EDMONTON, AB - Leaving the 2015 NHL Draft, Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli felt some of the pressure was off to make any major moves in free agency. He felt comfortable with the state of the roster, despite sill having needs.
Chiarelli traded for two defencemen, Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba, he feels will step into the lineup immediately this fall. He also added a goaltender, Cam Talbot, who is expected to compete for the number one job.
“I’m actually pretty good with where we’re at now, so if we can’t get those things, I’m OK,” Chiarelli said at the draft. “It lessens the pressure a little bit, but again, there are things that come across the desk that can improve your team.”
Sitting on Chiarelli’s desk Wednesday morning, figuratively or perhaps literally, was a to-do list of sorts for the Oilers in free agency. Edmonton went out and grabbed one of the top defensive free agents in Andrej Sekera, agreeing to terms with him on a six-year deal. They also added a depth centre in Mark Letestu, which they needed following a Tuesday night trade of Boyd Gordon to the Arizona Coyotes. Chiarelli is confident with how things turned out following Wednesday’s free-agent frenzy.
“It’s always a feel-good time around the draft and free agency when you draft and you sign people,” said the GM. “Generally speaking, you always feel optimistic. There’s a general optimism that I feel. We had a checklist and we went down it, and normally you don’t hit on all the things and we didn’t hit on all of them. We got a lot of pieces that we wanted. (The media) followed us closely with the goalie stuff. There were some good goalies out there and we got a good goalie. We felt we got some good pieces, in addition to the goalie. Today was a bonus, but you know what? You go into it expecting to get something, if you don’t you’re disappointed. If you don’t, you move on. But we succeeded in getting the players that we wanted.”
Talbot, acquired from the New York Rangers for three 2015 Draft picks, was the Oilers top choice for a goaltender on the trade market. The Oilers management team is also very high on the upside of Reinhart, who they gave up the 16th and 33rd overall picks to get from the New York Islanders. Edmonton also added Gryba, a player Chiarelli says he has a soft spot for, in a draft-day trade with Ottawa. Trading Gordon, in exchange for bottom-six winger Lauri Korpikoski gives Chiarelli a player he has “time for.”
Next came free agency, in which the Oilers grabbed another two players they really like. Sekera was a big target for Edmonton, who began negotiations with the defenceman’s camp as soon as the shopping period opened.
“I don’t have to temper (my enthusiasms) with him,” said Chiarelli. “I’m very happy we got him. He is a first-pairing defenceman, which means he’s a tool the coach has to put in the first pair. It doesn’t mean you have to be in the first pair to be a first-pairing defenceman. With him it’s about versatility. He’s very versatile. I mentioned the different spots he plays in and sides. He’s solid, he’s very strong. He’s just a solid player who has a good sense of the puck and can play a lot of different positions and can defend, can push the puck. He’s got a lot of good things.”
Check one item off the wish list. The Oilers believe Sekera is a bonafide top-four defenceman. Throw him out there and let him play.
Another item the Oilers wished to check off was the hole at centre in the bottom six. The trade of Gordon took away the fourth-line centre spot and created a need. Edmonton was quick to land Letestu on a three-year deal.
“What we wanted was a right-shot centre who was good on faceoffs,” said Chiarelli. “That was the general premise behind it. It’s another tool that your coach has. You put a left-shot, right-shot centre on important draws. There was some familiarity with Mark and that was really the driving force behind it. I have time for Korpikoski, I really have. I know he’s under performed, but it gives us a winger with speed and some size and he can close on pucks. We kind of killed two birds with one stone. Arizona was looking for a centreman and they’re familiar with Boyd.”
Make the plan and work the plan. By doing that, Chiarelli has come away with three new defencemen that are expected to come in and play from day one. He also added depth forwards and a potential starting goaltender.
“I would say I’m pretty happy with this roster,” said Chiarelli. “I guess you can never be satisfied. But we set out to do some things, we did a lot of them and so what I see it as is the first step we’ve done OK.”
These moves also create competition at the NHL level. This allows more time for development with the younger players in the system. However, if say a Leon Draisaitl or a Darnell Nurse earn a spot out of training camp, that’s another thing.
“You want competition and you don’t want to hand anything to anybody,” said Chiarelli. “We want to progress. We want to be better. If there’s a spot to be won and one of these young players win it then they win it. Then you gotta do what you gotta do. Now, having said all that, training camp is a lot different then the first 10 games. The first 10 games are a lot different then the next 10 games. It’s a progression, and we’ll see. Just because you can fill in a phantom roster that seemingly excludes those two, doesn’t mean they won’t be playing.”
Oilers Orientation Camp began Wednesday at Rexall Place. Seeing players like Draisaitl, Nurse and 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid on the ice has the Oilers brass salivating. The Oilers stock of young talent has been added to by a draft trade/free agent haul in Chiarelli’s first off-season with the club. The excitement to see the new faces in training camp may only be beaten by seeing Drasaitl, Nurse and McDavid in Oilers colours Wednesday, which the GM described in one word, “tingles.”
Those three check off big boxes of the Oilers future.