The Oilers are off to an excellent 8-2-1 start to the season, but a key issue from the past continues to persist. The team is relying almost entirely on their top players for offence while virtually nothing is coming from the depth forwards.
The team has scored 35 goals through their first 11 games and 27 of them have come from top-six forwards. The addition of James Neal has given the team another scoring threat that they lacked the past two seasons, but the Oilers still aren’t getting anything fron the bottom-six. Markus Granlund, Alex Chiasson, Riley Sheahan, Jujhar Khaira, Josh Archibald, Tomas Jurco, and Patrick Russell have yet to score a goal in 2019-20.
Yesterday, it was announced that Archibald would miss two-to-four weeks with a broken foot. As a result, the Oilers will have to look to the Bakersfield Condors for an immidiate replacement. Replacing Archibald’s offence obviously won’t be too difficult given the fact he hasn’t scored yet this season. The bigger issue in losing Archibald is that he’s one of Edmonton’s top penalty killers. They could call up a more defensively-oriented veteran like Colby Cave or Brad Malone in order to fill that void, but the Condors also boast some young skill that could help the team in other areas.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday SATURDAY EDITION question. Should the Oilers be looking to their AHL affiliate to help cure their depth scoring woes? Is the team better off leaving prospects like Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Benson in the AHL to develop? Or could they make a difference up in the NHL?
One of the key parts of Ken Holland’s first off-season as Oilers’ general manager was loading the team up with adequate depth in order to ensure that prospects didn’t have to be forced to sink or swim. While the depth forwards haven’t provided offensively thus far, they’ve been fine in the defensive and checking aspects of the game. The depth this season has been better that in the previous two seasons, but getting some bottom-six scoring would make life a lot easier for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who are carrying the team offensively.
Down in Bakersfield, Kailer Yamamoto is off to a hot start offensively, socring four goals through his first seven games. Tyler Benson is right there with him, putting up five assists in seven games. 2018 second-round pick Ryan McLeod has had a fine start to his professional career, putting up three points in seven games.
While it’s tempting to call up one of these prospects, it would only be worthwhile if they were being used in a top-six role. There’s a clear hole on the second line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal that could be filled by Yamamoto, but I wouldn’t want to see any of those prospects called up to try and add offence to the bottom-six. Ethan Bear has been a very pleasant surprise early this season, but if he was called up to play 12 minutes on the third pairing, it wouldn’t be worthwhile to his development.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Yamamoto get a chance to play in the top-six with Nugent-Hopkins and Neal, but I’m not sure right now is the time. An extended period of play in the AHL would be good for Yamamoto’s development as a player. Since being drafted in 2017, Yamamoto has bounced around from the NHL to the WHL to the NHL and down to the AHL. After spending the previous two years bouncing around and dealing with injuries, he’s finally in a consisent spot right now.
The depth scoring at the NHL level hasn’t come yet, but it’s only been 11 games. Guys like Chiasson and Granlund aren’t going to go the entire season without scoring a goal. If this is still an issue a month from now, we can start to look at bringing up Yamamoto or Benson and playing them in a top-six role, but rushing them up to compensate for mediocre play from depth players is counterproductive to the plan.
As I said earlier, Archibald’s checking role can be filled by either Brad Male or Colby Cave. If the Oilers want to inject more offence to the lineup, they could try Josh Currie or Joe Gambardella, who are both playing at a near point-per-game pace in the AHL. Any of those aforementioned players are easier to call up, play in whatever role, and send down because their development doesn’t matter long-term to the organization. That isn’t the case with Yamamoto or Benson.
What say you, Nation? Should the Oilers give any of their prospects a chance to play in the NHL right now? Would it help their depth scoring woes? Would it harm their development?