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How does bottom of roster shape up?

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How does bottom of roster shape up?

EDMONTON — When you look down the Edmonton Oilers lineup, player by player, you are struck by the fact that they stack up exceptionally well. In fact, the problem they’ll face at training camp is where to slot all the NHL-caliber players into this lineup, as opposed to years ago when the bottom of Edmonton’s roster was inhabited by American Leaguers disguised as NHL players.

Veteran Mattias Janmark comes in as a trusty fourth-line winger, Jesse Puljujarvi likely slots down to a third-line role where he can play with less pressure, and if Ryan McLeod doesn’t play third-line center then Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can. — a pretty decent fallback position for head coach Jay Woodcroft.

And we haven’t even talked about left-winger Dylan Holloway yet. Or defenseman Philip Broberg, who will have a solid veteran to spell him off in D7 Ryan Murray should the rookie Broberg need a night off.

In goal, Jack Campbell can expect 50-55 starts, while the time has arrived for backup Stuart Skinner, who has four pro seasons under his belt as he takes the promotion to become Edmonton’s No. 2.

As for the salary cap, with Oscar Klefbom and Mike Smith going on LTIR, Edmonton will max out their payroll for the season opener. That inhibits flexibility at the trade deadline however, a dynamic where injuries have left GM Ken Holland without much choice.

As training camp begins, the decisions are mostly at the bottom of the roster, the sign of a strong, mature roster. Here’s a look at where the battles lie.

Current salary cap space: $-7,556,336
General Manager: Ken Holland
Head coach: Jay Woodcroft
Assistant coaches: Dave Manson, Glen Gulutzan, Mark Stuart, Dustin Schwartz Unsigned players: Ryan McLeod

ONE IMPORTANT QUESTION: Are We There Yet?

Edmonton finally slayed the dragon that still haunts the Toronto Maple Leafs, winning two rounds last season after being vanquished in the opening round for two straight seasons. But after years of building, rebuilding, and building some more, have the Oilers finally reached a place where a berth in the Final Four is a stepping stone rather than a ceiling?

Connor McDavid is 25, Leon Draisaitl is 26 and Darnell Nurse is 27. The rest of the core is in its late 20’s or early 30’s as well, and Jack Campbell arrives to give Edmonton a level of goaltending that should be good enough to win with. If they can’t turn three rounds in ’22 into four rounds in ’23, then it will be deemed a step back for the Oilers, a team that has set the bar high for itself and then improved its roster over the summer.

Teams talk about learning from failure, and the Oilers have had their share of lessons, no doubt. The time has arrived to take those lessons and put them to use.

It’s Stanley Cup or bust for this team now.

A TRAINING CAMP BATTLE TO WATCH

In a forward ranks that has plenty of weapons the left side is the most crowded, with Evander Kane and then a hoist of options for Woodcroft to sort through at training camp.

Dylan Holloway, who turns 21 on Friday, was viewed by Holland as a player who has to play his way into the Top 12 forwards. He’s too young to be sitting in an NHL press box when he could be playing top minutes in all situations at AHL Bakersfield, Holland said.

Well, with his two-goal, five-point performance at the rookie tournament in Penticton, Dylan Holloway has officially entered the chat.

Here is how the Oilers stack up on the left wing: Kane plays with McDavid, with Zach Hyman on the right side; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins can play with Leon Draisaitl, assuming that the team wants to maintain young Ryan McLeod at 3C; Warren Foegele is the de facto third-line left-winger, and free agent signing Mattias Janmark is the 4LW.

But if Holloway barges his way into this lineup, where does he play?

Do you shift Nugent-Hopkins to 3C, and make McLeod the 4C? Do you push Janmark out of the lineup or over to the right side? Or maybe Foegele moves around?

If Holloway ends up in Bakersfield, the forward units fall nicely into place. If he stakes his claim, however, someone is out of a job.

PROJECTED LINEUP OUT OF CAMP

Kane McDavid Hyman
Nugent-Hopkins Draisaitl Yamamoto
Foegele McLeod Puljujarvi
Holloway Ryan Janmark

Nurse Ceci
Kulak Bouchard
Broberg Barrie

Campbell
Skinner

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