Should the Oilers Try Tyson Barrie on the Wing?

MACKNEY: Three game losing streak? Time to get creative. 18 points in 25 games on defense is cool, but what could Barrie do on the wing, and what could it mean for the rest of the lineup?

Correct. Tyson Barrie moving from the blueline, up to the wing. That’s my idea. He has never tried it before as far as my research has concluded, and I am yet to see this idea proposed elsewhere. However I think it solves a couple of issues that the Edmonton Oilers seem to be facing here at the halfway mark of the shortened 2021 NHL season. I have seen many online voices and thumbs criticizing some of the the ways in which Oilers head coach Dave Tippet has choses to deploy his players, and I have thrown my fair share of shade as well. Some of the main issue’s (aside from which goalie to play, which I am not even going to get into here today) have revolved around the right side defenseman, as well as the top six wingers. As a result of recent developments, this is an idea that I definitely think is worth a try.

The Right Side Defense Issue

For the first time in a while, the Oilers have too many NHL caliber defenseman. While it is a good problem to have, you still hope that the best players are the ones getting the most games.

Evan Bouchard has only played 12 games this season (including only 1/3 vs Toronto this week) which is less than half of the Oilers total games so far. As soon as Tyson Barrie was signed to his one year contract some fans were not pleased with the fact that it may block Evan Bouchard from getting NHL ice time. While you don’t want to force your young top prospects into NHL roles that they are not yet ready for, (like the organization has done before, sorry Schultzy), it was believed by many that Bouchard would indeed be NHL ready this season, especially after seeing how he played in Sweden during the fall.

It wasn’t until the seemingly annual injury bug hit the Oilers blueline that Evan Bouchard finally made his season debut, and he was excellent. In his limited games this season, the 21-year-old has quickly been effective on both sides of the puck. He has had one of the most accurate shots in the league in terms of not missing the net, and he has provided great offensive pressure from the backside. Simply watching him play has impressed me. Looking into some of his analytics, he also has impressive numbers. His offense is rated high, his defense is mediocre (but miles better than Tyson Barrie), and his transition game is rated the best in the league among defenseman (99/100) tied with the likes of Norris trophy winner Roman Josi (per Andy & Rono @HockeyStatsCZ).

So why the heck is he scratched? Tippett has too many right handed defensemen to work with now that they are all heathy with Barrie, Larsson, Bear AND Bouchard. For me, the most frustrating part was that the initial solution (once it was decided we would only play six defensemen), was to play Bouchard on the left side. Playing a right shot D on the left side is a fine idea if it means your six best defenseman get to play. My issue with it was the decision to force the least experienced guy to make the switch, and then when he did not immediately adapt to the new situation he was taken out of the lineup. For example, the Maple Leafs second goal during the March 1st game saw William Nylander beat the entire Oilers team off the off-side faceoff and score top shelf on Koskinen. This play included Nylander going around Evan Bouchard while he was playing on the left side, and watching the play back you have to think that if Bouchard was a lefty there would have been more he could have done.

My point is, there is a better way to use our top rookie, and a permanent opening on the right side would help. Moving Barrie up to the wing leaves a perfect three spots available for Larsson, Bear and Bouchard on the right, and then you can play left handed guys on the left (Nurse, Jones, Lagesson, Russell).

The Top 6 Winger Issue

I have seen suggestions by many Twitter general managers to trade Barrie for either future assets, or a goalie, or a top 5 winger. I don’t like the idea of trading Barrie for future assets unless we are selling, which we should not be this year, and like I mentioned earlier I am not getting into the goaltending in this article. That leaves option three: trading Barrie for a top 6 winger. First, why don’t we try him on the wing?

I am not suggesting that we throw a guy who has never played forward at the professional level on to the top line of an NHL team, but I am suggesting it is something we can work towards trying. What could it look like if we did decide to try Tyson Barrie in the top 6 forward group though?

