On July 10th, the Oilers opted to sign free agent defenceman Yohann Auvitu, formerly of the New Jersey Devils.
Signing Auvitu to a one-year, one-way contract worth $700,000 could prove to be a shrewd move by GM Pete Chiarelli and the rest of the Oilers brass. For one thing, the deal is basically risk free. Even if Auvitu completely bombs this season, at such a low cap hit and on the books for only one year, it wouldn’t harm the team’s situation in a substantial way. Not only that, but they could easily enough send him to Bakersfield to lend a hand on the farm.
In fact, the deal has a good chance to be of excellent worth. If Auvitu plays well on the third pair or even as a seventh D, this contract will be worth it for the Oilers. Any performance exceeding that just adds value to the team and makes management look smarter.
I think there’s a very good chance that Auvitu out-performs this deal. Sure, he’s not very big and he’s already almost 28 with just 25 games of NHL experience, but he provides capable puck moving abilities and an impressive knack for getting shots on net.
— Woodguy (@Woodguy55) July 10, 2017
Of all defencemen who played at least 100 minutes of 5 on 5 hockey last season, Auvitu ranked fourth in shots per game with 7.61, behind only Brent Burns, Dougie Hamilton and Aaron Ekblad. Although Auvitu’s sample size is a small one, that doesn’t mean that we should discount his ability to get the puck on net over the first 25 games of his NHL career.
Last year on a putrid Devils team, Auvitu posted a Corsi percentage of 49.8% at even strength. Although this doesn’t sound great at first glance, the undersized French defender actually boosted his squad’s on-ice Corsi by 3.1% when he stepped onto the ice, good for second best among Jersey defencemen behind only Damon Severson.
Of players with at least 100 5 on 5 minutes, Auvitu’s 57.1% on-ice goals-for percentage was tops among all Devils defenders, and third on the entire team. His 0.36 goals per game ranked 20th in the whole NHL among defenders with 100+ even strength minutes.
These numbers all come from a small sample size and Auvitu surely has much to prove before cementing himself as a significant contributor, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that he faired quite well in his limited time. He could be the next Brad Hunt, but he could also be a serviceable third pairing offensive defenceman who can contribute on the power play. The beauty of this signing is that even if it doesn’t work out for the Oilers, there’s no harm done.
As for where Auvitu slots into the lineup, there are a couple of options for the left-shooting former Devil. The Oilers could choose to run him on the third pair, looking something like this:
Klefbom / Larsson
Nurse / Russell
Auvitu / Benning
With Eric Gryba being the seventh man. If this doesn’t work out, Edmonton could also go with this look:
Klefbom / Larsson
Russell / Benning
Nurse / Gryba
Thus moving Auvitu to the seventh spot. The point is, with Andrej Sekera being injured for the beginning of next season, Auvitu provides some much needed depth and flexibility to the Oilers D corps. Especially with Sekera out, I’d be curious to see him next to Benning on the point of the second power play unit. This is something that Todd McLellan could experiment a bit with in pre-season to see how Auvitu looks on the Oilers man advantage.
In conclusion, the one-year contract for Auvitu could end up being a real value signing for the Oilers, and if not, the downside is extremely minimal.
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