EDMONTON – When you look at the bottom of the Edmonton Oilers lineup, player versus player, you will be amazed at the fact that it stacks up so well. In fact, the problem they will face in training camp is where to get all the NHL players of caliber into this squad, unlike years ago when the bottom of Edmonton’s roster was populated by American Leaguers disguised as NHL players.
Veteran Matthias Janmark comes in as a secured winger on the fourth line, Jesse Polgojarvi will likely move into the third line role where he can play with less pressure, and if Ryan McLeod doesn’t play third line, Ryan Nugent Hopkins can – a very decent reserve position for coach Jay Woodcroft.
And we haven’t even talked about left winger Dylan Holloway yet. Or defender Philip Broberg, who will have a strong maven to spell at D7 Ryan Murray if rookie Broberg needs a night off.
In goal, Jack Campbell can expect a 50-55 start, while it’s time for reserve Stewart Skinner, who has four professional seasons under his belt as he takes the promotion to No. 2 in Edmonton.
As for the salary cap, with Oscar Klefbom and Mike Smith entering the LTIR, Edmonton will increase her payroll at the season opener. But that prevents flexibility in the trade deadline, a dynamic where injuries have left GM Ken Holland without much choice.
As boot camp begins, decisions are often at the bottom of the list, a sign of a strong, mature roster. Here’s a look at where the battles lie.
Current salary cap area: -75556336 dollars
Director general: Ken Holland
Coach: Jay Woodcroft
Assistant coaches: Dave Manson, Glenn Golotzan, Mark Stewart, Dustin Schwartz Unsigned players: Ryan McLeod
One important question: Are we there now?
Edmonton finally killed the dragon still chasing the Toronto Maple Leafs, winning two rounds last season after being defeated in the opening round for two consecutive seasons. But after years of building, rebuilding, and building more, has the Oilers finally reached a place where the pavement in the last four is a stepping stone rather than a roof?
Conor McDavid is 25, Leon Drysittel is 26, and Darnell a nurse is 27. The rest of the heart is in his late twenties or early thirties too, and Jack Campbell has arrived to give Edmonton a level of scoring that should be good enough to win. If they can’t turn three rounds in ’22 into four in ’23, it will be seen as a step back for the Oilers, a team that set a high standard for itself and then improved its roster over the summer.
The teams talk about learning from failure, and the Oilers no doubt have their share of lessons. It is time to take these lessons and use them.
It’s a Stanley Cup or bankruptcy for this team now.
Training camp battle to watch
In the front ranks that have a lot of guns, the left side is the busiest, with Evander Kane then a bunch of options for Woodcroft to sort through at training camp.
Holland considered Dylan Holloway, who turns 21 on Friday, a player who should make his way to their top 12 forward. Holland said he’s too young to sit in the NHL press box when he can play his best minutes in all situations at AHL Bakersfield.
Well, with his two-goal, five-point performance at the Junior Championships in Penticton, Dylan Holloway has officially entered the chat.
Here’s how the Oilers stack up on the left wing: Kane plays McDavid, Zach Hyman plays on the right; Ryan Nugent Hopkins could play for Leon Drysittle, assuming the team wants to keep young Ryan McLeod in the 3C; Warren Foegele is the de facto third left winger, and the free agent who signed Mattias Janmark is 4LW.
But if Holloway makes his way into this squad, where does he play?
Converting Nugent-Hopkins to 3C, and making McLeod 4C? Are you pushing Janmark out of the squad or to the right? Or maybe Foegele is moving?
If Holloway ends up in Bakersfield, the front units fall nicely into place. However, if he bets his suit, someone is out of work.
Expected line outside the camp
Ken McDowell Heyman
Nogent Hopkins Drytail Yamamoto
Foggili MacLeod Bolgojarvi
Holloway Ryan Janmark