Jujhar Khaira, Patrick Russell, Caleb Jones to get fresh chances as Oilers take on Jets

Edmonton Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira hits Winnipeg Jets defenceman Neal Pionk during NHL pre-season action on Sept. 17, 2019, at Rogers Place in Edmonton. Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia

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Game Day 8: Oilers at Jets

First things first, Tyler Ennis cleared waivers this morning and has been assigned to the Edmonton Oilers’ taxi squad. He will be joined there by centre Devin Shore, who had already cleared waivers immediately after he signed a contract with the team two weeks ago.

In their place, forwards Jujhar Khaira and Patrick Russell have been activated from the taxi squad and will be airlifted directly into tonight’s line-up as the Oilers finish up their two-game series in Winnipeg.

There will also be one change on the back end, with Caleb Jones joining Adam Larsson on the third pairing, with Slater Koekkoek set to join William Lagesson in the press box.

Here’s the line-up as reported by Oilers’ play-by-play man Jack Edwards.


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No surprise to find Oil Country is outraged, at least the vocal minority (?) of it who responded to the above tweet with a torrent of, uhh, friendly suggestions as to how the Oil could have played this different.

Let’s review:

The Oilers’ bottom six has been a black hole this early season, having been outscored by a ghastly 10-1 count at 5v5 through 7 games. The one goal came in Winnipeg on Sunday night, when James Neal got a mid-game promotion to replace the struggling Ennis on the third line with Kyle Turris and the recently-demoted  Zack Kassian. They quickly connected on a nifty three-way passing play which Turris finished off to put the Oilers up 2-1. That trio remains intact.

Here are the 5v5 shot and goal shares for each of the 15 forwards who have seen action so far this season.

I have highlighted Jesse Puljujarvi and Kassian, who flipped positions between top and bottom six last game with good results on both sides of the move. Concentrating on the goals column, the five above them have all been out-scorers, with McDavid in particular posting dominant shot shares as well. Further down the list, not so much.

Tonight’s changes occur on the fourth line. The recently reassigned Ennis and Shore have both struggled in 5v5 play, getting significantly outshot and outscored. We detailed Ennis’ struggles in yesterday’s post when he was placed on waivers; for his part Shore had a dismal outing in Toronto two games ago when he got the rare “1” grade from this writer. Both players received under 8 minutes of ice time in Edmonton’s 4-3 win over the Jets on Sunday.


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Jujhar Khaira returns to action after five games on the taxi squad, the consequence of his own dismal start to the season. While there are some among the fan base who have essentially written the player off, the sad fact is neither the fourth line nor the penalty kill improved after the change. In the continuing absence of Gaetan Haas (who is still a week or more away), the 4C job is a two man battle between Khaira and Shore. For tonight at least, the opportunity falls to Khaira.

On the right side, Patrick Russell played 45 games in a depth role for the Oilers a year ago, but was always a candidate for the taxi squad in 2021. Tonight he becomes the 16th forward to don the Oil drop in 2021, returning to a familiar spot at 4RW. He may also see action on the penalty kill. In this morning’s game day avail, coach Dave Tippett complimented Russell as having been “dominant” on the taxi squad. Interesting to this observer that he slots right in the line-up ahead of Alex Chiasson who draws the short straw for the third game in a row, but the fact remains that Chiasson’s shot and goal share is as dismal as his erstwhile linemates Ennis and Shore.

Instead it’s a new-look fourth line with the towering, glowering Khaira flanked by “energy” wingers Josh Archibald and P.Russell. Not everybody’s first choice, but fair to say that they have a low bar to clear.

Meanwhile on the back end, Caleb Jones returns to action after four games in the press box. He’ll line up next to his prior partner Adam Larsson, while early fan favourite Koekkoek sits out. Tippett expressed the need for better puck moving on that pairing; no doubt some would prefer that Larsson draw the short straw in favour of a Jones-Koekkoek pairing, but for now Tippett is standing by his beleaguered veteran.


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For now, top prospect Evan Bouchard remains on the taxi squad, despite ongoing rumblings of him being activated and possibly inserted into the line-up as a seventh defenceman. Tippett threw cold water on that scenario, advising that Bouchard is dealing with a back issue that makes him unavailable to play just now. So the coach will continue to choose among the eight defenders currently on the active roster.

The top pairing is highlighted here. They have by far the best shot and goal shares on the squad, in significant part because they have played the majority of their time on a five-man unit with the high-flying McDavid. But the fact is they have succeeded in the role.

As with the forwards, all those below the featured pair have spent more time behind their own blueline than inside the other one, with Koekkoek languishing near the bottom by shot share. The returning Jones has actually sawed off in that department, even as his goal results were poor in the early going. But that shaky start is no reason to keep the young defender out of the line-up forever, so like Khaira he will receive a second chance starting tonight. For the industrious P.Russell, meanwhile, it’s a first chance.

Look for all three to be highly motivated. Also look for the same from a few guys who remain in the line-up for now but who have received fresh reminders that both Tippett and GM Ken Holland are not reluctant to make moves. It’s a highly-competitive environment that has yet to bear much fruit on the bottom six or bottom four. Expect the brain trust to continue tinkering until they find combinations that produce better results. One can also anticipate the ever-volatile Oil Country to react to each wrinkle, though I for one intend to contain my day-to-day outrage while the men in charge work their way through the various permutations and combinations.

One thing that won’t change? Mikko Koskinen remains in net for his eighth consecutive start, where he will face Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck, who had the night off on Sunday. The Jets are expected to have no changes among their 18 skaters.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: On the (unrelated!) struggles of Adam Larsson & Oilers’ PP

McCURDY: Tyler Ennis on waivers

STAPLES: Player grades from last-second thriller in the ‘peg

STAPLES: Puljujarvi promoted to McDavid line

LEAVINS: Oilers need to defend better by defending less: 9 Things

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy


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