I don’t think any of us are really surprised that the top half of the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft didn’t go as we expected. It sure didn’t go as I expected… I got 2 out of the first 14 picks correct!
The wingers that many people thought the Oilers would get to pick between got taken before the 14th pick. Jack Quinn went to the Sabres with the 8th pick, and Seth Jarvis got snapped up by Carolina right before the Oilers pick. Even the goalie, Iaroslav Askarov, got taken by the Predators with the 11th pick.
The Oilers didn’t get a scoring winger for Connor McDavid, but they did get an important forward. Ken Holland selected Alberta’s own Dylan Holloway. The 6’0″, 203 lb University of Wisconsin product had 17 points in 35 games in the Big 10 (NCAA) in his freshman year last season. He was also the AJHL and CJHL MVP in 2019 while playing with the powerhouse Okotoks Oilers as a 17-year old. Okotoks has a way of luring top future NCAA players to its team, and Holloway going on to play for Tony Granato in a strong college program in Wisconsin is only positive for his development and his NHL future.
Holloway is a strong skater, and he plays a straight-ahead game. He’s physical and he’s willing to go to the dirty areas. Having watched him play live at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup here in Edmonton in 2018, I can attest to his ability to get involved in the forecheck. He doesn’t have elite offensive chops, but he will be able to produce at the NHL level. Holloway is a safe pick. There are no questions about his ability to be an NHL player. There will be a lot of bright stars that come out of this draft, and Oilers fans are going to be frustrated that Holloway does not project to be one of those stars. I think that Edmonton will embrace Holloway over time though.
I see Holloway as a 3rd line centre with the Oilers. He instantly slots above Ryan McLeod, whom the Oilers selected in the 3nd round in 2018, on the organizational depth chart at centre. McLeod is a great skater, but he lacks Holloway’s offensive upside. Holloway can also play left wing, but I think that he is a strong enough skater to succeed as a centre in the NHL.
I don’t expect Holloway to be in consideration for a roster spot this coming season, but this pick will affect Holland’s decision on who to target for the 3C spot for the 2021 season. Whoever Holland brings in will not likely have much term in their deal. That means that I really wouldn’t expect Holland to be in the market for guys like Tyler Johnson or Alex Killorn out of Tampa because they have such long terms.
It sounds like Holloway will play in Wisconsin for the 2020-21 season, and then they will make a decision on whether he will go pro or not at that time. Holland said after the draft that he expects most kids to be ready at 21 or 22, and it’s a bonus if they are ready at 19 or 20. Holloway will be 20 by the time the 2021-22 NHL season starts, assuming that the league gets back to a normal season after the coming one. That would be the earliest possible time that Holloway could be NHL ready. I’m optimistic that he can be ready by then because of his physical maturity and his skating. The fact that his birthday was about a week too late to qualify for the 2019 NHL Draft means that he has already had an extra year of development over his peers.
This pick has me thinking back to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jordan Staal. The Sportsnet crew made the comparison of Holloway to Staal. I see them as being pretty similar in terms of playing style, but the real parallel I see is how both organizations stacked their centres. The Penguins had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as their top 2 centres, and Staal as their 3C. Staal was drafted 2nd overall in 2006 and he played right away. The Penguins made the Cup Finals in his 2nd year and won the Stanley Cup in his 3rd season. That’s the kind of impact that I think Holloway can have here in Edmonton. He doesn’t have Staal’s pedigree and he won’t play right away, but having a centre of his skill set on his ELC will allow Holland to build a 3rd line that won’t get outscored very often and to spend some money on adding a scoring winger for McDavid in the near future.
My preference here would’ve been for Holland to take Russian winger Rodion Amirov (15th overall to Toronto) at 14, but I am in no way upset at the Holloway pick. I think Holloway has a bright future in Edmonton, and I think he will be the 3C on some great teams here in the next handful of seasons. As a fan, I’m excited that Holland has drafted two players that I got to see live at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Edmonton in 2018 in the last two years, Philip Broberg last year and now Holloway. It will be fun to watch their careers progress as Oilers!
