Archive for 2016-11-06

Pitlick Making Case for NHL Expansion Protection

It's amazing how much a list can change in only a few short weeks. When the 2016-17 NHL season started, you could pretty easily put in pen who was going to be protected when it came to the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and who would be made eligible for selection to the Las Vegas franchise.

It appeared as though the Oilers would have no choice but to opt for the eight skaters and a goaltender option. Edmonton had at least four defensemen worth protecting and a variety of forwards that could have been made available, some the Oilers would have hoped might be selected. Today, that list is completely different.



NHL Expansion Structure

The structure of the protected list was that the Oilers could protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a netminder, or eight skaters and a netminder. The idea was that Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera were the easy choices. Because Darnell Nurse did not require protection and Kris Russell wouldn't be under contract at the time of the draft, only Brandon Davidson was the tricky choice.

Because Davidson has been hurt, he hasn't really shown his stuff this season and without doing so, it's a much more risky option for Las Vegas to select him knowing that there are other, more proven NHL defensemen available. This has changed Edmonton's need to protect eight skaters and leaves the forward group in a different spot.

If Edmonton protects seven forwards, Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Patrick Maroon and Benoit Pouliot seem to be the obvious choices. That leaves players like Tyler Pitlick and Anton Lander as maybe players.


Tyler Pitlick


Pitlick now has six points in 15 games. More importantly, he has five goals and most from the fourth line where he's found real chemistry with Anton Lander and Mark Letestu. For the first time in his professional hockey career, he's healthy and the Oilers are starting to see the benefits of having kept him around.

There was so much hope for Pitlick. He was drafted #31 overall in the 2010 entry draft and Edmonton really wanted the type of player he's showing himself to be this season. But, Pitlick had major injury issues and it was a 50/50 at best that he was even going to brought back this year.

Related:  Tyler Pitlick: The Edmonton Oilers Experiment


A Contract Extension?


It's too early yet to say that Edmonton should provide a contract extension to Pitlick. That said, if he continues to move up the line-up, playing key roles and contributing, extending him for a longer-term deal isn't going to be a difficult decision.

Coach Todd McLellan said of Pitlick after the Dallas game on Friday, "He makes an argument every night to be in the lineup. That's a great thing to see." Clearly Pitlick has the confidence of his coach and clearly he's going to be given more and more opportunity.

As the season progresses, who Edmonton will consider wanting to hang onto when the expansion draft rolls around will likely change. Production, player injuries and other transactions will all affect what happens in that draft. That said, the start Pitlick is having has him now a part of the conversation.

To be at this point in the season and to be considered a player that Edmonton may have to look at keeping around in a couple months, is great news for the young forward. Las Vegas is bound to get a good player from every team, but they may want young up and coming players as well.

Las Vegas also have a window of time to sign free agents this summer that will give them a competitive advantage. It means for 30 NHL teams, not locking up your players you want to keep is a risk. The Las Vegas team might want to sign a player of Pitlick's age and skill set if the Oilers don't so first.

Either way, the season Pitlick is having so far is great to see. He's had a rough road to get to this point. He deserves to finally be seeing some reward for his efforts.

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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When the Injuries Heal: Kris Russell

What happens to this Edmonton Oilers roster when the injuries heal? Currently the Oilers are without roster regulars Matt Hendricks, Zack Kassian, Brandon Davidson, Mark Fayne and Kris Russell. This doesn't include players like Iiro Pakarinen and Drake Caggiula who have to be give serious consideration for roster spots when they are ready to go.

The Oilers are also having a pretty good season going 9-4-1 in their first fourteen games. There is room for tweaks and fixes, but the team is not in need of a major overhaul and making too many changes may affect the positive momentum the team has built to date.

What should Edmonton do when players like Hendricks, Davidson, Caggiula and Pakarinen are ready to go? Over the next few days, I'm going to look at the domino effects that could take place with these players.

I'll start first with the injury that is most likely the least serious — that being Kris Russell.

Kris Russell


Russell had been one of Edmonton's better defenders before going down to injury. Of course, like any defenseman, he's had games where he wasn't at his best. That's not to be unexpected. He's a second-pairing defenseman on a new team playing some pretty heavy minutes. He'a also the type of player that is more highly scrutinized than other Oilers. Thus, we see the mistakes more quickly in Russell than we might in others.

By the sheer nature under which he was brought in, Russell is likely going to be picked apart more than other defensemen on the Oilers.  He's not exactly an analytics darling and he's on what is likely a temporary short-term one-year contract. Keeping him means losing a pretty good defenseman to the NHL expansion draft, so most will try to find holes in his game. It's not fair, but that's the way it goes.

All that said, he's been better than advertised. He led the team for a long stretch of games in a number of defensive categories. From blocked shots to takeaways, time on ice and points, he was a major factor in Edmonton;s 7-1-0 start to the year.



Where Russell Fits


Does he fit back on the off-side in a second-pairing role? Looking at the surroundings, the Oilers have to be extremely happy with the play of Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson. They are a true number-one pair for the Oilers and while every game isn't perfect, are building chemistry and taking on some of the NHL's toughest defenses and fairing better than average. Russell would also be out of position on the first-pairing, so he's not an option there.

Russell is also a left-handed blue-liner on a team that has many left-handed blue-liners. The result is that Russell was the player chosen to play his off-side with Andrej Sekera. It worked out well and I can see areas where Sekera has struggled since playing without Russell. Sekera would welcome Russell back in a heartbeat.

