On the morning of June 29, 2015, in the hours before Taylor Hall was traded, I wrote an item for this blog called “Approaching Unicorns“. If the Oilers trade for Brent Seabrook today, I promise never to use this title again. The post on 29 June last year discussed Jesse Puljujarvi as a scoring option, Milan Lucic as a possible free agent, and Edmonton’s roster producing three scoring lines. Approaching unicorns.
One year on, the dream may well be farther away, as there are more questions about the young forwards on this roster:
- Can Leon Draisaitl drive his own line?
- Can the Oilers deploy linemates for McDavid who are not in their damnable contract year?
- Will any of these young wingers emerge as 20-goal men?
- Will Milan Lucic find the range at 5×5 scoring?
PROJECTED 2017-18 ROSTER
- Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Eberle have had success with Connor McDavid and neither man is in a contract year. 97 will no doubt play a lot with Leon Draisaitl and others, but this is a veteran crew and maybe they all have career seasons.
- Leon Draisaitl had some chem with Milan Lucic and Anton Slepyshev and it might be a line that can drive results in the coming season. Both wingers have question marks, but there are options if one or both stumble.
- Nuge should get some softer opposition this year and maybe Patrick Maroon can help him cash some of those chances. I have Jesse Puljujarvi here, but Zack Kassian or Spencer Foo (should he sign) might be more attractive options.
- Zack Kassian can move up, Caggiula can too (played some with McDavid) and Letestu gets a lot of special teams time.
- As we get deeper into the offseason, that second pairing really stands out as a massive worry. I have to admit to chuckling a little when I thought about the Russell worriers contemplating life with Brent Seabrook and Russell. I am a bad man.
No. Peter Chiarelli did acquire a truckload of old people while in Boston, though. The game has changed and changed again since 2006 and speed is more important every year. Seabrook gets caught flat-footed often nowadays and his contract is so acidic that even trading Benoit Pouliot and Mark Fayne for him straight up would be a massive loss for Edmonton. No sir.
WILLIE, MICKEY AND THE DUKE
Do you remember the days of Petry, Chorney and Wild? Long before the blog posts with titles like “How is that crazy trade going?” I was monitoring the progress of three college defensemen (here’s an old post as an example). The mystery there is over, as Jeff Petry (445 NHL games) pummeled Taylor Chorney (141 NHL games) and Cody Wild (no draft pedigree) couldn’t get out of the starter’s blocks. So Petry will play 1000 games, Chorney has probably played most or all of his, and Wild is now coaching.
We have a four man race from the 2015 draft, and I’ll bet you we get at least two who play in an NHL game at some point. Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, John Marino and Ziyat Paigin have progressed very well since draft day, and the strength of that year’s draft suggests a third-round selection is probably equal to a second rounder in a normal year. Will any of them play 445 NHL games, as Petry has already? That’s a high hill. We’ll see.
If that race is the Petry sweepstakes, then the 2016 draft may be the Cody Wild Derby. In the third round of the draft this past season, Peter Chiarelli and the boys drafted three defensemen and two of them had some issues in their draft+1 season. Here’s a quick reminder.
- No. 63 overall Markus Niemelainen. He had one of the most baffling seasons by an Oilers prospect in recent memory. His point total went from 27 to nine, but the reports I got about Niemelainen had him playing well, or at least well enough to make the dive in points mysterious. He has signed with HPK in the Sm-Liiga for next season, probably best to get him a fresh start.
- No. 84 overall Matthew Cairns. Cairns started in the USHL but wasn’t playing enough, so zipped over to the BCHL. He posted 18gp, 2-14-16 (NHLE: 9.5 points) and we’re wondering if there’s some offense to his game. He is big, got flagged for speed in some of his draft day scouting reports, has a big shot but scored two goals all year. I’m not sure what he is, maybe we will know more a year from now (off to Cornell University).
- No. 91 overall Filip Berglund. The most positive story of the trio. He spent the entire season in Sweden’s top league (SHL) and even posted some crooked numbers (47gp, 0-9-9, averaging 9:30. Oscar Klefbom averaged 17:28 a night, same age, same league). Berglund has expressed a desire to remain in Sweden next season, which makes sense (he is clearly going to play based on his handling this season). Encouraging year, while also recognizing there is much road to travel for this player.
Berglund had a good year by my estimate, and I’m encouraged he is going back to get increased ice time in the same spot. Niemalainen is the most famous prospect in the group, we spent quite a bit of time on him a year ago (he compared well in some elements to Logan Stanley). I would say he is clearly behind Berglund today but would also add his size and speed give Niemelainen an edge long term. Cairns is not yet in photo.
My guess is that Peter Chiarelli is shopping Jordan Eberle now, and this is the period a year ago where we were hearing “Nuge for Dumba” rumors. If Eberle doesn’t fetch a worthwhile return, the smart play of course is to keep your powder dry. The issue for PC is that he may not have a lot aside from Eberle to offer this year. If he is willing to dangle Nugent-Hopkins, the discussions become more interesting, but is he willing to do it?
After those two men, it’s the department of youth, represented by names like Jesse Puljujarvi, Anton Slepyshev, Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear, and by numbers like No. 22. I wish there was another answer (if there is, it’ll be a LHD) but the fact is other NHL teams appear to be shopping more prominent names than Jordan Eberle.
It’s a good time to remind ourselves about how important the Nuge is/was to this organization. Here is his player card from this past season. Notice the percentage of time spent against elites (via Woodmoney):
- 5×5 points per 60: 1.45 (6th among regular forwards)
- 5×4 points per 60: 4.01 (5th among regular forwards)
- Corsi for 5×5 %: 49.1
- Corsi Rel 5×5 %: -1.6
- DFF Elite 5×5 %: 44.3
- DFF Elite Rel 5×5 %: -3.6 (42 percent of TOI v. elites)
- Shots on goal/percentage: 200 shots/9.0%
- Boxcars: 82, 18-25-43
- (All numbers via Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com and hockey-reference)
- Special thanks to GMoney and Woodguy for sharing the DFF’s
In his first three (non-lockout) seasons, Nuge scored 50+ points. In the two years since, he posted 34 points (in 55 games) and 43 this past season. Some of that has to do with usage (less power-play offense) and some to do with injury. The usage portion (42 percent of 5×5 time against elites) is approaching Horcoff levels when he was stone alone. Nuge is too valuable to trade. His offense is way below what you should expect from a $6 million man, but the fact is his power-play totals were always a major factor in what he posted. Less time on the 5×4 means points totals in the 40’s. Is he worth the price? I think he is, for this team, and hope Chiarelli doesn’t deal him. That said, he is the one player who can fetch the kind of RHD Edmonton may need to add over the summer. What this team needs is a pro scout who can identify a Steve Staios or a Jason Smith. Is that player Alex Petrovic? We wait.