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The Youth Movement Needs To Take Flight

The percolating needs to start paying off in 2022-23.

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Michael Bobroff/NHLI via Getty Images

Just as general manager Ken Holland made mention during his year-end press conference last week, the Edmonton Oilers are at the stage where the need for their prospects to be pushing for a regular spot in the lineup is a real thing. The organization have players in position to make said jump in 2022-23 but there are two in particular who are more important than the rest…Philip Broberg and Dylan Holloway.

With unrestricted free agency still a month away, the Oilers will be busy looking to fill holes to make the roster better. They have two key players set to hit the UFA market and in a perfect world, Holland would like to retain both. In reality, the chance of them not being able to keep either one is quite real and both coming back to Edmonton seems like nothing more than a pipedream.

Evander Kane re-signing with the club has always felt like something that had little chance of happening and his on-ice performance has made it a near impossibility. Whereas inking defenceman Brett Kulak to a multi-year extension doesn’t seem nearly as farfetched but it would require two things the Oilers have to be very careful with…cap space and term.

Those two things essentially take the Oilers out of the running for Kane but the potential to work something out with Kulak may be plausible. Point being, with the organization as tight to the salary cap as it is, Holland’s plea for an internal push should’ve surprised absolutely no one. History suggests he prefers for prospects to “percolate” in the minors but time is of essence this time around.

Between the two of them, Broberg and Holloway have combined to play a grand total of 64 regular season games at the AHL level. Not exactly the minor league game count one would expect to see from young players in a Holland-led organization. His hands have been tied but lucky for him, the soon-to-be 21-year old’s appear to have the necessary tool kit to make the jump to the NHL in short order.

If everything goes as planned, for me, Broberg will be among the Oilers most important additions for the coming ’22-’23 season. The talented Swede has the three things this team’s backend lacks…players who can skate, pass the puck and have size. The latter isn’t as noticeable at this point in his development but his skating and passing abilities will make up for it in spades.

We were given a glimpse of this during his 23-game stint with the club during this past season. It wasn’t there every game but when it was, the kid already looked to be among the Oilers very best blueliners. Broberg would instantly become the best skating rearguard on this team and the versatility of playing either side would be massive addition to this group and give the coaching staff flexibility.

Just like Evan Bouchard this season, there will be growing pains along the way. It happens to all young defenceman who come into the league and Edmonton’s ability to insulate the kid will be key. By the sounds of it, Tyson Barrie could be made available over the summer (especially if Kulak were to re-sign) to help create room on the cap and give the blueline a bit of a different look.

Were that to happen, using Broberg in a third pairing role alongside Duncan Keith would seem like a relatively nice landing spot. It would allow Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson to run pairings of Darnell Nurse with Cody Ceci and Bouchard with Kulak or whoever is brought in to fill that role, inside their top four. As things sit, a third pairing role would be the ideal set-up and allow the youngster to find his way.

In Holloway, the Oilers have a player who, like Broberg, desperately fills a need on this roster. He has a well-rounded game in all three-zones, is an outstanding skater and at least in Bakersfield, was someone who helped play go in the right direction when he was on the ice. Be it is a third line guy, his likely starting spot, or as a potential top-six solution, the opportunity for him to be an impact piece is obvious.

As we saw during Edmonton’s recent playoff run, the lack of a bottom six played a large part in this team falling in the fashion it did. Yes, their goaltending and lack of defensive zone coverage were more glaring, against a team like the Colorado Avalanche, depth is a necessity and the continued inclusion of players like Josh Archibald, Zach Kassian and Brad Malone proved how little the Oilers had to offer.

Regardless of where he is used in the lineup, the simple addition of Holloway makes the overall mix that much better. Moving forward, being able to build three legitimate lines is a must for this group and his inclusion makes that a real possibility. No doubt, the loss of Kane will hurt but finding a winger to play with one of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl isn’t exactly unattainable.

No matter how we look at it, the Edmonton Oilers have plenty of work to do during the off-season. Ken Holland will be a busy and you can bet he’ll banking on Philip Broberg and Dylan Holloway being regular contributors come next season. In the eyes of some, counting on inexperienced players isn’t the way to go. Whereas for me, putting young players in a spot to succeed is the only way this thing will work.