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Oilers Plan to Protect More Forwards During NHL Expansion Draft

A report suggests the Edmonton Oilers are leaning towards signing Adam Larsson before the expansion draft and going 7-3-1 for protection.

As per a report today by Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic, the Edmonton Oilers have made a change in thinking when it comes to their protection list at the upcoming NHL Expansion Draft. Previously, the team was concerned about losing a significant piece on their blue line. Now, it sounds as though GM Ken Holland and the rest of the pro scouting team has elected to prioritize a depth forward.

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Nugent-Bowman writes:

The Oilers were thought to be leaning toward protecting eight skaters and a goalie a few weeks ago. They will almost certainly go the 7-3-1 route now. I’m told by a team source who has knowledge of the current protection plans that the only way they’ll revert to an eight-skater plan is if pending UFA defencemen Adam Larsson and Tyson Barrie are re-signed ahead of the expansion draft. That seems unlikely.

This is not to suggest the Oilers think they’ll get both Larsson and Barrie signed, but there is talk that Edmonton is thinking about locking up Larsson before the expansion draft so as not to expose him in a limited window in free agency. They want him back and are willing to risk losing a player in the draft so they don’t lose Larsson in another way.

If they do this, it creates a snowball effect the Oilers have to work around.

Essentially, what this means if the Oilers sign Larsson pre-draft, is that Oscar Klefbom, Caleb Jones and William Lagesson are going to be left exposed and the Oilers have decided to live with the consequences of doing so. They either feel Klefbom’s health is a real concern and he won’t be selected — or if he is, he’s too unhealthy to be relied upon — and that their prospect pool on the blue line is strong enough that it can withstand the loss of Jones or Lagesson. This also means Klefbom is likely unhealthy enough to get exemption from the NHL.

What Does This Mean for the Forwards?

The locks for protection are Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto. If Edmonton goes the 7-3-1 route for protection, they can protect three more forwards and among the group of players they’ll get to choose from are Josh Archibald, Tyler Benson, Zack Kassian and Jujhar Khaira. This is assuming, of course, that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t extend his deal before the draft. Either way, going 7-3-1 creates another snowball effect.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers

If Nuge stays unsigned, the Oilers will need to add another player to the protected list and that could pose a tricky problem since the Oilers don’t want to move top prospects Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, Dylan Holloway or Ryan McLeod in any deal. If Nugent-Hopkins is signed, the Oilers have to decide on two of the four other forwards.

Huge Debate Over What Oilers Should Do

There are a lot of Oilers fans on social media wondering why the Oilers wouldn’t simply wait to sign Nugent-Hopkins or Adam Larsson then protect eight skaters and not lose any key players or quality assets? It’s a logical question, especially if the team can work out handshake deals with both players.

The simple answer is the risk involved in free agency and the fact that maybe those handshake deals aren’t as solid as fans might hope. This makes sense if the Oilers have worked out deals with either player that they see as value. Should either player test free agency and be offered a lot more than what they’ve shaken on with Edmonton, there’s nothing stopping them from coming back to the team and asking for more or simply leaving.

So, if the Oilers then sign both players, the question Oilers fans are asking themselves are, ‘Would you rather the Oilers lose a player like Archibald or Kassian or another bottom-six forward, or lose a player like Jones or Lagesson?’

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