For 30 NHL teams, this summer’s NHL Expansion Draft is going to be a play role in their decision making over the next few months. Who will they protect? Who will they let go? What players will get traded so that clubs can shape their rosters while not losing an asset for no return? Among those 30 teams is the Edmonton Oilers and it appears they’ll have a few decisions to make.
The most obvious is what to do with their pending unrestricted free agents. The Oilers can choose to sign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyson Barrie and Adam Larsson during the season, but it could greatly impact their need to protect certain players, should they choose to do so. Now, a new problem — a good problem, but a problem — has popped up in Jesse Puljujarvi.
When brought back to Edmonton from Finland, there was no telling how the forward would reintegrate himself into the team and the NHL. What the Oilers have discovered is that this is a different player than the one who left and he has a ton of chemistry with Connor McDavid. If he continues to produce, there is no way the Oilers will want to leave him exposed to Seattle, especially with his cap hit at $1.175 million.
What Do the Oilers Do?
First, the team will need to give it more time. Is Puljujarvi’s recent run the exception and not the norm? 10-20 more games will give GM Ken Holland a better idea as to where Puljujarvi fits in the total picture that is the Oilers forward corps.
If Puljujarvi turns out to be a top-line winger and one the club was able to bring back for cheap with team control, Edmonton won’t leave him exposed.
From there, Holland will need to decide how important it is that some of his key players are under contract heading into the draft. Mitchell writes:
If Holland decides to wait until after the expansion draft to make decisions on unrestricted free agents such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tyson Barrie, it gives him a chance to protect the Finn.
We might see Edmonton protect three defencemen (Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Ethan Bear) and allow the Kraken to choose between youngsters Caleb Jones and William Lagesson.
If the Oilers elect to protect seven forwards, Puljujarvi should be fine and the hope will be that the unrestricted free agents are willing to wait until after the draft to talk business. If the Oilers elect to protect eight skaters (so they can hang onto another defenseman), it’s almost a guarantee Seattle will have its sights set on Jesse.
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