2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 10. Edmonton Oilers
Part 22 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Each of our previews will be given to you in order of where we collectively power ranked that team.
Check out our other previews:
#31. Colorado Avalanche , #30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres, #24. Winnipeg Jets, #23. New York Islanders, #22. Florida Panthers, #21. Los Angeles Kings, #20. Carolina Hurricanes, #19. Philadelphia Flyers, #18. New York Rangers, #17. Calgary Flames, #16. Boston Bruins, #15. Ottawa Senators, #14. San Jose Sharks
Record: 47-26-9 2nd in Pacific Division
GPG: 2.96 (8th)
GAPG: 2.52 (8th)
PP%: 22.9 (5th)
PK%: 80.7 (17th)
Corsi For %: 50.4 (12th)
A lot went right for the Oilers last year. In his first full season, McDavid led the league with 100 points; Cam Talbot, Oscar Klefbom and Leon Draisaitl all had huge breakout seasons; and the team rolled all the way to the second round of the playoffs before being knocked out in seven games by Anaheim. This was the Edmonton’s first playoff berth since their improbable Cup run in 2006, and with an average age of 26.16 years (good for 6th youngest in the NHL according to NHL Numbers), there’s certainly more where that came from.
List of Key Additions: Jussi Jokinen, Ryan Strome, Kailer Yamamoto
List of Key Departures: David Desharnais, Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot, Griffin Reinhart
This was certainly an interesting offseason for the Oilers. As much as they may have wanted to rollback the same lineup this season, or even upgrade the blueline, they had to jump through some hoops in order to lock up their two best players to long term deals. RFA Leon Draisaitl signed a fat 8 year deal carrying an AAV of $8.5mil while McDavid locked into an NHL-record 8 year $100mil contract. To make such financial commitments viable, they had to flip Eberle’s bulky contract for an immediate downgrade in Ryan Strome. The hope is that the 24 year-old Strome can finally figure things out and fulfill his promise as a former fifth overall draft pick. At the very least he’s younger and cheaper than Eberle and can play a premium center position when called upon.
The loss of Eberle and the inability to upgrade the blueline because of a bloated defense market is a tough pill to swallow. In a salary cap world it is tougher now more than ever to quickly patch any holes. Prospect development is so much more important and the Oilers have to pray for players like Larsson, Nurse, Strome and Puljujarvi to improve for the team to make the next jump.
Team MVP: Connor McDavid
Forget team MVP, at just 20 years old, Connor McDavid is the reigning league MVP. His overwhelming combination of speed, hands and spacial awareness might make him one of the greatest offensive threats since Gretzky. Last October the Oilers made Connor the youngest captain in NHL history and he rewarded them with a 30 goal, 100 point campaign. That point total was enough for him to capture the Art Ross as the NHL’s point leader, making him the third youngest player to win the award. The youngest and second youngest? Crosby and Gretzky. The mantle of “The Next One” is his for the taking. Enjoy the ride Edmonton.
Team’s Strength: Depth at center
McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Strome, Mark Letestu, Drake Caggiula, Kailer Yamamoto and Brad Malone are all listed as centres in either their primary or secondary position on Edmonton’s CapFriendly page. A lineup with so many quality players who can slot down the middle or at the very least play the wing gives the Oilers a crazy amount of flexibility and offensive punch.
Team’s Weakness: An underwhelming blueline
Good defensemen are hard to find. That’s why it was necessary for Chiarelli to flip Taylor Hall to the Devils for Adam Larsson. Even if it is tough to wrap your head around swapping a top 10 left winger for a defenseman who may not even crack the top 60 at his position. A year and a half later the Oilers are still trying to find the right blueline mix as they fight their way into the contender race.
