The season is at least two months away, but it’s never too early to start looking at those lines.
Ken Holland has had a busy offseason. He’s picked up several players, many of who will likely be impact players in this upcoming season. If the season were to start tomorrow, here’s what I think they will look like based on the current roster on October 28th, 2020.
FIRST LINE: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi
I don’t think we’ve got to discuss too much why I’ve got Connor McDavid in at 1C, but if this is your first week as an Oiler fan, he’s not too bad. He finished with 97 points in 64 games, and that was following a 2019 season finale where he suffered what could have been a career ending injury to his knee. If the Oilers don’t upgrade the LW position between now and the beginning of next season, I’ve got Ryan Nugent-Hopkins alongside McDavid up top. Nugent-Hopkins finished the 2019-20 season with 61 points, his second highest total since coming into the league nine years ago. Oilers GM Ken Holland speaks well of Jesse Puljujarvi, the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Fresh off signing a two year deal valued at 1.175MM AAV, Puljujarvi has a chance to make a big splash on the top line alongside the best player in the world.
SECOND LINE: Tyler Ennis, Leon Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto
I wrestled with putting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on this line based on that trio’s wild success during the 2019-20 season. It still might happen, but I’m not sure that we see Tyler Ennis up top...yet. The loss of Andreas Athanasiou by way of no qualifying offer will leave a hole somewhere, and that’s why I’ve got RNH up top and Tyler Ennis here. Ennis played very well in Ottawa prior to his arrival in Edmonton at the 2020 trade deadline (he finished with 34 points in 70 games combined between the two clubs), I’ve got him on the left side of the 2019-20 NHL MVP Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl will look to continue the good times of his hardware winning season, a season that saw him put up a whopping 110 points in 71 games. Kailer Yamamoto should open the 2020-21 season at 2RW after posting 26 points in 27 games (11-15-26) after being called up in late December of this past season.
THIRD LINE: Joakim Nygard, Kyle Turris, Zack Kassian
Earlier this month Ken Holland scooped up Kyle Turris off of free agency for two years. The recently bought out Turris signed a pretty reasonable two year deal valued at 1.65MM a season, and he solves Edmonton’s issue of having a right shot centre at 3C. Turris finished his second year in Nashville with 31 points (9-22-31), and that’s a tough number to live with if you’re pulling in six million beans. Joakim Nygard appeared in 33 games with the Oilers last season and scored only 9 points (3-6-9) before suffering a hand injury that sidelined him the remainder of the year. Zack Kassian spent some significant time on the top line last season and scored his 30+ point of his career (15-19-34). Kassian was rewarded with a four year extension, and may see time on the top line if Puljujarvi is unable to get things cracking early.
FOURTH LINE: James Neal, Gaetan Haas, Alex Chiasson
James Neal’s first season with the Oilers didn’t blow numbers off the scoreboard, but he did finish with 31 points in 55 games with the club. So why not have him on the third line, or higher? Neal scored 13 of his 31 points in the month of October, and four of those were in a game against the Islanders. Unless someone comes in and takes him for 50%, I think he’s got a home in the Oilers bottom six for the next three years. After a two year extension for Alex Chiasson, he finished last year with 24 points in 65 games. He’s perfect for this role. Gaetan Haas finished with ten points in 55 games and would likely round out the twelve up front.
FORWARD EXTRAS: Jujhar Khaira, Josh Archibald, Patrick Russell
FIRST PAIR: Darnell Nurse, Ethan Bear
If Oscar Klefbom is out for the start of the season (or worse, longer) with a shoulder injury, then we’ve got to expect a top pair that’s going to miss some of that stability on the back end. Nurse and Bear would both be looking to help steady a club that yielded more goals than they scored in 2019-20 while 5 on 5. Nurse is beginning his first of a two year deal, while Bear is a restricted free agent awaiting a deal this offseason.
SECOND PAIR: Caleb Jones, Adam Larsson
Caleb Jones looked good to the eye test and the fancies in his 600+ minutes in 2019-20, he played against good comp and he didn’t look out of place. Adam Larsson is on the final year of his deal, and may be on the move if the club believes it’s time to bring Evan Bouchard along to the show.
THIRD PAIR: Kris Russell, Tyson Barrie
Tyson Barrie was another free agent acquisition for Ken Holland this offseason. Barrie was brought in for one year and will likely see plenty of time on the power play. I’ve got him paired up with Kris Russell, who will do his thing for at least one more year for the Oilers.
DEFENCE EXTRAS: William Lagesson
STARTER: Mikko Koskinen
I was pretty apprehensive when Peter Chiarelli announced this deal right before he got his walking papers. Koskinen did not live up to the hype of being one of the best KHL goaltenders in 2018-19 (.906 SV%), but he played well in 2019-20 (.917 SV%). I’d take another year of 2019-20 Mikko Koskinen next season and be pretty happy with it, just so long as we can forget the play-in round. That’s not just for Mikko, that’s for the entire team.
BACKUP: Mike Smith
I’ve been critical of the Smith deal, and for good reason. Smith’s SV% (.902) was one of the worst among goaltenders in 2019-20. Even though Smith is due just 1.5MM in 2020-21, he’ll need to at least be somewhere in the middle of the pack overall for the Oilers to make this a good deal. Smith turns in a spectacular performance from time to time, and the Oilers have got to bank on him turning in a solid (if not spectacular) year in a backup role.
GOALTENDING EXTRA: Anton Forsberg
The Oilers could bring in another NHL wing, but anything over a million (or so) will have to see dollars going out. The Oilers could benefit also from another defenceman, but the story remains the same. As far as goaltending goes, I think they’re locked there unless Forsberg blows the doors off of camp. Stranger things have happened though, yeah?