The Oilers first minor league team (1979-80 Houston Apollos) deployed four men aged 20 who were just getting started on pro careers. Mike Toal, the team’s fifth-round pick in 1979, scored a point-per-game in the CHL; Cal Roadhouse, a tough winger who played his junior with the Billings Bighorns and signed a pro deal with Edmonton after the draft; Mike Kouwenhoven, another free-agent pickup from Billings who wasn’t quite as talented, and Charlie Huddy, who scored 14-34-48 in 79 games to lead the team’s defensemen.
What if this blog existed back then? I imagine there would have been plenty of arguments about Toal vs. Huddy as the most likely to make the NHL. Three years later, which represents the end of the modern entry deal, Toal had played in the NHL but was wrapping up his playing career after three pro seasons. Same for Kouwenhoven, although he would return to minor pro in the mid-80’s for a brief time. Roadhouse, who scored 17 goals in 1979-80 and showed some promise, would play until 1984 (five seasons).
Huddy? By the end of his third season he was a legit NHL player. That’s the fun part of tracking prospects, watching the success stories emerge step by step. The downside? Careers that end after three pro seasons.
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here’s the latest!
- New Lowetide: It won’t be easy, but the Oilers need to re-sign Darnell Nurse soon
- DNB: Ideal Oilers free-agent targets
- New Lowetide: An early look at the Oilers’ options for the 2021 draft
- New DNB: The pressure is on Oilers GM Ken Holland
- New Lowetide: What now for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?
- New DNB: Connor McDavid shows his frustration as another year of his prime is lost: ‘We’re a group that expects more’
- New Jonathan Willis: The NHL gifted the Oilers Connor McDavid; six years later, they have yet to adequately support him
- New DNB: The Oilers’ 10 biggest offseason priorities after a disastrous first-round playoff loss to the Jets
- Lowetide: The 5 biggest stories from the Bakersfield Condors’ 2020-21 season
- DNB: How Jesse Puljujarvi’s return to Finland primed him for Oilers success
- DNB: Darnell Nurse is on ‘another level’
- Lowetide: Jesse Puljujarvi has arrived for the Oilers — again
- Lowetide: Oilers final 2020-21 report cards: A regular season to remember
- DNB:What are the Oilers’ pressing questions ahead of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft?
- Lowetide: An early look at ideal Oilers’ free-agent targets for the offseason
Although it’s fairly straightforward, I thought it would be a good idea to list all of the RFA’s on the Oilers 50-man list and address their specific situations. Here we go.
- G Stuart Skinner. His salary ($784,166) is one percent of the team’s cap. He is a goalie, so gets an extra year before waivers, meaning he’ll be eligible in 2022 fall. I think Edmonton will sign him, but will guess Ilya Konovalov will get more starts in Bakersfield next season.
- G Dylan Wells. His entry contract paid $745,000 for NHL work and $70,000 for AHL time. Well was in the bubble for some time, and like Skinner won’t be waiver eligible for another year. It’s crowded in goal now, I think this will be Wells sail on summer with the Oilers.
- LD Theodor Lennstrom. His salary last season in the NHL ($925,000) makes him an easy re-sign if the Oilers choose to do it. Holland signed him originally so there’s a reasonable chance he returns.
- LC Jujhar Khaira. Had a strong season and I expect we’ll see him return ($1.2 million last season) with a small increase.
- RC Cooper Marody. Waiver eligible in the fall, Marody may want a change of scenery, but there are some good signs with this player. By NHLE, his progress during the entry deal is 44.0, 22.6 and 36.8. He turns 25 in December, he would have delivered reasonable offense in the NHL this year. He has to go if the Oilers aren’t offering a one-way deal.
- LW Dominik Kahun. Fell off in a big way (3.45 to 1.22) but I’d like to see the team sign him. Players often adjust in year two with a team.
- LW Tyler Benson. Waiver eligible and coming off a contract paying $808,333. It makes very little sense to invest a second-round pick and then three years of minor league deployment only to send him away. NHLE’s in pro (38.7, 30.5, 39.9) are solid and consistent, in a normal season he would have been recalled and I expect he’ll be on the 2021-22 NHL roster.
