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Edmonton Oilers sign veteran centre Derek Ryan... DURING Ken Holland's media avail

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A somewhat chaotic, somewhat humorous situation developed during the latter part of Ken Holland’s media avail on Wednesday afternoon when the Edmonton Oilers GM was asked about breaking news that the Oilers had signed free agent centre Derek Ryan.

Holland’s response: “I don’t know. I was talking to his agent but then I came down here and I don’t know.”

The usual rule of thumb on hectic days like this is that a team completes all of its business, then holds its news conference, but this is the Oilers we’re talking about so all bets are off.

Seravalli later confirmed that Ryan has indeed signed with the Oil, a two-year deal at a pretty good price point: two years at $1.25 million.

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The 34-year-old Ryan took a circuitous route to the NHL that included four years as a standout player with UAlberta Golden Bears way back in 2007-11 then four more seasons overseas. After a further season in the AHL he finally made the grade at age 29 and has since compiled 345 games of NHL experience.

Having watched him play a number of games at Clare Drake Arena, I knew he was a good player more than a decade ago, but I can’t say I foresaw an NHL player. But Ryan is that 1-in-1,000 player who just kept on improving right into his 30s.

After nearly twenty years of continuous improvement as evidenced annually by either increased production or graduation to a tougher league, Ryan finally showed signs of erosion in 2021. He scored just 2-11-13 but a solid +6 in 43 games with Calgary Flames, missing 13 games with a fractured finger and seeing his ice time cut back to about 12 minutes a night. The takeaway is that he more readily projects as a 4C than 3C at this stage of his remarkable career, but still very much an NHL-calibre player.

The 5’10 right-shot pivot is a whiz on the faceoff dot with a career success rate over 55%, a history of mid-range scoring (four seasons of double digit goals), and capacity to play both special teams, checking a lot of boxes for “bottom-six centre” in the process. He’s a modern version of Mark Letestu, who was a pretty useful depth centre for Edmonton a few years back.

Meanwhile, Holland made comments, paraphrased here, about his other moves:

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On Zach Hyman: “He can play up and down the line-up, can play right wing or left wing, he can get in on the forecheck. He’s got great hockey sense. He’s played with great hockey players, and he can think the game at their level. He can also play down the line-up, a grinding game or a forechecking game, he can read off those players”.

On Warren Foegele: “Warren Foegele comes from a really good program in Carolina. He’s a big strong guy, 6’2, 200 pounds, he can skate, he goes to the blue paint, he’s dependable. I just wanted to get a bit deeper up front.”

On the multiple changes on defence: “We negotiated with Adam Larsson for many months. Over the last few days we made the decision to get Tyson Barrie signed. Got a call yesterday from J.P. Barrie on Cody Ceci. We did a lot of checking, he had a very good year in Pittsburgh so we got the deal done. Once we had both we didn’t want four right shot defencemen again so we made the decision to trade Ethan Bear for Warren Foegele.”

On trading Ethan Bear: “Ethan’s a great young man, like you say he’s 24 years of age, but I have an obligation to make the team better.”

On further additions ondefence: “Not finished tinkering on the blueline, maybe add one more guy. I’m going to let the dust settle for the next couple of days. With the addition of Duncan Keith behind Darnell Nurse, there’s another young guy in Evan Bouchard who is going to play on an every night basis, we’re hoping later in the season he can push for top four minutes. We’re deeper on the back end. We don’t have a lot of money left, but we do have a little so we’ll see what goes on over the next few weeks.”

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On the goaltending situation: “In the last two years our goaltending has been very good. We made the decision to sign Mike Smith for two years. He’s good in goal, good handling the puck, good in the room.  Smitty’s 39, Koski’s 33, I understand people are talking about the goaltending, but I’ve got a cap, I’ve got contracts, and I have to make decisions around that. Getting deeper up front and on the back end will make our goaltenders better. The only way I can get in the goalie market is if I trade a goalie.”

  • Rumour has the Oilers pursuing a Mikko Koskinen for Darcy Kuemper trade with Arizona, with the Oilers having to sweeten that pot to an unknown degree.)

On the changes overall: “My priority was to put together a defence and to get deeper up front.  I felt going into the offseason I needed to do a couple of things to make our team better, different… we were pretty good but not good enough. I believe the moves we’ve made so far along with the development of young players, we can move further along the path. I felt the responsibility, the obligation as GM to make us a little deeper. I really believe we’re deeper up front with the additions of Hyman and Foegele. Certainly the continued development of Yamamoto, McLeod, Puljujarvi is an important part of it.”

First impressions

No question that the forward corps got deeper, especially at left wing with the additions of Hyman and Foegele. The situation at centre is not ideal, but the late add of Ryan certainly adds some stability to a bottom six that might see both of Ryan McLeod and Dylan Holloway making a push. Both youngsters have facility at left wing as well, leaving open the possibility of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins moving to the 3C role at times.

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Holland’s claim about greater depth on defence is a little sketchier. The club added Keith and Ceci and renewed Barrie, but the losses are also significant. Larsson, Bear and Caleb Jones are definitively gone to other NHL squads, while Slater Koekkoek and Dmitry Kulikov are in limbo. At this point in time, the d-corps is seven players deep in NHL-experienced players, with two of those rearguards — Bouchard and William Lagesson — have fewer than 50 games between them.

The situation in net remains unchanged, for now, but rumours continue to fly.

Whatever else one might say about Ken Holland, nobody can accuse him of sitting on his hands. We’ll take a deeper dive into his Brave New Oilers in a future post.

The Cult of Hockey on free agency

McCURDY: Right-shot centre Derek Ryan signs two-year contract at $1.25 million, plus Holland press conference comments

STAPLES: Right-side rearguard Cody Ceci signs four-year deal at $3.25 million

STAPLES: Attacking blueliner Tyson Barrie signs three-year extension at $4.5 million

STAPLES: Leafs fan favourite Zach Hyman signs seven-year pact at $5.5 million

McCURDY: Ethan Bear traded to Carolina for Warren Foegele

STAPLES: “I’m sick to my stomach” — Twitter reacts to Ethan Bear trade

McCURDY: Oilers’ free-agent targets include Barrie, Ceci, more

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

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