Game 1 and the Oilers 23-man Roster | Oilersnetwork.com - Edmonton Oilers News and Rumours

Game 1 and the Oilers 23-man Roster

With pre-season now done and the 23-man roster announced, the season is here. It makes sense for us to logically prematurely tear apart or overrate the success of this team before even one game, but that's what we do.


Most Likely Lineup

McDavid - Lucic - Eberle
Pouliot - Nugent-Hopkins - Slepyshev
Maroon - Draisaitl - Puljujarvi
Pitlick - Letestu - Kassian
Klefbom-Larsson
Sekera-Russell
Nurse-Davidson
Talbot

* Oh, and I wrote this piece yesterday and had to update it today seeing as all fit hit the shan on Tuesday and threw some of my predictions for a loop.

Here we go!


Making the Cut


Obviously, many of the choices for 2016-17 are obvious, but there are a few pleasant surprises. Some of these surprises came as a result of good play and those players deserve to be with the big club. Some of the surprises got an opportunity thanks to injuries that opened spots which otherwise wouldn't have been available.

There is a lot being made of the Versteeg exit and the resulting consequence of asking Puljujarvi to do what few other rookies have been able to do before him. It is a bummer that the Oilers didn't see the Versteeg situation coming and pick up a player like P.A Parenteau off waivers to shelter Puljujarvi. I'm confident if Edmonton knew Versteeg was going to happen, they'd have done this differently. The fact that Edmonton made a contract offer to Versteeg tells us they wanted another right-winger and the Oilers will need to make sure Puljujarvi isn't in over his head tonight.

Something else to consider. Versteeg is not a first line winger. If Calgary is grabbing him to play him in that spot, this speaks volumes to the level in which Calgary is hurting for a right wing and should Edmonton have played him in that spot, we'd all be up in arms about how our depth is terrible and Versteeg doesn't deserve to be in that spot. Versteeg stings, but he's not the end of the season by any means.


First Line


Edmonton will start the season with a top-line forward group of Connor McDavid, Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic. This line did pretty much what was expected of them when the blueprint was laid out. The only difference being that it took a bit longer for them to gel.

Over the course of the preseason, these three got better and better. There were some obvious chemistry issues at first, but by the final game, this line was dominating the opposition. It's logical to assume that while they may not dominate every night, they're going to have more games that not where they run rough-shot over their opponents.


Second Line


The second line is a bit less obvious, but based on this morning's skate, it seems pretty clear that Todd McLellan might be going with a trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with Benoit Pouliot and Anton Slepyshev. This could change quickly by subbing in Leon Draisaitl on that right side. Yes, there is still debate over Draisaitl playing wing versus center, but I assume he's going to see both positions regularly and McLellan loves to play top-six players in top-six positions. I think this is the main reason Kris Versteeg saw the writing on the wall and left for Calgary. Draisaitl is a top-six forward in the NHL and this deployment gives the Oilers two very dangerous lines. Slepyshev has been quite good in preseason, but this doesn't appear to be a long-term thing.

Third Line

The third line looks like Drake Caggiula with Patrick Maroon and what will be Jesse Puljujarvi. The substitution tonight is Anton Lander in at center while Caggiula nurses his injury. Lander was waived having not originally made this team, but not reassigned. I wrote a detailed piece over at my other main stop the Hockey Writers, citing how this is a wake-up call for Lander and he needs to get this figured out now.

Related: Lander Demotion a Wake-up Call

Once Caggiula returns, this third line is a nice combination of speed, enthusiasm, skill and energy. Two rookies on the line, however, has the potential to be exposed defensively from time to time. For those concerned about Caggiula's inexperience, coach Todd McLellan had this to say about Caggiula's play:

“He’s done that to a very high degree,” said McLellan. “He has an intensity to him that is NHL-bound. He has some very good ready and react skills, he’s competitive, he’s won, he’s very mature. A lot of the qualities you look for in an NHL player he possess at this point.”

Fourth Line

The fourth line will be Mark Letestu with Zack Kassian and Tyler Pitlick. The cast will be rounded out by Anton Slepyshev.

Puljujarvi


There is potential that having Puljujarvi on the third line goes one of two ways. With Versteeg, (or another more veteran right-winger) Puljujarvi as an alternate forward clearly means he still projects to be a top-line forward, but has the time to work his way there. I would have said, even as recently as a few days ago, that Puljujarvi was going to play right wing on the second line. Then I saw the below video.



Two things stand out for me in Puljujarvi's interview — neither of which I'm holding against him, by the way. First is the language barrier. It has to be affecting the time it takes for a player to learn the systems. In a way, hockey is a universal language, but for a player who likely has trouble both speaking and understanding English, this has to be a hurdle. Second, he's admitted to the time it's taking him to adjust to the smaller ice surface.

With that in mind, using him on the third line still means he's not playing a ton of ice time, but it does mean he's going to need to contribute. There is officially more of a burden on this kid.

The Defense

The first pair belongs, without question, to Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson. I can't explain the breath of fresh air that comes with watching these two players together and the confidence I feel that they'll not be overmatched each and every night.

I'm not suggesting either of these players are Norris trophy candidates this year, but it's sweet music to see two well-rounded defensemen running the core of this blue line and just scratching the surface of what they can become.

The second pair is a bit tougher to guess, not because of who's in it, but where they'll play. Currently, it looks like Andrej Sekera (left) with Kris Russell (right). This could flip-flop back and forth based on how things are going.

The third pair is Brandon Davidson with Mark Fayne. Rounded out with Darnell Nurse as a seventh defenseman.


Who Didn't Make the Cut

It appears to me Eric Gryba is the first real bonafide NHL player in a long time to be a casualty of depth in the Oilers organization. He did get a contract, but a two-way deal and he's not scheduled to be in the opening rotation tonight.

Matthew Benning looked like he was going to be close and his name appears on the roster, but he'll sit tonight too. I think if he sits for more than a game or two, he'll be reassigned to the AHL. There, he'll be given top-pair minutes and lead the Condors defense in a variety of ways.

Matt Hendricks is on the team but will sit due to injury. As is Iiro Pakarinnen. The real question mark is Mark Fayne. Where is he? He's on the team but he sort of sits on the outside looking in. Is he a possible trade piece?

But, who cares what I think right? For now, I'll just keep my mouth shut until I feel like spilling my guts again.





Jim Parsons is a business owner, husband, father and sports fan. For more information about Oilersnetwork.com founder and Oil Spill articles author Jim Parsons, click here.




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