Lowetide: Making the call on young Oilers in need of a contract this summer

The Edmonton Oilers, like every NHL team, have several decisions to make on young players this coming offseason.

Players who are entering pro hockey may not have a contract yet, and some will have played through their entry-level deals. Other youngsters will have blown through entry-level and at least one bridge deal without becoming permanent members of the organization.

For general manager Ken Holland, his draft picks (2019-2022) will represent the biggest part of the AHL Bakersfield Condors next season. Some of his selections will attempt to establish themselves as long-term Oilers.

How many decisions are uncertain? Who is on the bubble? Does the cap have a major impact? Could any of these signing pressures impact the trade deadline? Let’s have a look.

Entry-level deals

Edmonton’s focus on choosing forwards at the 2020 and 2021 drafts means the pro depth chart will be crowded this fall.

The team has already signed 2022 first-round selection Reid Schaefer, and a later pick (Matvey Petrov) who was chosen in the sixth round in 2021.

Player Age fall 2023 Entry-contract details

Reid Schaefer



Matvey Petrov



Max Wanner



Jake Chiasson


Deadline June 1

Skyler Brind’Amour


Deadline Aug 15

Names like Xavier Bourgault, Carter Savoie and Tyler Tullio are currently in their first year of entry-level deals, so it’s possible the Condors will house as many as five skill forwards on entry deals in 2023-24.

That could impact the organization’s decision on a player like Jake Chiasson. He is not purely a scoring forward, and his 2022-23 season with the Brandon Wheat Kings (9-15-24 in 34 games) shows a downbeat in offensive performance compared to one year ago. It’s possible Chiasson receives an AHL contract offer from Edmonton if his second half stays at current levels.

Skyler Brind’Amour is a pure checking center who can win faceoffs and plays a 200-foot game. He fits an organizational need, but could also see an AHL contract offer from the organization.

Max Wanner is one of several intriguing defensemen in the pipeline. He has shown exceptional growth since being drafted, and should slide right in on the Condors blue line this fall.

Possible entry-level deals

Here are the names of prospects in the pipeline who could sign this summer. None face a deadline in the coming offseason.

Player Age fall 2023 Entry-contract details

Nikita Yevseyev


No signing deadline

Samuel Johnson


Deadline June 1, 2026

Shane Lachance


Deadline August 15, 2026

Luca Munzenberger


Deadline August 15, 2025

Joel Matta


Deadline August 15, 2025

Maxim Berezkin


No signing deadline

Jeremias Lindewall


Deadline June 1, 2024

Maxim Denezkin


No signing deadline

Tomas Mazura


Deadline August 15, 2025

Luca Munzenberger is 20 and a sophomore defenseman with Vermont (Hockey-East) and has shown improvement this season. Edmonton needs help for defense and he will have played two college seasons by spring.

The other defenseman, Nikita Yevseyev, is also worth monitoring. He’s a teenager in the KHL, probably the second best hockey league in the world.

Since the 2015 draft, Edmonton’s scouts have had uncanny success in drafting defenders outside the first round. A total of 11 were selected outside the first round between 2015 and 2018. Of those, five have played NHL games and three (Caleb Jones, Ethan Bear, John Marino) are regulars. Markus Niemelainen and Dmitri Samorukov have also played in the league, with Mike Kesselring and Phil Kemp pushing for their debuts.

The batting average when drafting blueliners outside the first round is strong with the current scouts in Edmonton.

Among the forwards, Russian Maxim Berezkin is one of the most talented prospects in the system. Shane Lachance is also dominating in the USHL, a bigger test awaits when he arrives in NCAA hockey.

Goalie Samuel Jonsson is a distant bell, playing in Swedish junior. His story will roll out over the rest of this decade.

Players exiting entry-level deals

Evan Bouchard is about to exit his entry-level deal and is having a difficult time this season. The defensive side of the game has bit him despite solid-to-excellent underlying numbers. Puck IQ gives us an idea about how his season is going, specifically the gap between possession numbers (DFF percentage is smart Corsi) and actual goal differential.

Qual Comp Ministers DFF Pct DFF%RC Goal Share
















Bouchard is an outstanding talent whose defensive struggles have impacted his offensive game. That will cost him dollars on the next contract, but these numbers clearly show the puck is heading in a good direction while he’s on the ice. Young defensemen don’t develop in a straight line, and Bouchard is meandering this season.

Edmonton’s coaching staff has wisely kept him away from elite competition this season and the relative numbers (DFF%RC) suggest his goal share should be clear of 50 percent. Those scoring numbers should improve over time.

