There’s not one Edmonton Oilers forward who is stinking it out right now.
That’s not the case right now, not with the 2022-23 Oilers, who are getting solid efforts and effective performances out of every single forward on the roster, from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at the top of the line-up to Devin Shore and Klim Kostin at the bottom.
Nonetheless, Edmonton now has 13 healthy forwards and only 11 or 12 roster spots on a given night. This means there’s plenty of competition for a spot.
It also mean that game to game Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft has a tough decision to make about who to sit.
Who should be on that list?
I’m going to suggest that the players who have the least versatility both in terms of position and usage are prime candidates, as are players who don’t create as many Grade A shots and fail to contribute to as many goals. Then there are players who leak more Grade A shots against. They should also be under consideration.
Let’s leave Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman out of this discussion so as not to waste anyone’s time. I’d also put Evander Kane on that list, simply because he was so effective last season and the Oilers will need him bringing his “A” game come playoff time if Edmonton hopes to advance. Due to two injuries, Kane now needs all the ice time he can get to get more comfortable on the ice.
The Big Five should play every game, that’s obvious.
After that, Mattias Janmark is a key penalty killer and the best defensive winger on the team by a long shot. Warren Foegele has been one of the best two-way forwards on the team in the calendar year of 2023, and can also help on the PK. New centre Nick Bjugstad is also important to the PK and Edmonton needs to integrate him into the team to see what they have in the big centre, to find his proper role for the playoffs. All this adds up to Bjugstad, Foegele and Janmark being solid bets to play every game just now, possibly all on the same line.
This leaves us with Ryan McLeod, Derek Ryan, Klim Kostin, Kailer Yamamoto and Devin Shore battling for three or four spots.
I’m going to suggest that McLeod doesn’t belong on this list. He’s scoring 1.76 points per 60 at even strength, 8th best on the team, and ahead of Yamamoto, 1.49, Janmark, 1.48, Shore, 1.45 and Ryan, 1.45, but behind Kostin, 2.21 due to some sizzling hot shooting from the big Russian forward.
McLeod can also hold his defensively as a centre. Some folks would bench him simply for the horrendous pass he attempted against Toronto, which was picked off in the defensive slot by Mitch Marner and quite possibly changed the outcome of the game. The mistake ignited Toronto’s comeback.
But of the main Oilers centres, McLeod has made the lowest rate of major mistakes on Grade A shots against. He’s been much better than Draisaitl on defence, and also somewhat better than both McDavid and RNH, though against lesser competition.
McLeod is so trusted defensively that he’s taken a regular shift on the penalty kill, getting the third most amount of ice time after RNH and Janmark. Yes, other players could fill in for him on the PK, but why would you bench a solid defensive centre who can also play wing on a top line, and can also put up decent offensive numbers?
He’s big and fast on the attack, and as ugly as his mistake was against Toronto, that’s how gorgeous his slot shot goal was against Boston.
I see no reason to bench McLeod or to rotate him in and out of the line-up.
That leaves four players, Ryan, Yamamoto, Kostin and Shore, on the rotation list for two or three spots.
For now I’d have them taking turns playing and sitting, but I’d sit out Ryan last of all, and only if he stops playing well in coming games. He’s been solid for several months now.
Yamamoto’s name on this list will surprise some, but he’s not putting up the points at even strength despite getting all kinds of minutes with Draisaitl and McDavid. He’s been OK on defence, but not so good as Ryan. If Edmonton needs to slot in someone on a top line, it doesn’t have to be Yamamoto at this point. Ryan, Foegele and McLeod are all decent picks for such duty, as likely to have success as Yamamoto is.
As for Kostin, his point scoring has been top drawer and he adds size, toughness and major aggression. He’s been OK on defence as well, though against weaker competition.
Shore? He’s been playing his best hockey as an Oiler, but if we look at the bigger picture, he’s been inconsistent and often ineffective.
Of the four, I’d be least keen to sit out Ryan and would favour sitting out Yamamoto and/or Shore at this point.