Among Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, Andre Sekera, Kris Russell, Darnell Nurse and Eric Gryba nobody has emerged as a clear-cut number one. Klefbom is the closest, he would probably be a top pairing guy on most teams, but at age 24 he is still a little too inconsistent to be heavily leaned on. Sekera is solid but just not a top guy. Larsson is a good shot suppressor but is barely moves the needle in any other aspects of his game. Kris Russell blocks a tonne shots but isn’t very effective at anything else. Also Darnell Nurse hasn’t burst onto the scene as quickly as people initially thought he might. It’ll be interesting to see what moves the Oilers make to bolster their defense, or if they feel their next impact blueliner is already in the system.
The rookie to watch this year is 5’8″ speedster Kailer Yamamoto. Edmonton’s 22nd overall pick in this past year’s draft scored an eye-popping 99 points in 65 games for the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. His immense offensive skill and agitating play has drawn comparisons to Connor Sheary and Brendan Gallagher. If he fulfills those promises and continues to play on McDavid’s line for the rest of year then Edmonton will be ecstatic.
While Yamamoto made the quick jump to McDavid’s line, there is some concern that Jesse Puljujarvi hasn’t followed suit. The hulking right winger disappointed in last year’s 28 game stint with the Oilers, but patience is key as he acquaints himself with the North American game. While he hasn’t taken off like World Junior teammate Patrik Laine, Puljujarvi’s combination of size, hands and mobility are a rare find. Give him sometime and good coaching and he may reward you with some huge seasons down the road.
Key Player: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
In last year’s playoffs Todd McLellan tinkered with the concept of playing McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line and the small glimpse of this combo was tantalizing. This re-opened a hot debate that has been prevalent ever since the lockout: is it smart to have your two best forwards on the same line? It kind of reminds me of the Crosby-Malkin experiment a decade ago. Sid and Geno were evtually split up permanently and have three Stanley Cups to show for it. In another example, Chicago has found some success by splitting up Toews and Kane. But there are examples of teams being pretty effective with both of their big guns on a top line. Ovechkin and Backstrom have been one of the best regular season duos in NHL history, Seguin and Benn have racked up boatloads of points on the same line ever since the Stars robbed the Bruins blind, and Perry and Getzlaf have even won a Cup (even if 2006-07 was over a decade ago) while on their team’s top line.
That being said, the Oilers may as well give up on a McDavid-Draisaitl combination if they can’t get their other lines clicking. With the departures of dynamic wingers Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, it’s all the more important that the Oilers get secondary production from Milan Lucic, Ryan Strome, Patrick Maroon, Jussi Jokinen and Zack Kassian. But most importantly, the Oilers need Ryan Nugent Hopkins to make a leap.
The 2011 first overall pick has been nauseatingly underwhelming and won’t be confused for a top line center anytime soon. But his his scoring numbers can tick up a bit, he has the skill and vision to potentially be a pretty effective second line center. If McDavid and Draisaitl are split up, the Nuge is definitely an overqualified third line center. That could potentially give the Oilers a Penguin-esque three potent scoring line attack that should overwhelm most teams.
T. Waind: 12th
C. Burgess: 5th
B. Ballantyne: 7th
While I look forward to the Toronto v. Edmonton Stanley Cup finals for the next decade, I’m not quite ready to anoint Edmonton the best of the West. While last season was a huge step in the right direction, it wouldn’t have been possible without Cam Talbot and his .919 save percentage in a career-high 73 games. I don’t think Edmonton’s blueline is quite where it needs to be yet yet, so any dropoff from Talbot will be excruciatingly noticeable.
While this team is young, the Oilers need to capitalize on this roster sooner rather than later. Edmonton is on the books for 29 year-old Milan Lucic at an AAV of $6mil with a no movement clause until 2023-24. Pair that with bad contracts handed out to Andre Skera and Kris Russell with Huge extensions to McDavid and Draisaitl and this team will soon be in salary cap hell if they aren’t already there. It’ll be tough to add anything of substance or re-sign any RFA’s for the next half decade.
The Oilers should be a playoff team this year and they will be exciting. I just don’t think they’re quite Cup contenders yet. Based on the timing of their young players’ development as well as when the extensions start to hit, I feel like this teams window is still at least a year away.