Who on Edmonton Oilers’ extended NHL roster is likely to be promoted to a “Core 12” spot next season?


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The other day we began our off-season review of Edmonton Oilers’ roster with a detailed look at the club’s “Core 12” players, a group that includes the starting goalie, top two defence pairs, top two forward lines plus third-line centre. While one or two of those spots might be open to debate, I chose the following dozen: 

Lots of holes in this version of the Oilers Core 12, of which no fewer than 8 players (white background) played under expiring contracts in 2021 and are poised to become free agents next month. Of the others, 2 have a year to run on their current pact (blue background), and 2 are locked up long term (orange). Thankfully, that latter category includes both of Edmonton’s “franchise” players.

Let’s look a little further down the line-up this time:

Every skater here played 8 or more NHL games with the Oilers this past season, nobody else played even 1. The list does include a tiny shuffle between the pipes, where mid-season waiver pickup Alex Stalock dressed as a backup goalie a couple of times, but saw no game action. He was on an NHL roster all season long so clearly belongs with this group. Stuart Skinner on the other hand did play an NHL game, but primarily was a core player for Bakersfield Condors so will be considered later.


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Whereas there are tons of pending free agents in the Core 12, the secondary players — including at least 2 at each position — are largely under contract. That’s not necessarily a good thing, especially on a team whose bottom 6 forwards have gotten owned at 5v5 on an annual basis.

Before we slice the chart vertically and review on a position-by-position basis, it’s instructive to do so horizontally and look at them as 6-man units. The first of those — Neal-Turris-Kassian-Russell-Bear-Koskinen — is not only under contract, but for a collective $18.35 million in ’21-22. That’s over $3 million a man. Not too many value pacts to be seen, especially up front where veterans Neal, Turris and Kassian each played only half the season for various reasons, combining for just 9 goals at a cap hit of $10.6 million. And not one of those contracts is expiring. Ouch.

The second set of Shore-McLeod-Archibald-Jones-Bouchard-Stalock at least has the virtue of being inexpensive, to the tune of less than $1 million per. At that level, contracts can be buried in the AHL, making those spots more open to competition.

Just 6 guys on the entire list who don’t have a contract, 2 of them already committed elsewhere. At first blush the other 4 are in deep simply due to the numbers game.

Left wing

  • Mixed reviews on the big contract-driven trade that brought James Neal to Edmonton in exchange for Milan Lucic. Some saw it as a Ken Holland-inspired miracle, but the net effect to this point is that Edmonton’s cap hit went up, not down. Instead of absorbing $6.0 million per season on Lucic, the Oilers are on the hook for a net $6.5 million, of which $5.75 is Neal’s AAV and the other $750k cap retention on Lucic. Neal came out guns blazing in Oil Country, but since the calendar turned to 2020 has struggled with injury and COVID and scored just 5 goals in 42 games. With 2 years yet to run on that contract and Neal about to turn 34 before camp opens, the Oilers may well be considering a buyout. That would open a little over $3.8 million in cap space the next 2 years, but claw back 50% of that amount in the following 2. This per PuckPedia.com:

    From the organization’s perspective the buyout option is the one significant advantage of the Neal pact vs. that of Lucic, which was and is virtually buyout-proof. But that only comes into play if the Oilers actually pull the trigger. Best guess here is that they will.
  • Devin Shore was RFA at season’s end, but has already signed a 2-year extension at $850,000 per.
  • Tyler Ennis was acquired for a draft pick at the 2020 trade deadline, then signed to a 1-year extension which has run its course. The 31-year-old vet showed some nice offensive flashes, but ultimately scored just 3 times in 30 games while twice clearing waivers and spending plenty of time on the taxi squad. A small forward with no meaningful role on special teams, I’ll speculate Ennis won’t be re-signed a second time.
  • Joakim Nygard‘s NHL dream was ruined by a badly-broken hand. He has already committed to a 6-year (!) contract back in his native Sweden.


