Last week I took a look at the Oilers top-6 lineup projection, now it’s time to look at the bottom half of the depth chart while predicting what kind of roster the Edmonton Oilers will put forth on opening night.
Third Line: Caggiula-Strome-Puljujarvi
With Peter Chiarelli signing Strome, who was an RFA to a 2-year deal worth $6.2 million this past offseason the expectation is that he will solidify his spot as the third line centre.
Coming over from the Islanders last year in a trade for Jordan Eberle the expectations for Strome were very high, but never seemed to be met early in the year. He, like most players on the Oilers roster last year spent a portion of the year trying to find his ideal role.
Strome spent most of the year bouncing around between the second and third line as a winger and centre. He finished off the year looking like he solidified his spot as the third line centre and started showing more production especially as a two-way player.
Strome finished the year with 34 points (13G-21A) and with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins taking his place on the first line wing and with Leon Draisaitl taking over the second line centre spot, Strome is poised to own the third spot with his two-way play as well wrapping up the last two and a half months of the year with 15 points didn’t hurt things for him either.
Caggiula was another victim of expectations that were set higher than they probably should have following a solid 2017 playoff performance. He only played in 67 games in 2017-18 and netted 20 points (13G-7A).
Caggiula another RFA this past offseason, was also singed to a two-year deal worth $3 million. Caggiula has proven through his first two years in the NHL that his maximum potential is as a bottom-6 forward. He won’t light up the score sheet with his inconsistent play, but his natural physical game is something fans can be excited about.
I believe Caggiula will be a rotational piece in 2018, bouncing back and forth between the third and fourth line while splitting time with the likes of Pontus Aberg and possibly Jujhar Khaira. Caggiula is a natural LW but can play the right side as well and can be an effective penalty killer.
I think he starts the year out as the third line LW being the best option for that spot so far going into camp. He seemed to enjoy some success with Ryan Strome last year and with some reasonable expectations could finally meet them.
The 20-year old Fin spent most of his rookie year in the AHL before playing in 65 games with the Oilers last year. He put up 20 points (12G-8A) in that time and was another player who never really got a consistent opportunity in a specific role.
Puljujarvi will be entering the final year of his ELC this year and I think the best spot for him is on the third line to start the year. He has all the natural skills to play with Connor McDavid but has yet to prove he can do it consistently.
He showed some positive production at times last year on the second line with Draisaitl but I believe that Rieder is a better option to start the year on the second line. Puljujarvi like Caggiula, showed some success with Strome last year and allowing him to get some full-time playing time on the third line is the perfect opportunity for him to prove he belongs on a higher line.
Being drafted with the fourth overall pick people in Edmonton expected Puljujarvi to be a superstar much like fellow Finnish winger Patrik Laine and to do it quickly. It’s taken some time for Puljujarvi to find his game and he’s still not completely there yet. This could be a huge year for him, needing to prove that he’s not a draft bust and can find development and productivity in the NHL.
Other potential options: Pontus Aberg could see time in a third line wing position, rotating with either Caggiula and Puljujarvi. Aberg was brought in late last year playing in 16 games with the Oilers and scoring two goals. He has a lot to prove and is considered the odd man out, but his speed and small sample-sized play-making ability could have him see some ice time on the third line.
Fourth line: Khaira/Brodziak/Kassian
Brodziak was one of a few free-agents brought in this offseason by GM Peter Chiarelli, signing the former Oiler draft pick to a 2-year $2.3 million deal.
At 34-years old it is not expected that Brodziak be an Allstar caliber player for the Oilers but just to do his job and be a leader. This team at times last year seemed to lack veteran leadership and a few of the tougher type of players in the bottom-6.
That’s not to say that Brodziak will bring a commanding physical presence to the lineup but I do believe he can be a solid fourth line centre or winger balancing out the lineup with his right-handed shot as well as contributing as a solid penalty killer for a team who struggled in that category.
Brodziak played in 81 games for the Blues last year scoring 33 points (10G-23A).
Jujhar Khaira really seemed to turn a corner last season. He showed flashes of the type of player he can be, a big physical winger who can play in the bottom-6 and score goals. His versatility will allow him to push for more minutes this year.
In 69 games with the Oilers last year Khaira scored 21 points (11G-10A) and showed a solid physical side to his game. He threw hits when the team needed it and at times when certain guys in the lineup who were expected to play a tough-guy role did not, Khaira stepped in and got into fights defending his teammates.
He tallied up a total of 47 penalty minutes and really proved that he can be a vital piece to this team going forward. The bottom six is where he belongs but for a big guy he does have some speed at 6’4” and 214 lbs and could make his way up the lineup.
Zack Kassian was a bit of disappointment last year. His 19 points (7G-12A) weren’t necessarily out of his average range but he didn’t bring the same kind of presence that he did during the 2016-17 season and playoffs.
Kassian was a physical force that year and especially in the playoffs where he was laying out big hits and defending any of his teammates. Last year that was not as much the case as at times it looked like he was really holding back from the physical side of his game.
He is in the second year of a 3-year $5.85 million deal so he’s not a piece that the Oilers could walk away from easily nor will he see a tonne of time on the bench. He needs to play, and he won’t move past the fourth line in my opinion.
If Kassian can find that angry, physical side to his game again he will the perfect addition to a fourth line with some size, and his speed and agility will lead to goal scoring opportunities which would be an amazing dual threat for a bottom half of the lineup.
Other possibility: Drake Caggiula or Pontus Aberg. I think the bottom-6 lineup has the most flexibility for rotation. With the only real solid pieces being Strome, Khaira and Brodziak. Drake Caggiula and Pontus Aberg could find themselves anywhere on the third or fourth lines should they outperform the likes of Kassian or Puljujarvi.
That was my projection for the bottom-6 of the Oilers lineup heading into the 2017-18 season. Hope you enjoyed it and are as excited as I am to see what kind of lines Todd McLellan puts forward this year.
Stay tuned next week when I look at the defensive pairings.