Lowetide: Breaking down the Oilers’ 50-man list at the trade deadline

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Lowetide: Breaking down the Oilers’ 50-man list at the trade deadline

Bill Torrey didn’t invent the trade deadline, but it feels like he did. At the 1980 deadline, the New York Islanders general manager acquired Butch Goring, and the acquisition helped his team to four straight Stanley Cup victories.

That kind of major lift is what every general manager in contention is looking for right now, before the deadline.

Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland landed a fantastic addition in Mattias Ekholm last year. As he enters what is likely his final trade deadline as an NHL general manager, does he have the assets and can he create the cap to make another impact trade?

Setting the scene

In most ways, Holland is predictable at the deadline. He’s a buyer when his team contends, seller if things haven’t gone well.

Holland always acquires a defenceman for his contenders, it’s like clockwork.

This year’s deadline requires otherworldly thinking and execution to find cap room for some of the rumoured names (Jake Guentzel chief among them), but counting out Edmonton’s general manager when he’s pursuing a big name is a bad idea.

Since he arrived in Edmonton, Holland’s trade deadline record is long and varied.

No matter the result of an individual deal, there can be zero doubt the overall roster is far superior than it was on his arrival.

Here’s this year’s 50-man roster, and what it looked like on the day he arrived, by position. After each position comparison, there’s a look at the deadline and the year to come.

Goaltender

Holland signed Mike Smith in free agency before the 2019-20 season and the Mikko Koskinen contract played out as planned by previous general manager Peter Chiarelli.

The key item in goal over the last five seasons is staying the course and allowing the young goaltenders to find their way.

Depth Chart2018-192023-24

NHL No. 1

Mikko Koskinen

Stuart Skinner

NHL No. 2

Anthnony Stolarz

Calvin Pickard

AHL No. 1

Shane Starrett

Olivier Rodrigue

AHL No. 2

Al Montoya

Jack Campbell

ECHL No. 1

Stuart Skinner

Ryan Fanti

ECHL No. 2

Dylan Wells

Brett Brochu

UFAs in red, RFAs in blue, AHL contracts light green

At the time of Holland’s hiring, Koskinen owned a .906 save percentage and looking back the Smith signing was a net positive. During Smith’s time in Edmonton, he posted a .913 save percentage and authored eight playoff wins.

The Smith-Koskinen tandem hung together for three seasons, all ending in playoff berths.

Stuart Skinner is the owner of a .912 career save percentage and the Oilers look set for the postseason. Backup Calvin Pickard is playing well, and both AHL goaltenders (Olivier Rodrigue and Jack Campbell) are recall candidates.

Holland’s signing of Campbell to a rich and long free-agent deal that has delivered little hangs over the position.

Skinner (and now Pickard) have saved management further embarrassment.

Ryan Fanti has had injury issues but has had some success with the ECHL Fort Wayne Komets this season. AHL contract Brett Brochu may be worth an NHL contract down the line.

The bottom line on goaltending for this season and next season:

  • Skinner and Pickard have solved the issue in goal and Holland can seek help in other areas of the roster at the deadline.
  • Skinner and Rodrigue give the Oilers quality youth at the position for years to come.

Left defence

Holland’s 50-man list is lean in most areas, and left defence is an example. The NHL top three lefties have been healthy, and so the group bubbling under is (impatiently) waiting for an opportunity.

Depth Chart2018-192023-24

No. 1 NHL

Oscar Klefbom

Mattias Ekholm

No. 2 NHL

Darnell Nurse

Darnell Nurse

No. 3 NHL

Andrej Sekera

Brett Kulak

No. 4 NHL

Kevin Gravel

No. 5 NHL

Brandon Manning

No. 1 AHL

Ryan Stanton

Philip Broberg

No. 2 AHL

Caleb Jones

Ben Gleason

No. 3 AHL

William Lagesson

Markus Niemelainen

No. 4 AHL

Keegan Lowe

Cam Dineen

No. 5 AHL

Noel Hoefenmayer

New pro

Dmitri Samorukov

UFAs in red, RFAs in blue, AHL contracts light green

Holland bought out Andrej Sekera, left the rest of the group and assumed Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse could drive this area of the roster for years. The Klefbom injury had a major impact on the organization.

The current list is a championship calibre depth chart.

Edmonton has two top-flight NHL players at the top (Mattias Ekholm and Darnell Nurse) and Brett Kulak is an above average third-pairing defender.