The line of Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yamamoto was elite in the second half of the 2019-2020 season, and was reunited on March 3rd 2021 vs Toronto. They played well, and scored the only goal the Oilers have seen in three games. Does this mean they stay together? No idea. However, if they do stay together it leaves a gaping hole on the top line LW alongside McDavid and Puljujarvi. Last night James Neal was tried there, and I expect Kahun, Ennis, Nygard, Archie, Alex “suspension” Chiasson, Sam Gagner (*cries*), Hunter the Lynx, and maybe even assistant coach Glen Gulutzan to be tried in that spot before Tyson Barrie, but hear me out.

I do not like the idea of swapping forwards between the taxi squad and McDavid’s wing on a nightly basis. While that is a very Oilers thing to do, it really isn’t ideal. Tyson Barrie is someone who has been in the lineup every game, and based on the eye-test alone, seems to have some chemistry with McDavid on the powerplay. Also, Tyson Barrie right shot on the left side could be lethal for one-timers alongside the elite playmaker. If you’d rather Barrie not play on his offside, third and fourth line RW could also work.

One of the main drawbacks of Tyson Barrie so far this season has been his defense. Putting him on the wing can do one of two things for this. Either he takes his experience defending and becomes and solid two way winger, or he completely ignores the defensive side of the game, and we see just how much he is capable purely offensively. If he is on a line with McDavid and Puljujarvi he could really take either approach. McDavid has vastly improved his defensive game this season to the point where he is elite on both sides of the ice, and Puljujarvi is no slouch either as his underlying defensive numbers and analytics suggest he ~should~ be in Selke conversations. The line could hold it’s own in regard to defensive responsibility even without Barrie helping. It could work.

Verdict

Try it. Worst case it doesn’t work and the Oilers can either make trade of some sort or find another solution (or continue to use players inefficiently). The permanent opening for Bouchard on the right side would be beneficial to him and the team based on results so far, and you could simultaneously help the top 6 forward group. Moving Tyson Barrie to the wing solves more than one recent issue at a time for the Oilers if it works, and while it will probably never happen (and definitely won’t happen before Barrie’s contract here is up) I would really like to see if it works, and just how much it could help the team on both ends of the ice.

Okay, But Was Peter Chiarelli Great at the Draft?

The time of Peter Chiarelli as general manger of the Edmonton Oilers was largely a misadventure. The trade history, and the contract signing negotiations looked bad at the time and aged poorly as well. However the third main responsibility that a GM of a National Hockey League team has in regard to building a roster is drafting.

This past NHL season (2019-20) for the Edmonton Oilers included the development of several prospects that were already in the organization when Ken Holland inherited this team, and it got me wondering if Pistol Pete was actually elite at the draft table during his time here. I have decided to further investigate the matter and attempt to reach a conclusion based on the draft history of Peter Chiarelli to see if he was all around a terrible general manager, or if we actually need to give him credit in this area. Chiarelli was in charge for four Edmonton Oilers drafts, and we will look into the selections he made at the 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 NHL entry drafts.

2015

Peter Chiarelli’s first ever draft pick as the GM of the Oilers was first overall in 2015 in which he selected Connor McDavid. While this was obviously the right choice, I will not award any credit to Chiarelli on this one. Literally anyone would have selected McDavid at this slot.

It is of note that the Oilers possessed another first round pick in this draft from the Pittsburgh Penguins after the David Perron trade the season prior, however the Oilers did not use this pick as Chiarelli packaged it in a trade to the Islanders for Griffin Reinhart. New York then selected Mathew Barzal. This is another awful trade on Chiarelli’s resume, however I will not be considering it when looking at Chiarelli’s draft record as this falls into the trade category.

