Offseason Options: Could Nick Bonino be an upgrade for the Oilers?

Apr 3, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Wild center Nick Bonino (13) controls the puck against against the Vegas Golden Knights during the third period at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Locher/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Wild center Nick Bonino (13) controls the puck against against the Vegas Golden Knights during the third period at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Locher/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports /

After what we bore witness to during the playoffs, everyone came to understand what some of us have understood for years: the forward depth of this Oilers team simply isn’t good enough. This should be the primary focus for Ken Holland going into the offseason and his success in this respect could make or break the McDavid era in Edmonton.

The Edmonton Oilers need to look to free agency to help add depth.

As such, it’s important that all options be thoroughly vetted. In pursuit of this, this article will begin a series of posts focused on analyzing potential offseason targets (whether UFA or trade targets) to address the gaps in the Oilers’ roster. One such option is Nick Bonino.

The tale of Nick Bonino’s 2020/21 season is one of two vastly different poles. Prior to April 5th, Bonino posted 3 goals and 7 points at 5-on-5 over the course of his first 36 games with the Wild while averaging 10:17 of even-strength ice time per game (EV TOI).

This equates to 1.13 pts/60 which is in range of what would usually be classified as ‘Replacement-level offense’. For context, that scoring rate would’ve seen Bonino rank 12th on the Oilers in that respect right behind RNH (I know, right?) and just ahead of “elite scorers” like Turris, Shore, and Kassian. Further, his team was outscored 14-18 (43.8% goals for) and out-chanced 136-150 (47.6% scoring chances) while starting 37.7% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone.

Not exactly pretty, but we’ve seen worse in Edmonton. Much, much worse. Now, what about the other half of the season?

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For his follow-up performance, Bonino posted an impressive 3 goals and 12 points at 5-on-5 in the following 19 games while averaging 10:39 in EV TOI. This constitutes a monumental jump up to 3.55 pts/60 which, for reference, would only rank behind McDavid’s full season mark of 3.58. As this massive jump occurred, Bonino saw more success in on-ice metrics as well posting 14-10 (58.3% GF) goal share and 66-77 (46.2% SCF) while starting only 32.4% of his shifts in the offensive zone.

A pretty impressive turnaround but it seems likely to have been driven by a fair deal of luck but these kinds of scoring streaks and droughts aren’t exactly foreign to him as his career is dotted with them.

Bonino’s recent history.

Despite this seemingly mercurial nature, Bonino has generally been a player his teams could rely on to either outperform his team’s other lines in recent seasons. His relative goals for %s of -5.7, +13.6, and +13.3 while playing in more of a defensive role the past 3 seasons speaks to someone that’s not only not getting caved-in by his opposition, but regularly even outscores them.

How about the rest of his game? Does anything else about him stand out?

Well, he is a capable faceoff man posting above-50% in that respect in each of the past 4 seasons and, despite his mercurial nature this past season, he’s been a rather consistent offensive contributor with relatively limited powerplay time. When prorated over 82 games, his offensive production from each of his past 3 seasons would’ve seen him score above 30 points (35, 43, 39).

Beyond that, he’s heavily utilized on the PK in both Nashville and Minnesota (~2min/gm) and, while he doesn’t seem to excel by the numbers, his position as a primary penalty killer might be influencing those as he’s often used at the start of the penalty kills (leading to a higher chance of being hemmed in off the opening faceoff than someone coming in off the bench).

Lastly, he’s not a remotely physical player with only 51 hits (1.3/60; around Kahun) over the past 3 seasons but he does seem to be reasonably adept at stripping the puck from opponents with 67 takeaways (1.7/60; around Ennis and Puljujarvi) and getting in shooting lanes with 154 blocked shots (3.9/60; around Haas) over that same period

However, this is all just regular season; what about when it matters most? While he has seen some success in the playoffs (2015/16 certainly stands out), I don’t believe he’s a player you can really rely on to elevate his game during the postseason with a mere 3 points and -8 rating in his last 17 playoff games.


All-in-all, Bonino would represent a genuine upgrade on the various 3Cs deployed by Edmonton over the past decade. He would bring solid faceoff ability, consistent scoring, and utility to be deployed on the PK to an Oilers team that needs such things.

Points of concern are his age (going on 34), his lack of physicality, and his on-ice numbers on the penalty kill. He’s not someone that will revolutionize the Oilers’ bottom-6 alone but, alongside a couple other savvy additions, could FINALLY address the pit of misery that has been the bottom half of the forward corps for over a decade (excl. 2016/17).

What do you think of Bonino as an offseason target? Are there other players you’re interested in reading more about? Let me know in the comments!

(Stats via Natural Stat Trick & Hockey Reference)