**This is another guest post from former BLH contributor and a well-known and respected member of multiple Oilers Facebook groups, Micah Kowalchuk.**
As I sit here enjoying the fact the heat has gone out in my building in the balmy Saskatchewan winter…
So, we have 3 new players, Ryan Mantha, Justin Fontaine and David Desharnais..
Ryan Mantha: This is a 6’5 225lb right-shot defender who was drafted in the 4th by the Rangers, then when he didn’t sign his rights were traded to Washington, and he didn’t sign there either, and now he’s with the Oilers. He’s got 51 points in 58 games, and he’s the captain of his team.
One of the reasons he signed here is he liked the fact the Oilers let their prospects play, we can expect to see him with the Condors as soon as his junior season ends.
The knock on him is his skating, but that’s usually the knock on most players of his size. He’s also been criticized for poor positioning in the past, but that appears to be improving.
Don’t expect him on the Oilers right away, but he’ll form the core of a very good Bakersfield Condors D with Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear and others.
Justin Fontaine: We got him in an AHL trade for Taylor Beck, who’s very good AHL season wasn’t translating to the NHL.
Fontaine played for the Wild from 2013-2016, scoring 68 points in 197 games with an average of 12 minutes ice time. He’s 5’10 174lbs, and he’s not a physical player, nor does he block a ton of shots. However, he doesn’t make many mistakes, and had a -3.2% CORSI with a 44/56 offensive and defensive zone usage.
His best season was 2014-2015 when he had 31 points in 71 games, 0% CORSI, in 12mins ice time.
For now, he’s an AHL player, but he’s an AHL player who’s proven in the past he can be a productive 3rd/4th line RW. We all know the Oilers have some question marks on the right side, and he’s being brought in because he can legitimately push for a spot.
Desharnais I’ve already discussed, but I’ll just restate that this is a player who, as recently as last season, was a .45ppg C. He’s having a down year this year with a .32ppg season, but there’s also been a lot of flux in the Montreal lineup and he was hampered by injuries.
Although he’s a smaller player, he’s had 5 NHL seasons with over .5ppg, he’s a safe bet to be able to go back to those numbers with some quality linemates, and to move back into the 50% faceoff range he’s spent most of his career at.
Yes, the new people are small. We have a small 3C (5’7). Now as much as people are terrified of the small people, let’s keep in mind that, as a team, the Oilers are very, very, very big these days..
Players on the Oilers under 6’0: Caggiula, Desharnais, Eberle, Letestu, Russell. We can breath in and remember that against St. Louis we put 9 guys on the ice over 210lbs.
So, what can we expect for a lineup?
To start, expect this:
However, Stauffer is predicting for the playoffs we’ll see:
(Caggiula, Slepyshev, Pakarinen spares)
Ok, I can hear the screaming already. I know, I know, but I’ll explain his logic, which makes more sense once it’s laid out (he never did explain it, this is me figuring out why he said it)
Nothing one really needs to explain about the Top-6 or the Defense at all, so this will cover the Bottom-6 and the Return of Pouliot.
The 3rd line: Yes, Pouliot is there, and Puljujarvi. Why on earth would we do this?
(1) Pouliot has played 300 minutes with Desharnais in Montreal, so about 25 games. There’s some comfort there.
(2) Puljujarvi (.29ppg, 2.1% CORSI), Slepyshev (.24ppg, -3.7% CORSI), Caggiula .22ppg, -3.6% CORSI), Pakarinen (.38ppg, -9.4% CORSI), Khaira (.14ppg, 7.7% CORSI), Pouliot (.20ppg, -2.5% CORSI), Hendricks (.21ppg, -6.3% CORSI), Kassian (.28ppg, -4.5% CORSI).
Now, first thing that jumps out is Khaira’s CORSI, but small sample size and 8 minutes a game will do that, don’t overrated it too much. Second thing we see is Pakarinen is putting up some good numbers, but again, small sample size. If both of these guys keep those respective numbers going by the playoffs, expect a re-think.
For now, we know Puljujarvi can score, and his defense was underrated. The idea seems to be that he’ll be playoff ready by the end of the season, and short of Pakarinen, he had the best numbers of any of these guys.
As for Pouliot instead of Slepy or Cags, defensively (weird, I know) he is actually better, and although the scoring numbers are similar, Pouliot has proven to be a scoring forward as recently as last year.
In theory, if they can all rebound or step up, Pouliot-Desharnais-Puljujarvi can be a legitimate 3rd scoring line. There’s all the talent in the world there if it comes together, and both Pouliot and Puljujarvi have the size to support Desharnais.
At this point, Cags/Slepy haven’t proven enough in the scoring department to unseat anyone from this hypothetical 3rd line. Even if you hate Pouliot. Although, if Pakarinen keeps up his near .40ppg pace, he might take this spot instead and Puljujarvi stays in the minors. Basically, some European guy with the last initial P will be here.
On the 4th line, Khaira’s looked good, but there hasn’t been the offense there to displace Hendricks from his playoff spot. And Kassian on the right side has proven to work well with Letestu, so, yeah.
Love it or not, this is the likely playoff roster (with Pakarinen my better favorite to steal that 3RW spot)
Finally: For the “OMFG WHY DID WE NOT GET MORE STUFF AT THE DEADLINE CROWD”
Well, we have wings. Lots of wings. Would have been nice to get a more proven wing, but when we got the 3C instead, that meant we weren’t going to bother. Why? Because we have Eberle and Draisaitl at the right wing, and a ton of options for the bottom-6. So, yes, no wingers, 3C instead, makes sense.
Defense: We got Mantha, nothing else was worth kicking tires on. If PC decides he really wants to gamble on a scoring RHD, he’ll go toss Wisniewski a few bucks. Makes sense.
So, that takes us to goaltending. People want to know, why didn’t we get a goalie??? There was Halak, Fleury, Niemi, Lehtonen, Pavelec, Mason, Neuvirth..
Setting aside salary costs, contract terms, etc.. This is why..
MA Fleury: .905
Our existing backup, Laurent Brossoit, has a .910.
Basically, we didn’t get a backup goalie because the ones on the market cost too much, are all having brutal seasons (league average goaltending is .913), and quite frankly, PC looked at them and thought “I’m really not sure any of these guys are better than what I have”, and he was probably right.
Now, we may need to play LB more, so be it, but when it boils right down to it, can’t blame the guy.
And now back to the playoff stretch!