On September 19th, the Oilers signed Jake Virtanen to a PTO, a decision that left many fans upset and frustrated. In January of 2021, Virtanen was charged with one count of sexual assault, and an investigation was launched. On July 26th, Virtanen was found not guilty. Virtanen is also facing a civil lawsuit, and a trial has not been held as of now. That alone should keep him from playing in the NHL, let alone any league.
In the 2020-21 season, Virtanen struggled mightily, putting up 5 points (5 goals) in 38 games with the Vancouver Canucks. Hoping for a fresh start, Virtanen signed with the Spartak Moskva for the 2021-22 season. Unfortunately for Virtanen, his struggles followed him, where he would score nine goals, and 16 points, in 36 games.
It’s quite shocking when you look at the situation with Virtanen, who is going through some very serious allegations off the ice, and still struggling to produce at a consistent rate on the ice. It makes people question Ken Holland and the Oilers’ decision to take on a PR nightmare. Since signing the PTO, Virtanen has played three pre-season games, where he’s been either invisible or noticed for all the wrong reasons. The complaints that were laid out about former Oiler Zack Kassian seem to now be going to Virtanen, with most being about how it looks like he just doesn’t care.
The Great and The Good
As we near opening night and people start to understand what the rosters will shape out to be, some of the Oilers’ young guys have shown that they can stick with the NHL game. Three names come to mind, Dylan Holloway, Stuart Skinner, and James Hamblin. Now, Skinner did play 13 games last season and held his own, but it looks as if he’s ready to take on either a backup role and even maybe threaten Campbell for the starting job later in the season. Dylan Holloway has been the Oilers best player this pre-season, full stop. From creating dangerous chance after dangerous chance, not being afraid to throw the body, and having great vision on the ice, he’s everything the Oilers need. Holloway brings speed and skill and will be a big player for the Oilers this season and many to come.
Lastly, James Hamblin has fought his way into a spot that could potentially see him start on the 4th line for the Oilers. While there is a small chance of that happening, Hamblin has earned his way here. How far-fetched is it?
With that being said, some people are a bit worried about it. Philip Broberg has been fine and shown flashes of good, but he hasn’t been anything special. This has worried some Oilers fans, as Broberg was the 8th overall pick in 2019. Something to always keep in mind is that players develop at different rates, all of them. Last season, Broberg had to step into the NHL midseason after the Oilers defensemen went through some injury problems, and many found Broberg to be solid. This pre-season could be a bit of an off stretch for Broberg, and it’s too early to believe he can’t make the Oilers at some point this season.
Some players who have also found themselves late into training camp are Tyler Benson, Calvin Pickard, Dmitri Samorukov, Markus Niemelainen, Ryan Murray, Jason Demers (PTO), and Brad Malone.
Some players who found themselves on the chopping block are happier than most. A player like Max Wanner comes to mind, who was cut but earned himself a three-year, entry-level deal with the Oilers/Bakersfield. A name that comes to mind that people should be excited about is Xavier Bourgault, who showed a lot of confidence in his game this pre-season, it was a long shot for him to make the opening night roster, but he may be closer to NHL ready than most expected.
A good thing for the Oilers is that the ones who were cut didn’t play badly at all. There were just so many who played great. The only player that wasn’t able to show off his skillset very much was Carter Savoie, who is out long-term after getting injured in a game against the Calgary Flames during the Penticton rookie showcase. It happened the last off-season to Dmitri Samorukov, who also suffered a long-term injury against the Flames in their rookie game, although that was in Edmonton.
All In All
The Oilers have turned a leaf in terms of prospect development. They don’t require rushing prospects. They are giving them time to grow and not just trading them if they have one bad season, something that always seemed to come back and bite them, remember Justin Schultz? This is what good teams do, and this is what they need to do. A player like Holloway could change the Oilers’ depth at an insanely friendly cap hit. Something that plagued the Oilers for years, and they’ve finally figured it out.