In the latter rounds of the 2015 draft, are the picks that inspired this article. First, in the 4th round with the 117th pick the Oilers acquired Caleb Jones, and seven picks later in the 5th round took Ethan Bear. While these defensemen made their NHL debuts under Chiarelli’s regime, they did not make a significant impact until after he was fired. Caleb Jones played well over half the season (43/71 games) in the NHL for the Oilers this past season and notched nine points. More importantly he was trustworthy and sound defensively, and his fancy stats are unreal. He is primed to made another jump and an even bigger impact this upcoming season as he is expected to slide into a full tine top-four role with the Oilers due to the injury to Oscar Klefbom. Then there is Ethan Bear. Bear really came into his own this past season in a contract year and leapfrogged over several players in the depth charts on D for the Oil. He played all 71 games last year and scored 21 points in the process. He also just signed an extension worth two million dollars annually for the next two seasons. Getting top-four talents this close together, this late in the draft is remarkable. While there was other steals late in the draft following these picks (Nutivaara to CBJ at 189, Mangiapane to CGY (ew) at 166, and Dominik Simon to PIT at 137. Also of notes Kaprizov to MIN at 135 could turn out really well for them) none of them I believe would have as much of an importance to this team today. Needless to say there was plenty of players drafted around and after Bear and Jones that have never seen NHL action, which is the important part here.

The end of the 2015 draft saw Chiarelli select John Marino in the 6th round, who looked spectacular for the Penguins this past season in a small sample size, so I will give some credit there too.

After that the Oilers got a couple of what we at YEG sports like to call JAG’s, meaning “just a guy,” with Miroslav Svoboda and Zigyat Paigin in the seventh round.

2016

Here is comes. Jesse Puljujarvi fourth overall at fourth overall ahead of Matt Tkachuk, Clayton Keller, Mikhail Sergachev, and 208 other hockey players. While we are yet to see if Jesse Puljujarvi is going to be an impactful NHL player this upcoming season following a return to the Oilers, it is safe to say that this pick did not age well. I am a big fan of Jesse Puljujarvi and I hope he finds success in Edmonton in the near future. He is not a bust (yet), but he is also not looking to be a great selection with this high of a pick. I have to dock some points there.

In the second round, 32nd overall Chiarelli took Tyler Benson who has only played a handful of games at the NHL level thus far. There is still a solid chance he becomes an NHL regular in the future and this picks could look great, but so far it is underwhelming. especially considering some of the players that went after him. Alex DeBrincat was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks at 39th overall in this draft and I really wish Chiarelli would have went with McDavid’s former Eerie Otters line-mate with this pick instead. The relationship with the Oilers captain should have drawn attention to him at the draft board, but Chia didn’t care about “relationship with McDavid” when making acquisitions as Oilers GM… (see the Drake Caggiula for Brandon Manning trade). Not to pour onto the Tyler Benson pick further, but Sherwood Park Product and rookie goaltender sensation Carter Hart was taken later in this same second round as well.

Unfortunately the rest of the 2016 draft just looks like JAG’s at this point despite having seven other selections (including three in the third round). I’ll apologize if Markus Niemelianen (63rd overall) or Filip Berglund (91st) become solid blueliners for this club someday but so far no NHL games from them. Some of the other picks included Matthew Cairns (84th overall), Graham McPhee (who has really nice hair at 149th overall), Aapeli Rasanen (153rd), and Vinny Desharnais (183rd). On the bright side, there wasn’t many steals taken by other teams late in this draft either. The only notables being Victor Mete to the Habs at 100th, and Jesper Bratt to the Devils at 162.

The interesting late pick for me in this draft is Dylan Wells at 123rd overall. He is still in the organization as this point but seems be around 7th in our goalie depth chart. There is still a chance this picks ages well, but overall the 2016 draft, unlike 2015, was a setback. I like Puljujarvi and Benson, but I’d swap them for Tkachuk/Sergachev and DeBrincat/Hart in a heartbeat.

2017

Following a successful playoff run, the Oilers had their first pick of the 2017 entry draft at 22nd overall in which Chiarelli took Kailer Yamamoto. Like Bear and Jones, Yamamoto waited until after Chiarelli’s departure to make his NHL impact, despite making his debut during Chiarelli’s time. Yamamoto had 26 points in only 27 games last season following a New Years Eve call up, and is slotted into the Oilers top six from this point onward. This finally looks like a great selection. None of the picks closely following Yamamoto hold much significance at the NHL level yet either.

