The Edmonton Oilers made one trade at the 2022 NHL Draft by sending Zack Kassian away at a cost. That, along with Duncan Keith retiring, freed up enough cap space to make the signings they did on the first day of free agency. Now, as we are a few days into it and the Oilers are looking to still sign a couple of restricted free agents (RFAs) heading to arbitration and figure out the rest of their depth, they should be looking to move out two more players.
Both players the Oilers should be hard at work looking to find trade partners for sooner rather than later are Jesse Puljujarvi and Warren Foegele. Neither has played to their potential yet, and I’m not convinced they will be able to with the Oilers. Puljujarvi has had a great opportunity to play with Connor McDavid and still struggled to produce, and there’s no better player that will feed his linemates easier goals and points. As for Foegele, he played even lower in the lineup throughout the season and had little to no impact during playoffs when players need to step up.
The Oilers shouldn’t have a very hard time finding trade partners for both, however, the price is where the difficulty comes in. Do they opt to settle for a draft pick or two, or for Puljujarvi at least, do they try to get back a player in a similar spot in hopes they fit in Edmonton and replace the hole left behind? As it looks right now, they should have their top-six set and fill in Derek Ryan, Ryan McLeod, Dylan Holloway, and Mattias Janmark in the bottom six. That leaves two spots to fill if the Oilers indeed move on from Puljujarvi and Foegele (from “Oilers depth chart: Where did they improve and where can they make more moves?”, The Athletic, 7/16/22).
A Puljujarvi Trade is Just a Matter of Time
At this point, it’s not if, but when. There have been two attempts to get Puljujarvi’s career going in Edmonton. Just when it was looking promising after his comeback season in 2020-21 and his great start as a locked-in member of the top line, he got injured and lost his game. The aspects that make him effective away from the puck haven’t gone away, but we’ve seen it before when his scoring just isn’t there. At the end of the day, if a player wants to play in the top-six, it’s not enough to just be good in a number of areas, you must also be able to score and put up points.
There is a certain expectation for a former fourth overall pick these days, whether they’re a forward or defenceman, to be able to do it all since any players chosen after them surely can. The analytics community loves what Puljujarvi brings to the table and his xGF% (expected goals for percentage) is much better than his actual GF% (goals for percentage) due to his lack of finishing ability. It’s almost like he doesn’t like the puck on his stick and is too reactive once he gets it with little desire to hold onto it for too long.
With McDavid, forechecking as great as Puljujarvi does and getting to spots to score should have been enough, as he was set up for numerous scoring chances that he just didn’t convert. It really put it into perspective once Evander Kane came in and scored 35 goals in 58 games that his finishing ability wasn’t cutting it.
After how he played in the playoffs at the most important time of the year and got bumped down the lineup even more, there’s a mutual interest to finally move on for good. As the Oilers have their top-six set and all producing, there really isn’t an opportunity for him anymore at the top of the lineup with the high-end players. His ego and confidence have definitely taken a hit from the first line to the fourth line over the course of one season and that’s something that is much harder to recover than to lose. Many other teams will provide him with a better opportunity to play in the top-six and have less pressure to perform every night, such as a non-playoff team right now.
There are some teams that are trying to get out of a rebuild in a hurry by the offseason moves they made, so swapping a draft pick for an NHL-ready and contributing player with upside may not seem like a bad move. Puljujarvi will have to finish up arbitration with the Oilers unless he is traded sooner and a deal is worked out with the team he is going to. At this point, the band-aid needs to be ripped off and the Oilers get set for next season without their former first-round pick.
Foegele Will Be Passed on the Depth Chart by Young Players
Foegele is in a spot where he was never a top-six option for the Oilers and only playing alongside both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan did he find a bit of success, which didn’t last very long. As Puljujarvi’s average annual value (AAV) isn’t set for next season yet and it’s not 100 percent a trade is being executed, Foegele is overpaid and that money would be better off moved out. He is also the most expendable of the Oilers at this point, and once considered to help bring identity to the third line, he hasn’t continued to deliver in that role (from “Warren Foegele for Ethan Bear trade helping both teams”, Edmonton Sun, 11/1/21).
Foegele makes $2.75 million for two more seasons and Holloway should have his spot next season. There’s also the question of where does Tyler Benson fit in with seemingly his final stint with Edmonton? Ideally, he will be a permanent fixture on the fourth line alongside Janmark and Ryan and hopefully find some offence to keep him in the lineup and on the team. But even if Benson is a little bit less effective than Foegele, he will be making $2 million less which is money that can be better used elsewhere.
The Oilers may be able to find a more effective bottom-six guy in free agency from the crop that is left at a much lower price than Foegele, so if they get a mid-round pick at this point, I would take that any day. The Oilers shouldn’t brush off a decent pick in return, considering they may need one to complete more trade deadline acquisitions next season.
There are a number of teams that could possibly be in talks with the Oilers about either of these two players, as both contenders and projected bottom-feeders could stand to gain from taking a chance on one of them in hopes that a change in scenery does them well. My guess is that at least one of Puljujarvi and Foegele is traded before training camp opens. There is still lots of time to make a deal and free agency is far from over, which means teams aren’t done adding players to help set their lineups for next season.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
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