Oilers on the wings: goal-scoring drought in NHL, harm bug on farm, scorching pictures getting into system, with bonus juicy hearsay

Article content

Perhaps the most understated development of the Edmonton Oilers’ continuing run of good results under interim coach Jay Woodcroft? The simple observation that the team can find ways to win games or even strings of games when not firing on all cylinders. A week here and there where, say, the powerplay isn’t clicking, or the goaltending is just so-so, or the bottom six can’t piss a drop. Yet somehow the squad will find a way to overcome the temporary shortcoming in one area and win more than it loses.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Most recently it’s been scoring from the wings that’s been in something of a drought. Particularly wingers in the top six, for whom goals have been hard to come by since about 10 minutes into April — a month in which the Oilers have so far posted a 6-1-1 record with 27 (real) goals for, 15 against. So it’s not like the scoring void is killing the team, it’s just another challenge to be overcome.

Odd how it started: on April Fool’s Day the Oilers had the last laugh on the Blues, 6-5 in overtime. That was the night Zach Hyman twice staked the Oilers to a lead, both tallies in the first 5 minutes. Evander Kane followed with a shorthanded goal at the midway mark of the first period, and the Oilers seemed well on their way. In the end, they needed 2 goals by a centre and 1 by a d-man to get the job done in a game that I can only imagine was too wide open for Woodcroft’s liking.

Advertisement 3

Article content

Things tightened up right after that, as Mike Smith and the Oilers swept California allowing just 4 goals in 3 games. They fought Colorado to a 1-1 tie, losing in the shootout, then had a single bad game on the planet Krypton (a.k.a. Minnesota) and responded with a pair of 4-0 shutouts over clubs in the Western Conference playoff chase.

To recap April at the defensive end of the sheet: 5 GA vs. St. Louis, 5 GA at Minny, and 5 GA in the other 6 games … combined!

So credit where due to players of all positions who have locked things down. Enough so that the squad has been piling up the wins even as it’s been getting little in the way of goals from the flanks, especially the starboard side. Thankfully, the pivots d-men have stepped it up on the goal production front.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Let’s start with a shout out for the one man bucking the trend, 3LW Warren Foegele. He has lit the lamp 3 times in the last 5 games, generally by going hard to the net front with or without the puck. Foegele’s overall game has been coming on for some time now, 11 minutes a night of honest grinding in a bottom 6 role, almost all of it at even strength. His hands come and go so the goals come in fits and spurts, but this latest little run has come at a most opportune time.

Otherwise…

  • neither Hyman nor Kane has dented the twine since that 4-goal first period vs. the Blues. Over the 7 games since, Hyman chipped in 3 helpers, Kane 4, so it’s probably just a fluke of distribution.
  • Jesse Puljujarvi is the most recent of the top six wingers to bulge the cords, having done so in Anaheim on Apr 03. That ended a 9-game goalless streak for J.P., but since then, 6 more games without a point of any description. Which is different from saying he hasn’t contributed to the offence, as Woodcroft himself took pains to point out a few days back. But the goals themselves sure have been hard to come by.
  • Kailer Yamamoto, meanwhile, has come off the high of an 8-game spree in mid-March that saw him ripple the mesh in every game but 1, including 5 separate contests of 1-1-2. Since then? 11 games without a goal, the last 7 without an assist either.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Complicating matters further is the fact that of those 4 wingers, only Hyman has a contract for next season (and 5 more beyond). The others are all playing for their next pact, with the very real chance that not all will remain in Edmonton. As if the games themselves weren’t already sufficiently pressure-packed.

Further down the line-up, the short-term picture of scoring from the wing doesn’t get any brighter beyond the singular exception of Foegele. On the port side, neither Derick Brassard nor sometimes LW Ryan McLeod has found the net since late March. Bottom-six RWs Derek Ryan and Zack Kassian have even longer goalless droughts of 20 and 25 games respectively.

I’ll reiterate that none of these guys is playing bad hockey, and have each had their parts to play in the team’s improved defensive structure over this recent span. But it’s also fair to say that the group isn’t quite delivering its full capacity, even as the wins continue to flow. I see it as good news: this club is capable of even better hockey than we’ve been enjoying already.

Advertisement 6

Article content

Wingers in the system

Lots of news throughout the organization on the “scoring winger” front, so let’s do a quick rundown.

The big news of course is the news that Carter Savoie will join the Oilers’ AHL affiliate in Bakersfield on an Amateur Tryout (ATO). Fresh off a national championship in his sophomore season at Denver University, Savoie has crossed his personal Rubicon into the ranks of professional hockey, “amateur” contract notwithstanding. He won’t going back to college; he will be signing with the Oilers.

Why hasn’t that happened already? Here’s the invaluable PuckPedia with an explanation of the scenario for both Savoie and Vegas Golden Knights prospect Brendan Brisson:

Advertisement 7

Article content

According to Bakersfield coach Colin Chaulk, who spoke with Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now on Tuesday, Savoie has not yet joined the team. When he does, the left-shooting left winger will have been off skates for a while so it may be the weekend before he makes his AHL debut. Not impossible that he might get a game in the bigs before the season is done; especially if the club is locked into playoff position before the back-to-back set at home that closes out the season in 10 days time. That said, I’ll happily admit I don’t understand the intricacies of what it takes to “burn a year” of a freshly-signed ELC. It’s all there in the fine print somewhere; I for one will trust the experts to figure it all out.