Philip Broberg can’t get into the Oilers lineup and everyone is staying healthy. The frustrations boiled over earlier in the year when the young player asked for a trade. Depth on defence should not be compromised entering the postseason, and it behooves Holland to keep Broberg just in case of injury.

He is a quality plug-and-play option. The other names that are currently playing in the AHL are capable of playing in the NHL as depth players.

The bottom line on left defence for this season and next season:

  • This is a strong depth chart for years to come.
  • Edmonton could deal Kulak in the summer and slide Broberg in on the third pairing and save needed cap room.
  • Holland could offload one of the AHL depth defencemen in a deadline deal without worrying about the depth chart.

Right defence

When Holland took over the Oilers, the right side of the defence was less settled. Adam Larsson played the big minutes, Kris Russell played his off-side and too high (second pair) on the depth chart, and the quality prospects were just shy of NHL-ready by the fall of 2019.

Depth Chart2018-192023-24

No. 1 NHL

Adam Larsson

Evan Bouchard

No. 2 NHL

Kris Russell

Cody Ceci

No. 3 NHL

Matt Benning

Vincent Desharnais

No. 4 NHL

Joel Persson

No. 1 AHL

Ethan Bear

Phil Kemp

No. 2 AHL

Evan Bouchard

Max Wanner

No. 3 AHL

Robin Norel

No. 4 AHL

Ryan Mantha

Slide Rule

Beau Akey

UFAs in red, RFAs in blue, AHL contracts light green

The RFAs were sent away, Ethan Bear earned a full-time job and eventually Evan Bouchard emerged as an impact player for the Oilers.

Holland’s slow-playing youth, deemed a strength in net with Skinner, was unwarranted with Bouchard’s resume. The young defender could have been in the NHL as a regular by the end of 2019-20, but he would not emerge as an NHL player until 2021-22.

Cody Ceci was a quick signing after Larsson signed with the Seattle Kraken, and Vincent Desharnais was a pleasant surprise bubbling up from the farm after plenty of hard work by a determined player.

The bottom line on right defence this season and next season:

  • This is a weak spot for the team, but a fix isn’t in evidence.
  • It’s the Nurse-Ceci second pair that has management concerned, but it appears the team will enter the postseason with this lineup.
  • The summer could see change. Desharnais is unrestricted, and it’s possible the Oilers sign him using the money saved on a Ceci trade.
  • Max Wanner is the future player to watch here, but he is a year or more away.

Centre

Holland inherited a stunning top end of the centre depth chart in Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Centre is so deep, the Oilers are accustomed to running some pivots on the wing.

Depth Chart2018-192023-24

No. 1 NHL

Connor McDavid

Connor McDavid

No. 2 NHL

RNH

Leon Draisaitl

No. 3 NHL

Kyle Brodziak

Ryan McLeod

No. 4 NHL

Colby Cave

Derek Ryan

No. 1 AHL

Cooper Marody

Lane Pederson

No. 2 AHL

Josh Currie

Brad Malone

No. 3 AHL

Tyler Vesel

Greg McKegg

No. 4 AHL

Brad Malone

Jayden Grubbe

New pro

Ryan McLeod

No. 5 AHL

Luke Esposito

UFAs in red, RFAs in blue, AHL contracts light green

The tragic death of Colby Cave still echoes across the landscape, and Kyle Brodziak didn’t play a minute of NHL hockey under Holland due to being on LTIR.

Management moved quickly to shore up third- and fourth-line depth by signing Riley Sheahan, Gaetan Haas and others, but the solutions didn’t take.

Ryan McLeod did have time to develop and his speed plus five-on-five outscoring acumen have given the team another gear at the centre position.

Derek Ryan has been a solid addition via free agency and is exceptional in checking and on the penalty kill.

Draisaitl was on the wing in 2018-19, but he’s most often a centre now. It’s Nugent-Hopkins who patrols the wing these years later.

The bottom line on centre this season and next season:

  • All systems go for Edmonton, with elite talent on the top two lines and an absolute speed demon in McLeod for the third group.
  • We could see a right-handed centre added at the deadline (Nic Dowd, Jake Evans) for the fourth line.
  • Jayden Grubbe might be ready for a depth role a year from now.
  • The big news around this position over the 18 months will be contract extensions for Draisaitl and McDavid.

Left wing

Over the last five seasons, left wing has seen some famous names arrive and exit, a shuffle of Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl, and two men acquired to play the position who ultimately landed on the other wing.