Eric Gryba and Darnell Nurse have been a pleasant surprise for the Oilers on the third pair and splitting them up right now makes little sense.

Matthew Benning becomes the odd-man out in this situation and that makes sense for an Edmonton team that could use Benning in other ways and make him a bigger part of the long-term plan.

Long-Term


I wrote a piece on thehockeywriters.com a while back asking if Russell's play was enough to warrant consideration for a longer-term contract after this season ends. It was met with mixed reactions and both sides had valid points.

The way the Oilers are playing is changing the equation weekly. For example, the NHL Expansion Draft was a situation where it seemed easy to pick out Edmonton's protected list. Now, that's so much the case. Players like Tyler Pitlick, Anton Lander and others have scratched their way into the conversation, while players like Brandon Davidson, who has been unhealthy most of the season, is becoming someone the Oilers may not have to worry about losing.

Should Russell come back and pick up where he left off in the first 10 games of the season, it's reasonable to suggest he changes the conversation again. At the very least, the Oilers need more time to assess what they truly have in Kris Russell. Is he the defenseman that wow'd us in the first 10 games? Or, is he the defenseman that struggled a bit in his last two and went down to injury?

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.




Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.



Game 14: Star Versus Star

Tonight the Oilers take on the Penguins. Rather, McDavid takes on Crosby. At least, that's what most people will be watching for. It should be a good game, but the talk is about most of the story lines surrounding the game.

Whether it's superstars being protected or not. Who is better —  McDavid or Crosby? Can the Oilers win their tenth game of the season? Can certain Oilers get back on track scoring wise? How are the injured players doing? Pretty much all of those story lines are trumping the actual game itself.


Trumping


Speaking of trumping... I'm in Arizona right now where the entire states is watching with a close eye on the election results and whether Donald Trump becomes the President of the United States. Here in Arizona, it's a republican state, so Trump has more supporters. As much as I'm way more interested in the hockey game than this circus of an election, I'm sure I'll be flipping back and forth to see what's happening with the country.

Meanwhile, the NHL continues to roll along and the players will probably hear about the election results after polls close. I wonder if Trump or Clinton like hockey? ...


The Game

I'm looking for the McDavid and Jordan Eberle combination to come out and have a good game. They've been close to capitalizing on a couple chances over the last two games and they had nice chemistry with Patrick Maroon. I expect that line to have at least six points between them.

I'm also curious to see how Cam Talbot plays after sitting his first game of the season. He didn't play against Detroit and Jonas Gustavsson played well. No doubt the Oilers will go back to Talbot, but when you play every game to start the year, I'm curious as to how it affects a goalie coming back from a game rested.

Take Me Home Country Road


This is the final game of the first major road trip for the Oilers. It didn't start great, but Edmonton has the best road record in the NHL. 5-1-1 for 11 out of a possible 14 points. They could have been in a much worse place and if they can manage a win, it will be an amazing start for the team.


I said against Detroit, I don't think the Oilers win and I'll say it again tonight. I was wrong against Detroit. Maybe I'll be wrong again tonight.

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.




Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.

Game 13: The Ugly Wins Count

Edmonton is now 8-3-1. It's a much better looking record than 7-4-1 and it's not how you got there, just that you did. The Oilers won an ugly game in Brooklyn on Saturday versus the New York Islanders and they'll get a chance to move up in the standings again as they take on a Detroit team who has lost four in a row.

Both teams started the season hot and both have since cooled. Edmonton was able to rebound with a win yesterday and while it wasn't pretty. They'll take it. I'm sure they'd take an ugly win in Detroit too.


Recalls


Part of what made the win so ugly was that Edmonton took some major hits to their lineup. The Oilers lost Jesse Puljujarvi to a knee-on-knee hit, Zack Kassian to an undisclosed injury and the Oilers were without Kris Russell. All injuries don't appear to be severe, but it leaves Edmonton with potentially a shortened bench on Sunday and short at the right wing position.

Edmonton has recalled Dillon Simpson and if Russell is unable to go, Simpson could get in the game on Sunday. The Oilers have also called up forward Taylor Beck. Whether he gets to Detroit in time and sees any real action against the Red Wings is still unclear. We may however see Anton Slepyshev suit up in place of Zack Kassian. Jesse Puljujarvi still may be a game time decision.

Goaltending

Cam Talbot, has started all 12 of the games the Oilers have played.  Tonight it appears to be Jonas Gustavsson who gets the start. The last time we saw Gustavsson he left the net seconds after he took the cage. He was rattled by Adam Larsson and left with concussion issues.

With the Oilers being tired, playing an early game of a back-to-back and running Jonas Gustavsson, it could be a long night. I don't expect a win, but will be pleasantly surprised if they get one. 9-3-1 would look great.

SHOOT THE PUCK!


One of the best ways to help them get there is to shoot the puck! The golden opportunities the Oilers passed up to make that extra pass on Saturday could have easily cost them the game. If Edmonton hopes to stand a chance tonight, when the opportunity to shoot is available, they need to take it. Matthew Benning did and he got two assists.

Detroit is a team that is apt to give up shots against. They rank 5th in the NHL, allowing opponents 33.0 shots per. They also don't shoot the puck all that often and if the Oilers can take an early lead int he game with 15 shots or so, they stand a decent chance.

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.




Want to start spilling your sports gut? We're looking for writers. Go here.