Another player with a non-zero chance to get a cup of coffee with the Oilers just before season’s end is Dylan Holloway, an all-purpose forward who projects best at wing. Alas, Holloway has been out of action at the AHL level for the last two weeks, with a slower recovery from his leg injury than originally hoped. Not good news for a player accumulating a few red flags on the health front, but all the more reason to take no chances and make sure he’s fully recovered. Since joining the Condors in late January, the dynamic Holloway has respectable numbers of 8-13-21 in 32 AHL games, including 1-7-8 in his last 6 before the injury.

Advertisement 8

Article content

Similarly, another scoring winger, right-shooting Raphael Lavoie, has been sidelined since Mar 30 and remains out indefinitely. The volume shooter has had a hot and cold campaign that saw him go 0-3-3 in his first 18 games, erupt for 11-9-20 in his next 19, then slide to 2-1-3 in his next 19 including no points at all in his final 10.

A third sniper on the flanks, Brendan Perlini, was hurt on Apr 06. After showing some sporadic promise with the Oilers, he’s been a point a game player in the AHL and was on an 8-6-14 roll in the last 9 full games before his injury. He’s got concussion and remains sidelined indefinitely.

Yet a fourth scoring winger who missed time recently is Cooper Marody, who returned to the line-up last game after a two-week absence on what has become an injury-plagued crew of Condors. (Defencemen Philip Broberg, Markus Niemelainen and Philip Kemp are also sidelined, while Slater Koekkoek has taken a leave of absence.) Marody is having another fine season (47 GP, 21-31-52) and even scored his first NHL point in a one-game emergency recall before Christmas, but is almost certain to leave the organization as a Group VI free agent.

Advertisement 9

Article content

Marody’s long-time sidekick, Tyler Benson, has settled back in at the AHL level, albeit with fairly pedestrian boxcars of 2-5-7 in 13 games. Chaulk said that Benson, like Perlini, needed some time to adapt to the increased ice time both received after arriving in the lower league, and left unstated the disappointment of the demotion as playing a part in a slow start for both. His contract expires at season’s end with the Oilers holding his RFA rights.

One scoring winger who is living up to that billing and then some is Seth Griffith, who has done nothing but produce all season long. He’s ripped it up for 26-47-73 in 59 games, ranking fourth in the AHL in both assists and points. With 12 points in his last 6 games and 8 in his last 3, Griffith is seemingly getting hotter and hotter. He recently signed a two-year extension with the Oilers that will keep him in the org through 2024. At 29, the 5’9, 195 lb. dynamo is the classic “Quadruple A” player, almost too good for his current league but with no room at the inn at the highest level. He projects to remain an elite producer at that level, and a recall option for the big club in case of emergency, as indeed happened once this season.

Advertisement 10

Article content

Prospect wingers

Lots of good news on this front! Besides Savoie, who had a fabulous sophomore term at Denver U (39 GP, 23-22-45), the Oilers have a trio of signed prospects who had/are having terrific seasons in major junior. Two of them saw their regular season wrap up this past season, one has a couple weeks to go. All project as wingers; all shoot right.

  • Ty Tullio signed last September at rookie camp though that contract was allowed to slide for a year as he completed his junior eligibility. Tullio responded with an outstanding season at Oshawa, where his 42-44-86 in 65 games was 15 goals and 25 points more than his closest teammate. Tullio’s steady progression from 15 to 27 to 42 goals, and from 42 to 66 to 86 points over his three full OHL seasons is encouraging indeed, even as there was a full season gap in there due to COVID.
  • Matvey Petrov enjoyed a spectacular rookie season, posting 40-50-90 in 63 games for North Bay and signing an ELC with Edmonton in November. A 6th-round draft steal in 2021, Petrov just turned 19 and has a year of junior eligibility remaining, though as a player drafted from Europe rather than the CHL the Oilers hold the option of putting him in the AHL next season. My guess is they won’t, simply due to the surfeit of young scoring talent entering the system.
  • Speaking of which, Xavier Bourgault is posting a fine season of his own  with 32-30-62 in just 39 games. The 2021 first-rounder still has a few games to go as the QMJHL endured an extended stoppage. He missed time due to injury as well, but still ranks second in Shawinigan Cataractes scoring despite playing 23 fewer games than the team leader. This is Bourgault’s fourth full(-ish) season in the Q, so it’s probably just as well he has a “late birthday” and thus will be eligible to turn pro this fall in his Draft +2 season.

Advertisement 11

Article content

Rumours

Just this juicy one a couple of days ago from a well-placed source which is at least worth a mention:

Advertisement 12

Article content

Andrei Kuzmenko, 26, is coming off by far the best of his 8 KHL seasons, finishing second in league scoring with 20-33-53 in 45 games. The right-shooting left winger then added 7-7-14 in 16 playoff games for SKA St. Petersburg.

Is there room for him in Edmonton? Depends on what happens with those 3 unsigned wingers mentioned way up top of this post. If this rumour has any legs at all, at minimum it suggests that Oilers GM Ken Holland is keeping his options open.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: McDavid faces new challenger as scoring race heats up

Staples: Oilers ink hot prospect Carter Savoie

STAPLES: Mike Smith answers his critics … again

LEAVINS: Jay Woodcroft’s “special sauce” — 9 things

McCURDY: Player grades from 4-0 whitewash of Vegas

Advertisement 1

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.