On the heels of a tough loss in Ottawa, the Edmonton Oilers have made a few widely expected roster moves.
Backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson has been placed on waivers after another poor performance that cost the Oilers a win. Fourth-overall pick Jesse Puljujärvi has been sent to Bakersfield of the AHL and winger Anton Slepyshev has been called up after a strong couple weeks with the Condors.
The Oilers coach, Todd McLellan clearly does not trust Gustavsson, as Cam Talbot is on pace to play 74 games, which would rank in the top-20 all-time for games-played by a goaltender in a single season. Gustavsson has a 1-3-1 record in seven appearances with a 0.878 SV % and a 3.10 GAA. His last two appearances have come exactly a month apart, with him allowing six goals on 31 shots in a tough 6-5 to the Flyers on December 8, and then allowing four goals on 17 shots in last night’s 5-3 loss in Ottawa.
It remains to be seen who will replace Gustavsson: the Oilers top goaltending prospect, Laurent Brossoit, has been struggling this year but has a great track record in the AHL. The Oilers could also make a claim on Curtis McElhinney, who was waived by the Blue Jackets earlier today. Postmedia’s Jim Matheson suggested Jaroslav Halak and Michal Neuvirth, among others, as possible replacements for Gustavsson. Halak recently cleared waivers, but Matheson suggests a deal could be made if the Islanders are willing to take back money (Mark Fayne, perhaps?). Neuvirth is a fringe starter who is a pending UFA, both positive qualities in a backup.
Meanwhile, Puljujärvi has struggled to break into the NHL, with one goal and eight points in 28 games, mostly in the bottom six. His only goal came in the season opener. It’s a curious decision by the Oilers, as Puljujärvi has been on the roster for 42 games, meaning the Oilers have burned a year of RFA eligibility to keep him on the roster in order to keep him in the NHL as a healthy scratch or playing less-than 10 minutes per night (the deadline is 40 games on the roster). He was scratched for the Oilers last two games, and played just three minutes in his last appearance. While, there’s something to be said for getting him acclimated to North America (Puljujärvi only speaks around 100 words of English), it’s not clear why Peter Chiarelli waited until just past the second important deadline to send him down. It’s akin to a team waiting until a rookie has played 10 games then sending him back to junior. The Oilers hope Puljujärvi will regain his offensive confidence by spending some time playing big minutes with the Condors.
The player replacing Puljujärvi has benefitted from a brief stint in the AHL. Slepyshev has been much improved this season; he scored one assist in 11 NHL games and 21 points in 49 AHL games in 2015-16. This season, he has two goals and four points in 15 NHL games and 10 points in nine games with the Condors. Look for him to get a chance in the Oilers top-nine to make a difference with Puljujärvi demoted and Tyler Pitlick done for the season.