Peter Chiarelli made a couple of moves this week. He signed veteran winger Scottie Upshall to a professional tryout offer, which simply means that he is invited to training camp for an opportunity to earn a contract. He also signed defenceman Jakub Jerabek, who split time between Montreal and Washington last year. He played four games for Washington in their Stanley Cup run. Now that these two have been added, the roster for the coming year has pretty much been set.
The active roster is a 23-man roster. Two of those spots are filled by goaltenders Cam Talbot and Mikko Koskinen, which leaves 21 spots for forwards and defencemen. As it stands today, there are 14 forwards and 8 defencemen on the active roster. Andrej Sekera’s injury will force the Oilers to put him on the long-term injured reserve list (LTIR), which will bring the Oilers to the maximum number allowed on the active roster. This will likely be the way the Oilers roster will appear to start the season, but they could also choose to go with a 13 forward and 8 defenceman configuration. Another defenceman would need to added to the existing group in order to make that happen.
Only 12 forwards need to dress for a game, so there would be 2 forwards sitting out every night if the Oilers were to carry 14 forwards. The extra depth is really good to have in case of injuries, which will inevitably occur during an 82-game season. McDavid, Strome, and Lucic were the only forwards that played all 82 games last season. Upshall is 34 years old, so he doesn’t need to play every night. He along with guys like Caggiula, Aberg, and Khaira will likely end up rotating in and out of the line-up. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. It will keep guys fresher throughout the course of the season. Upshall provides a veteran presence in the locker room, which was suggested to be a missing link last year. Upshall and Brodziak can bring that along with solid penalty killing, which is another need for the Oilers. I really like the move to bring Upshall in on a PTO.
If the Oilers choose to carry 14 forwards, the battle will between Upshall, Aberg, Rattie, and Yamamoto for spots on the team. The odds of Yamamoto being an Oiler this season decrease with each new forward that Chiarelli brings in. If the Oilers sign Upshall, then Yamamoto probably won’t be on the team. It makes the most sense to have Yamamoto develolping in the AHL this year based on the amount of capable players that the Oilers have at their disposal this season.
On defence, the group as it stands currently is Klefbom, Larsson, Nurse, Russell, Benning, Gravel, and Jerabek. It appears as though Gravel and Jerabek will team up to offset the loss of Sekera on the left side of the third pairing. There’s nothing wrong with that either. These are two guys that are determined to prove that they can be regulars in an NHL line-up, and they will be competing for the chance to do so all season. Gravel proved to be capable with the Kings towards the end of last season, and Jerabek was good for the Capitals in limited action with them. Niether guy has proven to be able to play 82 games yet, but niether will have to. Each will likely only have to play about 41 games. I wouldn’t call this a permanent solution, but it will be fine for one year.
In case of injury on defence, the Oilers will have a couple of options that they could call up from Bakersfield in Keegan Lowe and Ethan Bear. Lowe got into two games with the Oilers at the end of last season, and he did not look out of place. He could come up to play a few games here and there in case of an injury. Ethan Bear is a good right-handed option to be called up. He showed a lot of promise in his 18-game look with the Oilers last year, and some people believe that he should be given an opportunity to replace Sekera. He clearly needs to improve his defensive game before stepping into an NHL role permanently, and one more year in the AHL will be the best thing for his development.
2018 10th overall pick Evan Bouchard is a kid that Oilers fans are excited about, and they have good reason to be. He dominated the OHL last season with 87 points, which was the highest scoring season from a defenceman in his draft year in over a decade. He already has 3 seasons of OHL hockey under his belt, which puts him ahead of the curve developmentally. Some people thought that Bouchard would make the team out of camp before Sekera’s injury. However, I believe that the Jerabek signing is a sign that Chiarelli isn’t in a rush to put Bouchard into the line-up. If Bouchard makes the team out of camp, it will be because he earned it. I can still see Bouchard getting his 9-game cup of coffee with the Oilers before ultimately being sent back to his OHL team in London. He will get to play in the World Jrs for Canada, and he will have a chance at a Memorial Cup. It will ultimately be the best thing for his development.
Once Nurse signs his contract, I believe the roster for this coming season will be set for the Oilers. The only thing that could potentially change the roster would be if Chiarelli were to invite another defenceman to camp on a PTO. Then the Oilers could choose between a 14 F – 7 D configuration or a more traditional 13 F – 8 D configuration with that 8th defenceman not being named Bear or Bouchard. I don’t see that happening though.