Edmonton Oilers

Auvitu signing could offer Oilers blue line depth

(Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire.)

The Edmonton Oilers have reached a new stage in their development. And that means they’re going to have to start making some creative moves. With a huge portion of the salary cap about to be tied up in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, general manager Peter Chiarelli will need to take some fliers on players. Ideally, those players will offer some intriguing upside while carrying little risk with them.

Jussi Jokinen certainly checks those boxes, which is why the organization inked him to a one-year, $1.1 million deal last week. And the hope is that newly acquired defenseman Yohann Auvitu can fit into that category as well.

The French blueliner made his NHL debut last season, suiting up in 25 games for the New Jersey Devils, then logging another 29 with Albany. And while his two goals and two assists at the NHL level don’t exactly leap off the stat page, he did fare better in the AHL, posting a 5-8-13 line.

More importantly, Auvitu showed some promise as a puck-mover that can add a little depth to the back end. And that’s something Edmonton could use right now. He was among the league-leading defenders when it came to shot generation in 5-on-5 situations per 60 minutes, landing alongside major names like Brent Burns and Aaron Ekblad in the rankings.

Granted, those numbers are slightly skewed. After all, Auvitu only played in 25 NHL games. But if the upside is there — even on a smaller scale — it’s probably worth it for the Oilers to take a look. Especially since there is such a value placed on rearguards who can get the puck up the ice in a hurry around the league right now.

With that in mind, signing Auvitu to a one-year deal worth $700,000 seems worth it. If he doesn’t pan out, he essentially costs Edmonton nothing. And it’s not like the Oilers are committing a roster spot to him for any length of time. Instead, they’re giving him what amounts to a prove-it deal. If it doesn’t click, they can just move on. But if he can establish himself as someone who has value at the NHL level, he can earn a bigger deal for himself.

In the process, he also could help a cap-strapped team with lofty aspirations. McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t the only ones on the roster who are making money — they’re just the ones who are about to make the most. Milan Lucic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins each carry significant, $6 million per year cap hits, though, and they’re both signed for quite some time.

Facing those kinds of financial constraints is basically what fueled the trade of Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders. And it’s pretty imperative that Edmonton finds low-cost pieces to fill in around the core guys. Which is why they’ll likely look to add more guys like Jokinen and Auvitu in the future.

At 27, Auvitu is admittedly older than most players breaking into the NHL. But that lack of experience at this level would seem to indicate he still has room to improve as a player, assuming he can stick with the Oilers. The key is that they don’t need him to be a top pairing defenseman; they really just need him to be a depth guy who can contribute at times. Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell are likely the top four anyway, so why not go after a guy with a little upside to potentially fill out the fifth, sixth or even seventh spot along the blue line?

If Auvitu proves capable of staying on the roster, pairing him with a more traditional, stay-at-home partner could feasibly allow him to play to his strengths without leaving Edmonton exposed in the defensive zone. Or, if nothing else, perhaps he could become a specialist who primarily helps on the power play. Either way, the fact that he offers some upside while carrying such a small price tag should at least give him an opportunity to make a name for himself with the Oilers.

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