Depth chart2018-192023-24

No. 1 NHL

Leon Draisaitl

RNH

No. 2 NHL

Milan Lucic

Evander Kane

No. 3 NHL

Tobias Rieder

Dylan Holloway

No. 4 NHL

Jujhar Khaira

Mattias Janmark

No. 1 AHL

Tyler Benson

James Hamblin

No. 2 AHL

Joe Gambardella

Drake Caggiua

No. 3 AHL

Nolan Vesey

Adam Erne

No. 4 AHL

Carter Savoie

No. 5 AHL

Matvey Petrov

New pro/slide rule

Ostap Safin

Brady Stonehouse

UFAs in red, RFAs in blue, AHL contracts light green

Much of the early activity surrounded offloading Milan Lucic in a deal with the Calgary Flames.

From Joakim Nygaard to signing undrafted CHL player Brady Stonehouse, Holland has truly shopped the world at left wing over five seasons.

Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Ennis, Zach Hyman and Warren Foegele all spent time on the portside in Edmonton, with the latter two remaining with the team on right wing.

The bottom line on left wing this season and next season:

  • This is a position built to win the Stanley Cup right now, with aging veterans Nugent-Hopkins, Kane and Janmark on the older end of the NHL age scale.
  • Only Dylan Holloway represents the future, and none of the AHL farmhands is a lock for NHL success.
  • That is an issue that will need to be addressed by more than the Stonehouse addition.

Right wing

The story of right wing during Holland’s time in Edmonton is one of disappointment from young players trying to establish themselves, strong solutions in Hyman and Foegele, and multiple inexpensive bets from Patrick Russell to Corey Perry.

Depth Chart2018-192023-24

No. 1 NHL

Zack Kassian

Zach Hyman

No. 2 NHL

Alex Chiasson

Corey Perry

No. 3 NHL

Jesse Puljujarvi

Warren Foegele

No. 4 NHL

Sam Gagner

Connor Brown

No. 5 NHL

Ty Rattie

Sam Gagner

No. 1 AHL

Kailer Yamamoto

Raphael Lavoie

No. 2 AHL

Patrick Russell

Seth Griffith

No. 3 AHL

Mitch Callahan

Xavier Bourgault

No. 4 AHL

Cam Hebig

Tyler Tullio

No. 5 AHL

Kirill Maksimov

Carl Berglund

No. 6 AHL

Colin Larkin

Jake Chiasson

UFAs in red, RFAs in blue, AHL contracts light green

The flow of talent on right wing was less than the left side due to the performance of Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto for several seasons. Both men are playing in other NHL cities now, but represented a significant portion of the depth chart for most of the last five seasons.

Zack Kassian was replaced on right wing by Zach Hyman, an upgrade of significant proportions.

The bottom line on right wing this season and next season:

  • Recent bets on Perry and Connor Brown are interesting, but a deadline addition is likely.
  • Hyman is an impact player who could score 50 goals this season, but the No. 2 right wing slot on Draisaitl’s line needs a lift.
  • The kids (Raphael Lavoie, Xavier Bourgault, Tyler Tullio) are still finding their way, and Lavoie isn’t a kid anymore.

The 50-man as Holland exits

Holland has taken plenty of heat over the last five seasons, and his time at the general manager’s position appears to be coming to an end.

The quality and depth is better, and the Oilers have made the playoffs in each season of Holland’s term.

Has he done enough? A Stanley Cup would give his time with the Oilers career a massive final chapter.

The needs are known (scoring winger for Draisaitl, possibly a fourth-line centre, a defenceman) but the areas with enough depth to trade from strength are few.

A long look at the 50-man reveals goaltender Rodrigue, several left-handed AHL defencemen, scoring winger Lavoie and several prospects who have yet to step forward in pro hockey at this time.

If the Oilers are to make a significant trade or two, it will be draft picks that hold the key.

New management will need to sign college and undrafted CHL free agents this spring and summer. The new general manager will need to scour the inexpensive aisle in free agency, searching for talent that can step into successful roles above their pay grade.

Finally, a word about Broberg. If the Oilers deal him, acquiring a player who has term and is under control will be paramount.

The Oilers are running out of young players with real NHL upside who are on value deals.

It’s a massive concern as it pertains to the current 50-man list.

(Photo of Evan Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm: Perry Nelson/ USA Today)