eye, and the Klefbom—Larsson pairing may develop into a very good top pairing. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- RD Mark Fayne, 29. I rate him as being in real trouble now, if not to make the roster, to hang around for much longer. Chances of Making the Oilers: 70%.
- RD Eric Gryba, 28. I think he had a real chance until the Russell signing. Chances of Making the Oilers: 30%.
- RD Matt Benning, 23. If he continues to play as he has the last two games, it won’t be long until he is in Edmonton for the long term. Chances of Making the Oilers: 30%.
- C Connor McDavid, 19. Touched by God. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 23. I think he is a key player for this team, in all three disciplines. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- C-R Leon Draisaitl, 20. I think he plays a lot on RW this season, but will leave him at C—at least until we see the Oilers pick up a 3C. Watch for that before opening night, and if it doesn’t happen the organization may run Drake Caggiula when he is healthy. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- C Mark Letestu, 31. He is a good 4C and Edmonton can use him. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- C-L Drake Caggiula, 22. Injury clouds things, but I think he earned the job when he is healthy. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- C Anton Lander, 25. I would look for a waiver center, possibly right handed. Chances of Making the Oilers: 40%.
- L Milan Lucic, 28. The big man needs to have more of an impact. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- L Benoit Pouliot, 29. Sublime forechecker, throwback winger. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- L Patrick Maroon, 28. Splendid training camp, could move up. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- R Tyler Pitlick, 24. Wins the Hendricks job. Chances of Making the Oilers: 90%.
- R Anton Slepyshev, 22. So close, my guess he is final cut. Chances of Making the Oilers: 50%.
- R Jordan Eberle, 26. Lots of expectations, he has a strong scoring resume. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- R Zack Kassian, 25. I see him as a 4line option who can move up the depth chart. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- R Kris Versteeg, 30. The only thing left is the contract. Chances of Making the Oilers: 100%.
- R Jesse Puljujarvi, 18. He is big (6.04, 203), fast and skilled—and appears to be learning on the job. I like the way he marked his man Thursday and his willingness to use his size to win battles. I have no idea what his rookie season looks like, but believe most of it will be in Edmonton. Chances of Making the Oilers: 90%.
- L Matt Hendricks, 35. Tough break for the veteran winger, sounds like weeks instead of days. Chances of Making the Oilers: nil.
- R Iiro Pakarinen, 24. Injury did not look good, out for some time. Chances of Making the Oilers: nil.
- LD Andrew Ference—LTIR. Chances of Making the Oilers: nil.
KRIS RUSSELL 15-16
- 5×5 points per 60: 0.57
- 5×4 points per 60: 3.27 (in 92 minutes)
- Corsi for 5×5 %: 45.3
- Qual Comp: second pair
- Qual Team: 3rd pair
- Corsi for 5×5 % REL: -9.2
- Shots on goal/percentage: 70 shots/5.7%
- Boxcars: 62GP, 4-15-19
- Information via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, behindthenet.ca and hockey-reference.
Russell is most famous for being the world’s most successful shot blocker, and that is cool save for the fact it means you never have the puck. He should be more famous for his icetime—23:05 a night last year—and for his lack of penalties (he received Byng votes last season). He is not a good possession defenseman—across the board numbers look poor—and I do think the Oilers are foolish to add a lefty to the Leftorium, especially with the latest studies showing a six percent fall in possession due to offhandedness.
That said, it is a one-year deal and Russell is a veteran NHL defenseman. If we run a depth chart today, it looks wonky, but injuries will take care of someone sooner or later, and we may see a LHD for RHD trade at some point during the year. I am somewhat indifferent about the signing—Edmonton needed a puck-moving righty —and am genuinely curious about how the pairings will go. I don’t think Russell gets here unless Fayne has lost another step, and that may offer us some insight into the next step. As a general rule, I encourage the idea of hiring actual NHL players, so this signing—while unusual for the reasons stated—probably has a good chance to help the team at some point during the year. Should fetch a nice package at the deadline, too, if it comes to that.
OPENING NIGHT ROSTER (A GUESS)
- Milan Lucic—Connor McDavid—Jordan Eberle
- Benoit Pouliot—Ryan Nugent-Hopkins—Leon Draisaitl
- Patrick Maroon—??????—Jesse Puljujarvi
- Tyler Pitlick—Mark Letestu—Zack Kassian
- Extras: Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev
- Oscar Klefbom—Adam Larsson
- Kris Russell—Andrej Sekera
- Darnell Nurse—Brandon Davidson
- Extra: Mark Fayne
- Cam Talbot (Jonas Gustavsson)
I think the Oilers find a RHC between now and opening night. I think Jesse Puljujarvi makes the team now, likely on a 3line that gets shuffled a lot. Slepyshev and Caggiula are the bubble guys, but for me both men are ahead of Anton Lander at this time.
The lefty-righty issue is a real problem, and the Russell signing pushes that to the forefront. Maybe this move is the first step in a trade (Brandon Davidson for Mark Pysyk?) or the Mark Fayne erosion may have picked up steam over the summer. That said, I do not think the signing of Russell fixes the defense enough to warrant the investment. The one year aspect of the deal mostly solves that concern, but I bet Mark Fayne ends up playing more with Sekera than Russell this season. I would have signed Gryba.
Lost in the Yakupov trade news is the fact Jesse Puljujarvi has a roster spot (unless I have missed the mark) and should be here for the entire season. I watched him Thursday night and he can mark his man well, fights for the puck and is willing to engage physically—all three things important elements for a Peter Chiarelli team. My RE had JP playing 65 games and going 14-14-28—and that seems reasonable, although I suspect he is going to get more power-play time than was estimated this summer.
Puljujarvi’s physical play and willingness to fight for the puck are both elements the Oilers value highly. I think the Finn will get some looks on the McDavid line eventually, because as good as Jordan Eberle is as a shooter, a bigger man with skill who can retrieve pucks fits the Chiarelli template better.
I think the injury to Kris Versteeg—combined with the Yakupov trade—means Leon will play a lot at RW this season—until JP is ready to take over. What does that mean for Anton Lander? Ladies, I don’t think he will be on the trip. Suspect Peter Chiarelli will pursue a 3C, likely a righty but at this point that player may not be available. Ideally, he would be a Pisani, someone with experience who could mentor Puljujarvi, Slepyshev and others as they slide on to his line. What is this player’s name? Bet we know by Wednesday.
THE RETURN FOR NAIL
I am shocked that people are shocked by the return for Nail. There has been a fairly consistent thread from msm about value (I believe a third-round pick was discussed around the draft) and the actual trade turned out to be in the range predicted. Edmonton made no real effort to increase his value, there was a sense (based on what we read) that the team wanted to move on from him, and when you force a trade the value is never there. We have seen the Oilers do this deal many times this century, surprised we can still be surprised by the return.
I hope Nail Yakupov scores 15 goals by Christmas, then scores 20 more before scoring 17 in the playoffs and potting the Stanley Cup winner. Seriously. You grab this chance young man, and you ride it until it drops.