- LW Devin Shore. He grabbed playing time from most of the LW’s not named Nuge during the year, establishing himself as a solid PK option. His five on five possession numbers are poor, and I think Kahun and Benson are better LW options, but Holland made it sound like Shore has a good shot at returning during his recent presser.
- RW Kailer Yamamoto. He had a subpar second season (five on five pts-60 fell from 3.16 to 1.28) and the timing is terrible for the young winger. Based on the Ethan Bear experience (great name for a band), I’m going to suggest he doesn’t see bright lights, big city with this next contract. Two years is my guess.
- G Mike Smith. His .927 save percentage ranked No. 10 among starters in the NHL during 2020-21 and Smith appears to be a lock to return. He played so well this past season, it’s understandable the GM has interest in bringing him back. However, Smith is approaching 40 so there’s clear danger here. A substantial backup is required.
- RD Adam Larsson. Edmonton’s best shut down defenseman (1.99 GA/60) and valued by the organization, he would appear to be a lock for return. Unique skill set on the RH side, gives the team a more complete depth chart.
- RD Tyson Barrie. Delivered a career season and under most circumstances would be a priority to re-sign. Barrie’s exceptional year means last year’s contract ($3.75 million) is heading for higher ground. Edmonton is unlikely to afford his cap hit this coming season. Additionally, it is past time to slot Evan Bouchard into the lineup. I don’t see Barrie returning.
- LD Dmitry Kulikov. He looked solid in 10 regular season games and would be an option for Edmonton if Oscar Klefbom’s return is delayed this fall. He didn’t perform so well that he should be a priority.
- LD Slater Koekkoek. Young defender played better in the playoffs than in the regular season, but injury derailed much of his year and Koekkoek didn’t get a chance to show his best. I think there’s a chance Holland re-signs him.
- RC Gaetan Haas. He’ll not return despite being 70 percent of a useful NHL player. The 30 percent that’s missing is the ability to deliver any kind of offense. I can’t see him having an NHL career of any length unless a coach can teach him where the goals come from.
- LW Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. I expect the two sides will make a major effort to get things done, but I remain convinced the Seattle Kraken are too much of a temptation. I’ll guess Edmonton offers $5.75 times five and Nuge signs with the Kraken for $6.4 million over six years.
- LW Tyler Ennis. One of the strange things about this season is the fact coach Dave Tippett didn’t use this efficient scorer more often during the year. I can’t see him returning.
- LW Joakim Nygard. He’s gone, despite doing some interesting work in a very small window. He will return to Färjestad BK in the SHL, where he has enjoyed great success. He played 42 games, had three goals and nine points.
- RW Alex Chiasson. Fans are divided on him, suspect the organization would bring him back but last year’s cap hit ($2.15 million) is too dear in this market. He has scored 42 goals in his three Oilers seasons, that’s significant offense for a player who is deployed in a depth role.
- RW Patrick Russell. His contract is $700,000 but Russell doesn’t bring a lot and I expect the organization will move on in order to keep guys like Benson and others away from the waiver wire.
If Ken Holland’s team building history holds, several of the names below will be Oilers next season. Here are their final NHLE’s for 2020-21:
- Ryan McLeod (21) 39.9
- Tyler Benson (22) 39.9
- Cooper Marody (23) 36.8
- Raphael Lavoie (20) 22.3
- Joseph Gambardella (26) 19.0
- James Hamblin (21) 15.7
- Theodor Lennstrom (26) 14.7
- Markus Niemelainaen (22) 11.4
- Ostap Safin (21) 10.9
- Mike Kesselring (20) 5.7
- Phil Kemp (21) 3.3
McLeod, Benson, Marody and Lennstrom would be candidates for Edmonton next season, with Lavoie, Niemelainen, Kesselring and Kemp matriculating.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10, TSN1260, we start the week with three fabulous guests. Ryan Holt, Bakersfield Condors broadcaster, will look back on a winning season and the prospects who may graduate to the NHL next season. Jason Gregor from TSN1260 will talk about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyson Barrie and Adam Larsson in free agency and Tony Marinaro from TSN690 in Montreal will preview the Canadiens-Maple Leafs game tonight. 10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. See you on the radio!