After Thursday’s bombshell blockbuster that saw veteran Jordan Eberle shipped to Long Island, many Oilers fans are still reeling, scratching their heads and questioning the underwhelming return.
Why Ryan Strome? How will his acquisition help the Oilers? Besides the obvious $3.5m in cap space cleared for the Oilers in this trade, 23-year-old Strome brings some qualities to the Oilers that Eberle couldn’t.
Let’s start with the physical:
Eberle – 5’11, 181lbs.
Strome – 6’1, 199lbs.
Eberle registered a whopping 26 hits in 2016-17, coming in dead last on the Oilers out of all players who played the full season. Strome registered 59 hits in 13 less games. Strome fought twice last year while Eberle hasn’t fought once in his 7-year professional career. Not overly important, but sticking up for himself and his teammates is not something Eberle excelled at.
Moving on from the physicality and into a small sample of production from 2016-17:
Eberle – 0.74
Strome – 0.83
Eberle – 8.97%
Strome – 13.58%
With the leading powerplay unit the Oilers are running right now, it is so important to have a player who can produce at even strength, and Strome’s individual numbers say he can do that better than Eberle, as long as he shoots the puck.
While Strome’s 13 goals and 17 assists in 69 games admittedly don’t look anywhere near as attractive as Eberle’s 20g-31a-51pts, we have to keep in mind that Strome was being brutally underutilized in Jack Capuano’s system until new Isles head coach Doug Weight took over late last season. Strome’s play immediately picked up and he started to look like a legitimately good forward until a broken wrist ended his season late in March.
The Oilers run a speed-and-size system, with bigger skilled guys Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Leon Draisaitl and Zack Kassian, and I believe Ryan Strome would slot in nicely to a middle-6 right wing role, while providing the Oilers with the flexibility to play him at centre if need be.
If developed properly and given more freedom, Strome should be able to build his confidence playing alongside Nugent-Hopkins and could potentially be accountable for close to 20 goals per year, if not more. He has a deadly wrist shot when he decides to use it and a soft set of hands, which would complement Nugent-Hopkins’ two-way game nicely. What I see is the potential for a hybrid between Jordan Eberle and Zack Kassian, and that sounds like a pretty good player to me.
When Strome’s $2.5 million contract expires at the end of 2018, he will likely command somewhere in the realm of $2-3 million. Not bad, especially when Leon Draisaitl gets signed to a lengthy contract around $7 million annually starting this season, and when McDavid inevitably gets his own monster deal next year. In the meantime, the $3.5 million of cap space cleared up in this trade is being put towards defenseman Kris Russell’s shiny new 4-year, $16 million contract.
So what does the Oilers’ forward lineup with Eberle out and Strome in? If I had to guess, and barring any further free agent signings and trades, it would look something like this (and please take my blind prediction with a grain of salt):
Maroon – McDavid – Caggiula
Lucic – Draisaitl – Puljujarvi
Slepyshev/Pouliot – Nugent-Hopkins – Strome
Khaira – Letestu – Kassian
If I had my way, Benoit Pouliot would never step on the ice again in an Oilers sweater. While there is a case to be made for him with some of his own numbers, the 30-year-old looks extremely out of place on this Oilers team, and the measly 84 points he has produced over the last three seasons are nowhere near worthy of his $4 million salary.
I would also prefer Jesse Puljujarvi to play one more season in the AHL, but according to GM Peter Chiarelli1, he will likely crack the Oilers roster out of training camp this season. I slotted Puljujarvi into a second line right wing role, where I think makes sense, but in this lineup he and Strome are mostly interchangeable.
As a side note, Friday night’s Entry Draft saw the Oilers select 5’8 153lb right winger Kailer Yamamoto from the Spokane Chiefs. I won’t get into his details right now, but in a few seasons I could realistically see him making a push for a top 6 right wing role on the Oilers, solidifying Strome on the third line bend Puljujarvi and Yamamoto.
But back to the present.
The Eberle trade was hard on many of us die hard Oilers fans, but there is a very clear upside. I’m not saying we won or lost this trade by any means, but I do know we are getting a good young hockey player with plenty of upside while the Islanders are getting a 20 goal scorer nearing the end of his prime at $6 million AAV.
I don’t think this trade immediately plugs the hole the Oilers have in their top right wing spot, but it will absolutely help control the bleed.
Many will still claim we lost this trade, but even if we did that’s okay, because the last time we lost a big trade we ended up with defensive stud Adam Larsson. I’m in no way saying this trade will work out as well as the Larsson trade, but no one can tell the future. This could be a bust, or we might have struck oil.
So hold tight, Oil Country. Just wait and see.