On day 2 of the draft, Holland traded the 76th pick to the Sharks for the 100th pick and the 126th pick. The idea here was to get more lotto tickets. I really like what Holland did with these picks! He took Sherwood Park Crusader star Carter Savoie with the 100th pick. The St. Albert product had 172 points in 112 games with the Cru, including 54 goals in 53 games this past season. That right there is evidence that the kid can rip the puck. Savoie was a steal where the Oilers got him. He will be playing ta the University of Denver this coming season.
Speaking of steals, Holland and his scouting staff struck again when they took Tyler Tulio from the Oshawa Generals with the 126th pick. He got 66 points in 62 games for Oshawa last season. He’s got a nice mix of smooth hands and a bit of jam in his game. He can play any of the forward positions, which is a plus for him. He was consistently ranked anywhere from 38-80 according to many experts, so it is a little curious that he fell all the way to the 5th round; but it sounds like Tullio is a decent prospect.
To round out the draft, the Oilers took Maxim Beryozkin (138), a massive 6’4″, 216 lb LW currently playing in the KHL; Filip Engaras (169), a Swedish centre playing college hockey at the University of New Hampshire; and Jeremias Lindewall, another big (6’2″, 183 lbs) LW. Holland drafted 6 forwards in the last two days… we can’t accuse him of not trying to address an organizational need this year.
There was also a fair amount of other Oilers related news to come out of the last 24 hours. Last night, Holland announced that both Andreas Athanasiou and Matt Benning will not be receiving qualifying offers from the Oilers and they will both be headed to free agency. There was some hope that Holland could get both to sign for less than their qualifying offers, but that wasn’t to be.
Losing the two 2nd round picks for nothing hurts. Athanasiou likely just had a bit of a cold streak coming to a new team. I can hardly blame a guy for not scoring while being stuck on a 3rd line with Riley Sheahan, which Athanasiou was for the majority of his time in Edmonton; but he made far too many defensive miscues and mistakes with the puck in the neutral zone for my liking. I’m not going to sit here and be mad at Holland for losing the two picks for nothing here because the pandemic definitely threw a wrench into his game plan. I could’ve got on board with qualifying AA if there was more cap space to work with, but the flat cap made it too costly to qualify AA.
Benning suffered the same fate. Benning was a nice find by Peter Chiarelli. He performed well in a 3RD role while he was here, but $2 million is just too much for what he provides, and the Oilers likely don’t want to spend that kind of money on a 3RD. This move creates an opening for Evan Bouchard, who is getting free development time in Sweden right now. He could be ready by the time the NHL season starts in January.
In other free agency news, many sources have suggested that the Oilers are now showing heavy interest in Jakob Markstrom. I have NO IDEA how the hell Holland would fit him under the salary cap, but if there is a way to do it that doesn’t destroy the rest of the roster then it needs to happen! Markstrom has quietly emerged as a strong starter in the last couple of seasons for the Canucks. He’s the highest quality goalie in terms of ability and age in the UFA market this year. I would fully support a Markstrom signing, but I’m curious as to how Holland thinks he can make it happen.
I saved the most exciting piece of news for the end. Jesse is back! Puljujarvi signed a 2-year deal with an AAV of $1.175 million. It’s a back-loaded deal that will see Puljujarvi earn $900k this season and $1.45 million next season. Both sides win with this type of deal. The Oilers don’t have to pay him much this season, and his qualifying offer will be higher after the second year.
It’s such a relief to see Puljujarvi back in the fold! Holland wouldn’t reveal much about his discussions with the Puljujarvi camp, but he did say that this is pro hockey and nothing is guaranteed. It sounds like Puljujarvi wants to play with McDavid, but the team doesn’t want to guarantee his spot there, which is totally fair. My hope is that he gets an extended look with McDavid early in camp or early in the season though. Puljujarvi is a bubbling volcano that’s ready to erupt. I think that once he sees the puck go in the net a few times, we will start to see the Puljujarvi that we drafted in 2016. I just don’t want to see him get the same treatment that he got from Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock this time around.
I’ll post my reaction to any free agent signings over the weekend early next week. Until then, enjoy Free Agent Frenzy!