Ken Holland has done a solid job in creating real competition at the upcoming training camp. There are areas of the roster he has been unable to create training camp battles, like skill center, but that’s a tough assignment with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl already on board. That’s a position he can probably consider solved, at least at No. 1 and No. 2 center.
There are spots on the roster that are thin heading to camp and at this point it doesn’t appear any more cavalry are coming. What are the most concerning positions?
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Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto are locks for top-six employment in 2020-21.
After that, there are several incumbents who will spend time on the top two lines. Zack Kassian, Alex Chiasson, James Neal and even Josh Archibald will or could see time in the top-six forwards. Joakim Nygard could spend the season in Europe or the minors or on an extended taxi squad, but he too could line up on the wing with a skill center.
Ken Holland added Dominik Kahun, Tyler Ennis and Jesse Puljujarvi to that group and the result is a fascinating group of forwards who will be available to Dave Tippett. Every general manager and coach wants competition and qualified competition.
I think Holland has created it here, within limits. There is no Taylor Hall here, but the days of Ty Rattie lining up with McDavid due to cap concerns appear to be fading.
Opening night: Nuge-McDavid-Kassian; Kahun-Draisaitl-Yamamoto
The key get for Holland in this area is Kyle Turris, who will (imo) increase offense at both ends of the ice. Bottom six centers were outscored badly at five on five scoring last year: Riley Sheahan 17-37; Jujhar Khaira 15-34; Gaetan Haas 12-15.
The center position on the bottom two lines has Turris, Khaira and Haas returning, and I suspect Alan Quine is going to play more games than most believe at this time. The wildcard, and I do believe he’ll play in Edmonton at some point this season, is Ryan McLeod.
Opening Night: Ennis-Turris-Puljujarvi; Neal-Khaira-Chiasson
Assuming good health for all but Oscar Klefbom, the top two pairings should be a combination of Adam Larsson, Darnell Nurse, Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones. Tyson Barrie will no doubt get top-four minutes too, and I suspect Dave Tippett will trust his third pairing more than he did one year ago.
Jones is the key. I would have preferred he play on the third pairing for a year, but he’s a fine choice in a feature role in the absence of alternatives. I believe in Jones as a long-term fix, and he will be a big part of this 2020-21 Oilers club. Like 20 minutes a night big.
Kris Russell is an interesting part of this defensive unit for the coming season. If you look at his ice time a year ago, he appeared to be on the downbeat. If that continues, William Lagesson is the most likely youngster to benefit.
Philip Broberg is a complete wildcard, he could land as No. 3 LD opening night based on his bubble moment and SHL performance. Evan Bouchard could push too, although it seems to me the RH side is established if everyone stays healthy. Plenty of competition created by Holland on defense, I believe that to be true.
Opening night: Nurse-Bear; Jones-Larsson; Russell-Barrie.
This is the one area that Holland was unable to upgrade adequately, but it’s my belief we’ll see more movement here during the year. Mikko Koskinen is a good NHL goalie, I think he may start 50 games. Mike Smith is a wildcard now, suspect he’ll be on a short leash (Holland won’t lose the season to a struggling goalie). After that, we’re looking at Anton Forsberg, who I think is Smith’s equal and more likely to stay healthy. There’s also an opportunity to deal for someone like Adin Hill and that’s the path forward in my opinion. Holland has added a fine prospect in Ilya Konovalov but he’s under contract for another year. Hill could slide in and be a useful piece for this team.
Opening night: Mikko Koskinen (Mike Smith)
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, we get rolling on two hours of sports talk and fun. Bruce McCurdy from the Cult of Hockey at the Edmonton Journal joins me to chat Dominik Kahun and his role. Joe Osborne from OddsShark talks NFL at 11. And we’ll have plenty of chatter about WHL teams loaning out players to AJHL clubs and some baseball offseason talk. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!