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  • Just 3 centres listed in our chart above, though its worth remembering our initial Core 12 had an “extra” centre in Jujhar Khaira, identified as a 3C which by definition is a bottom 6 player. Indeed, Khaira played fewer than 10 minutes all season long with each of Connor McDavidLeon Draisaitl, or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and scarcely more than that with anyone who might identify as a “skill winger”. He’s RFA with a qualifying platform of $1.3 million. We discussed JJK’s situation in the previous post, and also in the podcast associated with this one.
  • Signed to a 2-year contract on the first day of free agency, Kyle Turris showed plenty off the ice, where he received Edmonton’s nomination for the King Clancy Award for his exemplary work at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. On the ice was another story, however, where he struggled right out of the gate at both ends of the sheet. The would-be 3C soon wound up as a bit player, clearing waivers at one point and playing on the wing on those rare occasions when he got a game. He finished with just 2-3-5 and a team-worst -11 in 27 games. Alas, he still has a year to run at a cap hit of $1.65 million. Oilers could consider buying him out but are more likely to send him to Bakersfield which would allow them to bury $1.125 million and retain “just” $525,000 against the cap. Not impossible he rebounds and makes the club, of course, but that seems the unlikelier outcome from this distance.
  • Ryan McLeod made terrific strides in 2020-21, first getting some productive time in the Swiss National League before ripping it up in the AHL (28 GP, 14-14-28, and a league-leading +23). That earned him the distinction of an in-season recall to the NHL, the only player in the organization to do so successfully. He got his feet wet with 10 games and 4 more in the playoffs, scoring just 1 point but showing decent promise. McLeod projects to being a #3C in due course, but surely is better pencilled in at 4C next year until such time as he plays his way up the line-up. Shows real promise to be a draft-and-develop success story, a rare bird in this part of the world.
  • Gaetan Haas was a quirky, fun player to watch with some real defensive utility but zero offence that translated to the NHL. Like Nygard, he’s signed a long-term deal (5 years) back home, in his case Switzerland.


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Right wing

  • Zack Kassian‘s counting numbers in 2021 were literally that: 1 fight, 2 goals, 3 assists, dash-4, 5 points. His season was limited to just 27 games due to 2 significant injuries. After a monster 2019 riding shotgun with McDavid that saw him score 24-26-50 in 82 games between Jan 01 and Dec 31, he was signed by Holland in 2020 January to a 4-year extension at a whopping $3.2 million AAV. But the wheels came off right away; he’s scored just 4 times in 47 games since the calendar turned to 2020. Now 30, his career is at (another) crossroads. While there are some whispers that eastern-based clubs might be interested on the trade market, one wonders if they might balk at that cap hit. Best guess is that he’ll still be an Oiler come the fall, with Holland foremost among those fervently hoping for a bounceback season.
  • Josh Archibald was signed in the summer of 2019 to a 1-year-deal, then re-upped for 2 years with a 50% raise that raised his cap hit to $1.5 million. That deal still has a year to run. Oilers fans can expect more of the same fast-skating, hard-hitting, aggressive-penalty killing style Arch has brought to this point, along with maybe 10 goals.
  • Alex Chiasson came to Edmonton in 2018 at a crossroads, having just won a Stanley Cup but unable to land a contract. He had to come to camp on a professional tryout before winning an NHL minimum pact from the Oil and using it as a springboard to a career-best 22-goal season. Holland signed him to a 2-year extension in the summer of 2019 at a pricier $2.15 million, for which he delivered responsible even-strength play and net-front excellence on the league’s best powerplay, but only 20 goals combined over the 2 years. That pact has now expired and the cap space likely to be used elsewhere, though it’s not impossible he could be brought back at a significantly lower figure. Best guess here? He’s gone.
  • Patrick Russell has gotten way further than anyone could have expected since he was signed as a college free agent back in 2016, ultimately signing 4 different contracts with the org. He spent parts of the last 3 seasons with the Oilers, appearing in 59 games overall. Alas, the promising offence he showed in the AHL did not survive the trip to Canada, and he remains stuck on 0 career goals. The Dane was OK-ish as an occasional fill-in on the 4th line, but with his latest 1-year pact expired it seems likely the org will look elsewhere to fill his spot. Almost the definition of a “replacement-level player”.


