The Edmonton Oilers’ bottom-six has had a rollercoaster ride this year including additions made with free agency signing Mattias Janmark, a trade just prior to the season starting for Klim Kostin, and a deadline trade for Nick Bjugstad. Jesse Puljujarvi was dumped for cap space and Dylan Holloway had his season derailed by injuries.
The injury bug also created opportunities for extended looks on the top-six, with mixed results. Finally the bottom six has also had to adjust to the 11 forward–7 defencemen lineup which requires flexibility as you never know who your linemate will be game to game or even shift to shift.
It all adds up to the Oilers having arguably the best bottom-six they’ve had in a while and we polled our fans and asked who is the best depth forward?
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Majority of fans voted Bjugstad
With just over half the votes, Bjugstad wins the poll rather convincingly. I voted for him too, however I am aware that recency bias as well as him joining the team on a hot streak are more than likely the reason why. I think it’s also fair to say that Kostin, Warren Foegele, and Derek Ryan struggled early on and progressed throughout the season. There were also moments where they looked out of place when bumped up due to injuries. We have never seen Bjugstad moved up to the top-six or play on the team during a losing streak.
Which is why it will be interesting to see what the stats say. Along with some classic stats from NHL.com, I used 5v5 CF% as well as XGF% from NaturalStatTrick.com for comparison. I also want to look at those stats for the entire season as well as the past 17 games since Bjugstad’s arrival.
The rundown on Derek Ryan
The 36-year-old vet is the longest serving Oiler in this group with 156 games played after signing as a free agent in the summer of 2021. Ryan has seen some time on the top line as a reward for his good play and roster injuries. He also kills penalties, takes draws and has13 goals, only two away from his career high of 15.
|Since trade deadline||17||3||1||4||52.61||59.74|
Ryan leads the group with a 59.74 XGF% and like most forwards has produced better or equal stats since the deadline.
Figuring out Warren Foegele
Acquired in a trade for Ethan Bear in the summer of 2021, Foegele is the second longest serving Oiler in this group with 146 games played. There have been times when his play has warranted some time in the top-six and other times when he’s played there because of injuries.
|Since trade deadline||17||2||7||9||57.46||59.21|
There has been criticism of Foegele at times for his lack of consistency and some fans would argue the Oilers overpaid by giving up Bear for a bottom-six winger. That said, Foegele is the best statistical player of this group and was first with 57.46 CF%, 0.529 PPG since the deadline. He also finished second in xGF% just behind Derek Ryan.
Calling on Klim Kostin
Acquired in a trade for defence prospect Dmitri Samorukov just prior to the season beginning, Kostin has been a pleasant surprise for the Oilers. His play made it easier for GM Ken Holland to move on from Jesse Puljujarvi at the deadline. Kostin has a big frame and is not afraid to use it either. He also possesses a solid work ethic both fore and back checking. The edge to Kostin’s game has lead to some time away due to injuries as he has played the fewest games this year.
|Since trade deadline||14||1||2||3||47.49||48.58|
Kostin is the only forward in the group to have worse stats since the deadline.
Betting on Nick Bjugstad
Thanks to some tidy work from Holland by having Nashville retain 4% on the Mattias Ekholm trade, the Oilers were able to acquire Bjugstad at the deadline for Michael Kesselring and a third-round pick. Bjugstad has been a solid addition to the line up and has been as advertised as a big bottom-six forward who can win draws and kill penalties.
It’s no surprise that Bjugstad has had better numbers since joining a red hot Oilers team. He led this group in plus-minus in both regular season and since the deadline, which is impressive when you consider he played 59 games with the bottom dwelling Arizona Coyotes and still posted a +7. Bjugstad also led this group with 29 pts and the best face off win percentage.
Ryan McLeod is a smooth skating centre who can defend, forecheck, and chip in offensively posting a 0.40 PPG with a 53.32 CF%, and 54.99 xGF%. While another pleasant surprise as a draft and develop prospect, he has been limited to 55 games due to injuries. It will be interesting to see where he slots in when he returns as Woodcroft has been utilizing the 11 forwards–7 defencemen lineup against playoff teams, which takes away a spot from the bottom six.
Dylan Holloway has returned from injury in Bakersfield and could return for the NHL playoffs. His season has also been limited to only 51 games while posting a 51.49 CF% and 52.58 xGF%.
While both of their seasons have been derailed by injuries, they did statistically make a positive impact when in the lineup. It will be nice to have NHL calibre players fighting for the last forward spot during the playoffs. Regardless of this season, the Oilers will need internal development to occur to compensate for the cost to acquire Ekholm and salary cap limitations.
Overall, the bottom-six have a lot to offer
When I was deciding which forward to pick for the poll I was swayed by the recency bias of Nick Bjugstad and the improved play of the bottom-six and penalty kill since his arrival. It is also difficult not to favour a centre with a hulking 6’6″ 209 lbs frame when all else is equal. He is also the best in the group in face off percentage.
Bjugstad is a beast on the forecheck and has a nose for the net. With McLeod set to return soon from an injury, it appears Bjugstad has taken his spot. It will be interesting to see which forward group Woodcroft goes with when McLeod returns.
My second pick would have been Kostin, which is interesting because he had the worst stats in the group. Kostin’s CF% and XGF% are negative both since the deadline and through out the season. This statically suggests the Oilers produce fewer goals than their opponent and spend more time in their end when he is on the ice. It appears that his feel-good story was able to sway my vote over Foegele and Ryan. Despite his advanced stats, I like what Kostin brings to the table and I believe his game will translate well to the playoffs.
Ryan would have been my third pick however he finished last in the poll with only 10% of the votes. I would have picked him over Foegele because he takes draws. Regardless, Ryan is having a solid season and his xGF% was surprizing which would confirm his underrated status as an Oiler.
Surprising to me was that Foegele’s overall stats are the best in this forward group. He also finished second in the poll with 19.2% of the votes. I knew his improved play was another reason the bottom-six was contributing since the deadline and yet I had him fourth in the poll.
The stats don’t tell the whole story and the old eye test can fail at times. If I had to vote again knowing the above stats, I would still choose Bjugstad over Foegele because he is a centre with a bigger frame. What is interesting is that Foegele and Ryan have better stats than Kostin, and it might worth trying them on the third line with Bjugstad. As it stands Kostin–Bjugstad–Janmark is the current third line. While not perfect, the Oilers are heading into the playoffs with a serviceable depth forward group that can kill penalties, defend, cycle the puck, and chip in offensively.
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire