Sunday, October 1, 2017

Don't Panic (But Feel Free To Be A Little Nervous)

As I'm sure most of you have already read this afternoon, the Oilers have sent Yessa Puljujarvi down to Bakersfield where he'll start the year as what we are safe to assume will be the number one right wing for the Condors. That's not very surprising if you spent any time watching him this preseason, where once again he failed to make much of an impact, aside from a solid period against the Jets playing with Connor McDavid. It's also a good sign that FINALLY the Oilers aren't trying to force a square peg into a round hole, and are allowing young players to actually develop rather than just throwing them in the deep end and crossing their fingers that they don't drown.

It's also WAY too early to shit your britches about Puljujarvi's future, and if you try to call him a bust I will punch you in the throat. As Lowetide said the other day not all prospects are going to develop in a straight line (he also said calm your tits which is amazing). Puljujarvi has shown flashes of offensive brilliance, and it's not unrealistic to think a guy who just turned 19 five months ago, and is entering only his second season of hockey in North America may need a little more time to develop. Hell, there are kids in the CHL that are older than him! As Oiler fans we've become accustomed to seeing every first round pick ever be immediately slotted into the line up, with varying degrees of success, so I do understand the knee-jerk reaction to seeing a top 3 pick being sent to the AHL for the second time in as many seasons. But as I said the fact the Oilers even have the option of sending him down is a sign the franchise is trending in the right direction.

But to me this move just raises another red flag in terms of Chiarelli's offseason moves, and more accurately the lack thereof. If it wasn't for Kailer Yamamoto arriving on the scene in a big way (GORD DAMN THAT KID HAS SKILL) what are the odds that despite a poor showing in the preseason Puljujarvi would still be plugged into that top six RW spot anyway? 97%?

This also makes me dislike the Jordan Eberle trade even more, since it was pretty clear that at least part of the reason he was deemed expendable was Chiarelli and Co were optimistic about Puljujarvi's development and had him penciled into that RW spot going into camp. So now the Oilers are basically left with Yamamoto, who as I said impressed the hell out of everyone so far, but just turned 19, and is still an unknown in terms of being able to translate his preseason success into regular NHL contributions, let alone survive a full 82 game season in the bigs (lest we forget the lessons from Draisaitl's rookie campaign).

And if not Yamamoto then the spot would default to Drake Caggiula, who had 18 points last year, and at least in my opinion did not look overly good in the preseason. As an aside, I think our expectations of Caggiula should be that of a solid third liner, which for a player that cost the Oilers absolutely nothing to acquire would still be a valuable pickup.

Also I may be in the minority here but I am not at all bullish on Ryan Strome. Accuse me of still having Eberle coloured glasses on if you must (you're not wrong), but I just don't have a ton of faith that a guy who scored a career high 17 goals three seasons ago will blossom into a 30 goal scorer just by virtue of riding shotgun next to Hockey Jesus. A MASSIVE part of the reason so many Oiler fans wanted Eberle gone was because he had a really tough time making things click with Connor. And Milan Lucic ended up on the second line for similar reasons, so spare me the "anyone who plays with McDavid will turn into an all-star" narrative.

With Strome, much like Caggiula, I think he can absolutely be a solid third line player, which I feel like is something underrated by a lot of hockey fans in general. But I never bought into the idea he should be playing with McDavid just because he's a former top 5 pick, or because he's only 24, or because he did okay playing with Tavares three years ago. Obviously I want nothing more than for him to prove me embarrassingly wrong, I just feel like the Strome Hype Train needs to go back to the station for a bit until he actually proves he can play in the top six.

So with that you'll have to excuse me if I look at the right wing depth going into the season and make this face 😬.

However not all is lost, as in the distance there is still a formerly mulleted, ageless glimmer of light shining through. As Dave Lozo keeps pointing out we are clearly living in the darkest timeline, but just like every Christmas between 1996 and 2000 where I held out hope that THIS would be the year I finally got a Nintendo 64, I still have faith we'll see number 68 slowly gliding up the ice in one of those slick, new Oilers jerseys, while using his thicc badonkadonk to make it virtually impossible to knock him off the puck. Yes he turns 46 in February, and logic dictates that the wheels will fall off at some point, but that's been a concern with Jagr ever since he came back to the NHL 6 years ago at the tender age of 39. But in that time he's put up seasons of 66 and 67 points, and even last year, on a disappointing Panthers team, he managed 46 points, which just for funsies would have put him 5th in team scoring on the Oilers last year. That being his worst offensive showing in a full season since coming back from the KHL is definitely a cause for a little concern, but Jagr can still clearly play, and bringing him in on a one year deal would seemingly be a huge boost to this Oilers offense, and would be one of the best moves of Chiarelli's tenure to date.

The game last night against the Canucks made me nervous that we're going to see a one line team again this year. It was only one game, and it was only preseason, but what we saw was Connor and Leon running the show while they were on the ice, and the other three lines just kind of going out there while the top line got a rest. I'm certainly not throwing in the towel already, and I expect rebound seasons from guys like Nuge and Lucic, but for a team that should be legitimately contending for the Cup this year it made me a little nervous that the team might not be built to meet those expectations (and that's without even mentioning the defence which is completely different can of worms that gives me anxiety).

Signing a player like Jagr would assuage a lot of my fears about the Oilers lack of depth on the wing, and make me more confident that this team actually is going for it, in a season where once again the west is mostly wide open and which could be one of their best chances to win a Cup in the Connor McDavid era. Having McDavid gives them a chance to win every night, and guys like Yamamoto, along with Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones should give us all hope that this will be an Oilers team that's picked to be a cup favorite every season for years to come. But once again the Oilers go into a season with a lot of questions marks on the roster, when ideally the only question should be "Who will the Oilers face in the Cup final".  It's way too early to panic about Puljujarvi, and it's obviously silly to panic about a season that hasn't even started yet. However I don't think it's out of line to be a little nervous the Oilers didn't do enough to shore up the roster this year. I want nothing more than to be proven wrong, as I am with almost everything, ever. And there's still plenty of time for them to make more moves (along with an enormous amount of cap space) so time will tell. Either way, Pete, I beg of you; PLEASE SIGN JAGR!!

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