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Left defence

  • Kris Russell has been an Oiler for 5 years now, the last 4 of them at a $4 million AAV. His ice time dwindled the last 2 seasons, and he appeared in just 35 games in 2021. Partly due to expansion draft requirements, the organization saw fit to sign him to a 1-year extension at less than a third of his old cap hit. That’s a more appropriate price tag for a guy who projects to a part-time third-pairing role. The diminutive 34-year-old still has defensive chops but has never excelled at the transition game.
  • Caleb Jones still has a year to run on the 2-year, $850k AAV pact he signed early in 2020. At the time it projected as a value contract, but a year later the player has struggled to make the next step and optimism about his future is waning in some quarters, though not in others. He had a great chance to step into a second pairing role but instead stepped into his coach’s doghouse on occasion. He remains a promising young player who may well be targeted by Seattle Kraken in the upcoming expansion draft.
  • William Lagesson got an extended look on a defence-first pairing with Adam Larsson. He played a robust game and won his share of physical battles, but brought very little in terms of offensive or even transition game. The Oilers averaged just 16.34 shots per hour that he was on the ice at 5v5, by far the lowest among the 712 NHL skaters who played at least 120 minutes. (Teammate Haas was next at 19.63, over 20% (!) higher.) He’s halfway through the 2-year pact he signed last summer, but as he enters his Draft +8 season it’s surely fair to conclude “limited upside”.
  • Slater Koekkoek signed a 1-year deal late in free agency, won some fans with his early play before getting injured. He’s poised to become UFA again, even as many folks have penciled his name in as a likely returnee. This observer is less sure about that, given the organization’s depth at left defence. Detailed write-up here.


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Right defence

  • Finally, a chance to discuss a player who has a legitimate shot to move from this group into the Core 12 next season. That would be Ethan Bear, who was a top 4 defender in his impressive rookie season in 2019-20 who found himself in a third-pairing role on many nights in 2021. Both guys who were ahead of him, Tyson Barrie and Larsson, are currently UFA. Only one of them is pat to be back — I’m guessing Larsson — with Bear well-positioned to step back into his old pairing with Darnell Nurse. He has a year to run on a bridge deal that carries a $2.0 million cap hit.
  • Evan Bouchard also projects as a Core 12 type in the future, though it’s likely he will first be eased into a third pairing role. He was blocked by all 3 of Barrie, Larsson and Bear in 2021, and played just 14 games in what many saw as a failed developmental opportunity.


  • Mikko Koskinen had a hugely disappointing season that failed to build on what was a fairly strong 2019-20. He was OK for a while in the backup role, but struggled mightily any time he got more regular ice time. He definitively lost the #1 job to Mike Smith, whose base salary was just a third of Koskinen’s. That $4.5 million cap hit still has a year to run, leading some to speculate that the Oilers might buy him out. If they try to move him in a trade it will come with a cost of a sweetener, cap retention, and/or a hefty pact coming the other way. Detailed write-up here.
  • Alex Stalock was plucked off the waiver wire at mid-season, but came with an ongoing health issue and spent plenty of time in a non-roster position before eventually being activated as a third goalie. He played no games. He’s cheap ($785k), experienced, and might battle for a backup job in the fall, though he’s more likely to stay as the #3 man in the depth chart. That’s problematic in an organization that has 3 promising young goaltenders with North American pro contracts and limited places to play.


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19 players in all discussed here, a meaty post to say the least. Primary takeaways are three-fold:

  • too many weighty contracts in the lower echelon of the roster, and no easy path to clear them out that doesn’t leave residual dead cap space like buyouts or cap retention.
  • too few players on the list who project into the Core 12 in the near or intermediate term. I count just Bear in the former category, with Bouchard, Jones and McLeod (as the token forward) in the latter. Given all the potential vacancies due to free agency, internal help still seems to be a fair ways off.
  • including the Core 12 plus those detailed here, just 2 players (McLeod and Bouchard) on the NHL roster will still be on their Entry Level Contract in ’21-22.

Of course the club has other players in the pipeline who were outside the NHL last season, including several promising ones. We’ll dive into this last group next time.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: One lesson Oilers could learn from the defending champs

McCURDY: Holland has a big problem with Oilers’ depth lines

LEAVINS: Oilers need to get better players — 9 Things

STAPLES: Evening the score for the Oilers at the 2021 NHL Draft

McCURDY: The next few weeks will define Holland as Oilers GM

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy


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