The notion that Edmonton needs to sign another depth forward probably sounds ridiculous to many Oiler fans, and it's easy to understand why. Edmonton is already flooded with players who ideally wouldn't play above a 4th line role. Among this group I count Matt Hendricks, Mark Letestu, Lauri Korpikoski, Zack Kassian, Iiro Pakarinen and Anton Lander. That's way too many 4th liners for an NHL team and most of them are paid closer to 3rd line money, which only makes matters worse.
So then, why would I recommend another depth signing? Because this player can help Edmonton way more than a lot of those guys, he doesn't cost anything to acquire and he'd likely be able to be signed for less than $900k, which would be a bargain for what he brings to the table.
Who the hell is Jonathan Marchessault?
Glad you asked. Marchessault was passed over in the NHL entry draft twice despite putting up 40 goals and 95 points in his overage season after winning the Gaetan Duchesne Trophy as the QMJHL's top defensive player the year prior. Marchessault initially signed an AHL only contract (like Josh Winqvist) before earning a deal with Columbus. He was included in a trade to Tampa Bay in 2014. He's been nearly a point per game player in the AHL since he first joined the league, putting up at least 20g and 60p in each of the 3 seasons where he played at least 60 games.
2015/16 was the first year he spent the majority of a season in the NHL and he got into 45 games. How did he do in those games? Pretty damn well if you ask me.
What went well?
A lot of things. For context, Marchessault received 4th line minutes, there's not much to dispute there. He played about 12 minutes a game, and averaged less than 10 at even strength. He was given some very difficult zone starts but was certainly sheltered against the opposition. He was mostly playing other bottom six opponents.
Now, in those even strength minutes, he excelled.
He had absolutely stellar possession metrics in both shot generation and shot suppression. In fact, he actually had the highest individual shots/60 on the Lightning last year. Higher than Stamkos. Higher than Kucherov. The kid moves the puck in the right direction and he puts it on goal. This is exactly what you want from any line, but it really helps when your 4th line can keep the puck away from your own zone.
Tampa certainly knew he had some offensive skills as he actually received a lot of powerplay time. While he only played half the season, when he did play, Marchessault averaged the 3rd highest TOI among Tampa's forwards on the powerplay. I wouldn't expect that to continue in Edmonton, but on a team that lacks right-handed shot options on the powerplay, it certainly would be a possibility.
Another thing Marchessault did extremely well in his first NHL season was draw penalties. He drew 1.7 penalties per 60 minutes of even strength ice time despite only taking 0.5 penalties during that time. Those are very strong numbers. That ratio of +1.2/60 in penalty differential led the Lightning last year. He was the only player who reached a number greater than +1.0.
One other thing I need to mention here is that Marchessault is a right-handed player who is a natural centre. He spent a significant amount of time on RW last season, but is a capable centre and the Oilers currently only have 1 right-handed face-off option in Mark Letestu. Marchessault provides some nice relief and insurance in that role which is something I think the Oilers have to have next season...at least 2 right-handed centre options. The sample size was limited but for a rookie, Marchessault won 48% of his draws, which isn't bad, though certainly isn't a standout number.
What went poorly?
Honestly? To a large extent...Luck. But to be more specific, his on-ice goals for % was terrible. Despite ranking in the top 5 on the Lightning in terms of shot attempt percentages, Marchessault had an abysmal GF% of 39.4%. That's horrible.
I say a good portion of that is related to luck however as there were a few contributing factors to that number that I don't think are likely to continue long-term.
First, Marchessault - a player who has scored 20+ goals in every full pro-season he played before last year - shot below 5% at even strength last season. Secondly, he also had one of the lowest on-ice save %'s last year among Tampa players (0.897 according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com). Those two things combine to give him a very low PDO (952), which suggests that with the benefit of time and a larger sample size, both of those percentages should regress back towards league average at which point a player who produces strong underlying percentages like Marchessault will start to see a greater share of the goal percentages work in his favour as well.
That bad luck may end up working to the advantage of whatever team signs him as despite only being 25, Marchessault is an unrestricted free agent due to the Group VI rule. He's free to sign anywhere beginning on Friday.
Is there any reason the Oilers won't sign him?
Yes. Two of them. First is the over-abundance of depth forwards as previously noted, the other is size. Pete Chiarelli and Todd McLellan are both ardent supporters of the idea that the Oilers need to play "heavy". I'd argue that with Leon Draisaitl, Benoit Pouliot, Patrick Maroon, Zack Kassian, Matt Hendricks and possibly soon Milan Lucic, the Oilers are already big and heavy, but others still have the impression that they aren't. Edmonton has lots of size and toughness in their bottom six. What they lack there is skill to provide balance and depth so the top 6 aren't the only ones who can score on any given night.
Jonathan Marchessault can help with that, and Edmonton should sign him.