The next pick the Oilers held was in the third round (Aside: I feel like the Oilers rarely keep second rounds picks) in which they took Stuart Skinner 78th overall. This goalie prospect is believed to be above the aforementioned Dylan Wells on the depth chart, and also could look like a great pick if he develops into a solid NHL tendy. The other third round pick the Oilers had (84th) was used on Dmitry Samorukov, who has been impressive in overseas play and has very high potential on this Oilers blueline in the future. These two guys have high ceilings in the organization and are worth revisiting once they have developed further and have been given NHL opportunity.

While players taken in this draft are still young and can still develop and surprise us, I am classifying the rest of the picks as JAG’s at this point in time, but by no means should they be written off altogether. They are: Ostap Safin (115th overall), Kirill “The Thrill” Maximov (146th), Skyler “Son of 2006 Stanley Cup Champion” Brind’Amour (177th), and Phil Kemp (208th). There has also not yet been any significant late round steals that the Oilers missed out on with these picks.

2017 is a win in my books. Yamamoto is huge for the Oilers, and the other guys can still make NHL impacts one day. There is also no standouts NHL stars we missed out or passed on.

2018

Chiarell’s last draft as the GM of the Edmonton Oilers was in 2018 and the Oilers first selection came early at 10th overall following missing the playoffs by a significant margin. Evan Bouchard was taken with this pick, and while he has only played seven NHL games he is expected to be a very successful NHL defenseman. He has an extremely high ceiling as soon as this upcoming season and is expected to be a Ryan Ellis type at his floor, able to run a powerplay and play solid defense. I, along with most Oilers fans, are excited about this kid (who looks 40 years old somehow).

In the second round in 2018 the Oilers selected forward Ryan McLeod at 40th overall. McLeod is yet to make an NHL debut at 21 years of age, but he very well might do it this upcoming season with the expanded taxi squad rosters. He has been one of the final cuts at training camp in each of the last two years and looks like he is on the brink of being an NHL player.

Following the Chiarelli trend of taking a goaltender, we have Olivier Rodrigue at 62nd overall. Another goalie to add to the depth chart we keep bringing up. Out of the goalies we have mentioned here today, it is thought that he has the highest ceiling and most NHL starter potential. Whether or not he gets there is yet to be seen and we have no way of really knowing how it will go because of the unpredictable nature of goalie prospects.

2018 JAG’s (so far at least): Michael Kesselring (164th overall) and Patrik Siikanen (195th)

Conclusion

The draft history of former Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli is spotty all things considered. However credit is due in some places.

Hits: Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, and Kailer Yamamoto are absolute wins. Especially the former two being taken so late in the draft. They are all huge reasons why the near future is bright for the Oilers and why they look “scary good” next season as my partner Ethan Bayduza put it in a previous article here on the YEG sports website. It is worth mentioning again that these players did not make their NHL presence meaningful until after Chiarelli’s departure. It could be argued that the credit for making these players the NHL studs they will soon become should go to the Ken Holland development team. While I see that point, these three players made their impact so soon into the Ken Holland era that I still think some credit is due to the previous management under Peter Chiarelli for their success.

Potential: There are still many players selected by Chiarelli that have lots of potential as well. Evan Bouchard leads the way as a lock in my opinion to be an NHL regular, and likely even NHL star. Other notables include Rodrigue, Samorukov, and McLeod, who could all look like steals one day best case scenario. However when these players reach the NHL (assuming they all do) it will be much in part due to the Ken Holland system.

Misses: 2016 stands out as the off year for the Chiarelli draft team. While the players selected still have potential to make an NHL impact in the near future, there is bonafide NHL All-Stars that the Oilers missed out on and could really use now.

Overall Peter Chiarelli does deserve some credit, and I would go as far to say that he was great as the draft table with his selections of players that have either made it as NHL impact players for the Oilers, or appear as if they will soon get there. He provided Ken Holland lots of projects and potential to work with as the next Oilers GM. Most of the ruling on Chiarelli’s draft success is still up in the air due to the young age of these players, but I am excited to see how they develop under the new management.