Bouchard’s natural comparable is Noah Dobson, who was drafted two spots after him in the 2018 NHL Draft. Dobson signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the New York Islanders in the summer of 2022. Bouchard’s downbeat season may mean player and team decide on a shorter deal, possibly two years at a lower cap number than the Dobson contract.

Bouchard is not eligible for arbitration.

Raphael Lavoie is about to complete his entry deal, spent almost exclusively in the AHL. Per 82 games with the Condors, the first-shot scorer trails other recent AHL phenoms in goal scoring.

If Lavoie remains as productive as he’s been, the organization will be in a tough spot. More than a tweener (defined as a player who is between AHL and NHL and in need of a great deal of luck to have a career), his output remains shy of a typical NHL future.

It’s more than 50-50 Edmonton signs Lavoie, but he isn’t a lock to make the team. He’ll require waivers to get sent down this fall and it’s not certain he’ll be one of the 14 best players on the Oilers roster.

Lavoie is in a situation where his name could land in a trade at the deadline. There’s value here, but some question marks too, and it’s late in his entry deal.

Noah Philp hasn’t delivered offensively in Bakersfield (28 games, 3-2-5) but has some two-way acumen. He’s also a right-handed center and comes in at 6-foot-3, 198 pounds. Chances are he’ll sign before arbitration.

Kemp is a strong shutdown defender in the AHL. Through his three seasons in the league, his even-strength goal differential (56-49, 53 percent) is among the best on the team. The problem for Kemp is the organization’s depth chart in the NHL and Bakersfield has plenty of right-handed options. Vincent Desharnais duplicates his skills and is bigger. The Oilers would do well to re-sign Kemp, but his chances of making the Oilers in the fall are problematic due to roster depth. He will be eligible for waivers in the fall. Kemp might be better off if Edmonton did not qualify him.

Olivier Rodrigue will reach the end of his entry deal this summer, but will not be eligible for waivers this fall. NHL teams get an extra year to develop goaltenders. Rodrigue posted pedestrian numbers until this year, but has spiked impressively. His .911 save percentage is well clear of Bakersfield’s other options in net. Expect Rodrigue to sign another contract with the organization.

RFAs with arbitration rights

There are three significant players in this category. Jesse Puljujarvi, Ryan McLeod and Klim Kostin could be in a position to push for significant salary increases if performance warrants over the rest of this season. Tyler Benson is also eligible, but not in a position to receive a raise.

There’s a sense for many that Edmonton will have plenty of room to maneuver this summer due to the contracts of Oscar Klefbom and Mike Smith burning off (expiring). The Milan Lucic dead cap also ends at the end of this season.

However, the math remains difficult for Edmonton if the cap goes up only slightly. If the increase puts the cap in 2023-24 at $83.5 million, there’s not going to be much room to wheel. Here’s the roster with signed players only.

Left Wing Centre Right Wing

Male $5.125M

McDavid $12.5M

Hyman $5.5M

Holloway $925k

Draisaitl $8.5M

Yamamoto $3.1M

Fogele $2.75M

RNH $5.125M

Left Defence Goal Right Defence

Nurse $9.25M

Barrie $4.5M

Skinner $2.6M

Kulak $2.75M

Ceci $3.25M

Campbell $5M

Broberg $863K

Niemelainen $762K

There are 16 players listed, meaning room for seven more additions. Using this roster, and keeping in mind bonuses and the cap hit for James Neal’s buyout, the Oilers would have just over $9 million to sign those seven men.

Puljujarvi’s cap hit is $3 million this season, and if the money remains tight over the summer, Holland may have to walk his contract.

McLeod signed a team-friendly $798,000 deal last offseason, chances are he’ll receive a handsome raise on a deal with term.

Kostin is a wild card. His $750,000 cap hit this season should make the next contract team friendly, but it remains to be seen.

If signed, Benson’s contract will look similar to the deal he’s on ($750,000) this year.

The bottom line

Assuming Holland can get McLeod and Kostin on the books for less than $3 million combined, and Bouchard signs a bridge for under $3 million, it would leave $3 million for the final four players.

That means four players making well under $1 million AAV, no major additions to the roster, no Puljujarvi.

How can Holland make this work?

The names in the exit rumor mill last summer (Puljujarvi, Warren Foegele, Kailer Yamamoto) will be joined by Jack Campbell and Tyson Barrie.

It’s reasonable to suggest Bouchard could be in play.

Could Holland make a surprise deal at the deadline, sending away one or more pending contracts for immediate help?

There’s at least some logic to it. As it stands now, the theme for the summer of 2023 in Edmonton will be that money’s too tight to mention. Again.

(Photo of Evan Bouchard: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)


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