With the absolute last of their cap space, the Edmonton Oilers have acquired NHL forward Nick Bjugstad and AHL defenceman Cam Dineen from the Arizona Coyotes for a 2023 third-round pick and the right shooting defence prospect Michael Kesselring. At 50% retained, Bjugstad will cost the Oilers $450K against the cap, something Oilers general manager Ken Holland clearly had in mind when trading for Ekholm, who had a strangely specific 4% of his salary retained by the Nashville Predators.
One of the major criticisms of Holland’s work as GM has been his navigation and perceived lack of imagination, when it comes to the salary cap. Bjugstad becomes the final piece in the flurry of moves that the Oilers orchestrated approaching the trade deadline, showing some astute planning and forethought from Holland.
What Bjugstad brings to the Oilers
An expiring contract, Bjugstad is foremost known for his size. At 6’6″ Bjugstad is especially large—even more so among forwards. The left shot centre has positional flexibility, and has shown versatility in playing minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill this season.
Body of work from Arizona
Bjugstad has been a bright spot on a rebuilding Coyotes team this season, posting strong results in an increased role. He does have some offensive ability, a decent shot, and the size to be effective on the cycle and at the net front.
Further, Bjugstad has posted strong defensive results this season, more so at even strength than on the penalty kill. Bjugstad has been helpful in breaking pucks out of the zone, but does not offer a ton in offensive transition. His best work comes during in-zone play, on both offence and defence, in part thanks to his size and strength.
This is quite possibly the best individual season of Bjugstad’s NHL career. Once a top prospect, Bjugstad never quite transformed into the top-six player that some might have hoped. At 30 years old, it is unlikely that Bjugstad will continue improving, and the Oilers aren’t likely counting on such a development, though it is worth mentioning that we’ve seen other talented and gigantic forwards develop at slower rates—the Buffalo Sabres’ Tage Thompson being a prime example.
Potential usage with Edmonton
Bjugstad is unlikely to receive any power play time for the Oilers—at most a small spot on the second unit—and might only factor in as a small part of the penalty kill as well. Bjugstad offers some faceoff prowess which might help increase his defensive usage in particular.
Overall, Bjugstad seems ready to contribute at least as much, and in some of the same manners, as the recently traded Jesse Puljujarvi. For Oilers fans worried about how the loss of Puljujarvi would affect the team in the short term, Bjugstad is quite capable of offsetting that loss, even upgrading in the present.
Changes in AHL defencemen
Though much of the focus will be on the NHL side of this trade, and rightly so, the Oilers will experience some changes to their AHL blueline. Michael Kesselring was having a season equal parts strange and strong, scoring 13 goals in 49 AHL games, near the league lead in goals by a defenceman all season long. Kesselring just turned 23, and is a bit older for most to consider him a true high-level prospect.
There is a lot to like about Kesselring’s game, with size and strong skating ability, as well as a growing shooting talent, Kesselring has some intriguing NHL level tools. His lack of assists, a total of nine (only two off of his AHL career-high of 11), shows Kesselring is not much of a playmaker from the back end. Though there is certainly some offensive capabilities to his game Kesselring’s contributions here come as a puck carrier and a shooter.
Though not quite the same calibre as Jakob Chychrun, Kesselring does have a similar profile to the recently traded defenceman. As a right shot Kesselring does offer the Coyotes a interesting player to give an NHL look too, especially since their top two defencemen, Chychrun and Shayne Gostisbehere, were traded in recent days.
Impact on the Condors
Meanwhile, the Oilers, moreover the Bakersfield Condors, counteracted this loss by acquiring Cam Dineen, a left shot defenceman two years older than Kesselring, turning 25 in June. Though Dineen warned 34 games for the Coyotes in 2021–22, the dye is cast for Dineen as an top scoring AHLer. Though not top of mind for the contending Oilers, having a strong support system for the young forwards in the AHL will be key to fostering their continued development. Time will tell if Dineen, on an expiring deal, will be retained by the Oilers, but at least for this season it should help the Condors stay on the upswing.
Furthermore, the Oilers organisational depth on the right side of the blueline has taken a hit in recent weeks, with Max Wanner’s uncertain future, the trading of Tyson Barrie, and now the loss of Kesselring. Ultimately concerns in this area are to be addressed going into the offseason and beyond, but likely have little bearing on the Oilers aspirations as contenders in the immediate future.