The Edmonton Oilers may have given credit where credit was most certainly due this season, particularly in regards to pending free agent centre Derek Roy — but like head coach Todd Nelson, his regular season praise doesn’t seem to be a guarantee that he’ll be back next year.
The 32 year old centreman was dealt to the Oilers mid-season in a direct exchange for 26 year old Mark Arcobello, and he’s believed to have been a driving factor in the Nail Yakupov Renaissance throughout the final parts of the campaign. His veteran presence and consistency on a team that looked like a train wreck from day one of the season were a large part of the reason Yakupov found his rhythm on the club’s second and third lines throughout the year — but that doesn’t seem to be enough of a reason to keep him around for another campaign.
Per Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal, there’s a solid chance that Roy won’t be brought back next season — giving Boyd Gordon, Anton Lander, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and potentially either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl competing for the clubs centre roles in the 2015-2016 season. There’s also reason to believe that Andrew Miller could fill in a role with the club, although he’s more likely to find himself in Lander’s position from last year — splitting his time between the AHL and the NHL dependent on injuries and holes in the lineup.
While there’s no solid confirmation that the Oilers have rejected the possibility of Roy’s return, it makes sense. With more stability expected to be brought in next year, Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Todd McLellan will need to see whether Yakupov is able to stand on his own and produce at the pace he did once Roy anchored his line in the back end of the year.
That being said, there’s always the question of whether Yakupov will be effective with one of the team’s other centres as soon as next year.
The belief is that eventually, Yakupov will be able to play on the wing of either Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Leon Draisaitl — but with no clear indication of which centre will best fit on which line next year, it seems like a curious assertion to see the Oilers believe that the Russian winger will be able to handle developing his own game alongside either a still-developing Draisaitl or a curiously inconsistent Nugent-Hopkins. Even if Nugent-Hopkins at his most inconsistent is still better than most NHL skaters at their most consistent and effective, it’s not a matter of whether the team will be passable — it’s a matter of whether they’ll be able to produce the most effective output given the skaters they currently have on the roster. With no guarantee that Yakupov, Draisaitl, or Nugent-Hopkins would give their best performance on a line with one another, it seems curious that the club would choose to make a move that almost certainly ensures this will happen.
Of course, the biggest question mark isn’t on the team’s front end — it’s what the in-net situation will look like when the dust settles.