The Below the Ice crew brings you; NHL: 31 for 31.
This year as the clock ticks down towards the NHL season, the writers here at BTI will be bringing you our preview of all 31 NHL teams, in 31 days.
And on the fourth day, the Lord said “let there be light” and behold Connor McDavid was delivered.
Continuing our trek through the Pacific division today we preview the Edmonton Oilers.
6th in Pacific, 12th in the West, 36-40-6 (78 points)
The Oilers went into last season touted as the cream of the crop. Analysts and journalists across the country had Edmonton pegged as not just a playoff team, but a Stanley Cup contender.
After a 3-0 victory on opening night in the battle of Alberta, in which captain Connor McDavid scored all three goals, the Oilers looked poised to take on the world. NEWSFLASH: They would not.
The shutout on opening night for Cam Talbot would be his last on the year, on route to his worst numbers since entering the NHL.
GM Peter Chiarelli banked on a lot of things going right for the Oilers, and he missed on more than he hit.
Kailer Yamamoto was seemingly his only fix for winger depth and played only 9 NHL games. Milan Lucic would have his worst offensive output since the lock-out shortened season and Ryan Strome showed all the reasons why he is not an adequate replacement for Jordan Eberle.
4×4 for Kris Russell handcuffed Edmonton to the top of the cap ceiling.
The Oilers were not able to find much production on the wing until it was too late, moving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins from centre to the left side. Leon Draisatl would bounce between second line centre and the wing with Connor but inconsistent line mates and in his own game cost Draisatl points.
The defence was never truly sured up, and the lack of depth showed when Andrej Sekera was sidelined for an extended period (Deja-vu?) and Yohann Auvitu, who would play shifts at forward during the season (which says a lot about how much he was trusted on D) was the only solution Peter Chiarelli presented.
The Oilers would underperform (McDavid aside) and miss the playoff for the 11th time in 12 years.
- April 28, fired assistant coaches Ian Herbers and Jim Johnson, named assistant coach Jay Woodcroft head coach of Bakersfield Condors
- May 1, Singed KHL goaltender Mikko Koskinen to a 1-year, 2.5M contract
- May 24, Announced signing of assistant coaches Trent Yawney, Glen Gulutzen and Manny Viveiros
- June 13, Drake Cagguila extended 2-year 1.5 AAV
- June 22, Drafted Evan Bouchard, 10th overall
- July 1, Sign Free agent Kevin Gravel to a 1-year deal worth $700,000
- June 30, Sign Free agents Kyle Brodziak to a 2-year contract $1.15 AAV, Tobias Reider to a year 1-year $2M dollar deal
- July 5, Ryan Strome extended 2-year 3.1AAV
- August 18, sign Scottie Upshall to a PTO (Pro tryout)
- August 19, Sign Free agent Jakub Jerabek to a 1-year deal worth $1M
Evan Bouchard, Kyle Brodziak, Tobias Reider, Kevin Gravel, Jakub Jerabek, Mikko Koskinen, Scottie Upshall (PTO), Jason Garrison (PTO)
OFFSEASON GRADE: D+
After a disappointing season last year, something had to give. The Oilers knew they wanted to keep Todd McLellan, but also knew that the same staff that he worked with in San Jose and now Edmonton had to go. The firings should light a fire under not just Todd but his team as well, as they know failure will not be tolerated.
Edmonton, who still has to re-up RFA Darnell Nurse, did not make the off-season splash fans were hoping for. Already pushed to the cap ceiling the Oilers signed an unproven backup goalie in Mikko Koskinen to a lucrative 2.5M contract. Making me yet again question the Oilers asset management, after already trading a 4th-round pick for Al Montoya last season.
Reider was an ok pick-up but isn’t going to be an offensive threat; he can play on the PK which was historically bad last year and should improve under new assistant coach Trent Yawney. Brodziak is a great candidate for 4th line centre duties, but the Oilers need more than that to return to playoff form. The only sigh of relief for Oilers fans is that Chiarelli did not reach on a bad trade this offseason.
67GP: 25G, 62A (OHL) 2017-18
What better candidate to breakout than the new guy? Well, that’s been the Oilers philosophy since they drafted Taylor Hall 1st-overall in 2010 anyways.
Now with an apparent injury to Sekera, which could force him to miss the season, it looks like he may get his chance. I’ll be honest in saying that I didn’t believe it was the right idea to rush Bouchard into the NHL when he was originally drafted, but he’ll be 19 come the start of the season, and after talking with scouts, I’ve become more receptive to the idea.
The only question is what does a breakout season for Bouchard look like?
Answer: If Bouchard, even if it is a bottom pair, manages to play in 60 games this season, with as few as 20 points, I’ll call it a breakout.
2018-19 Projection: 65GP: 6G, 17A
65GP: 12G, 8A – 2017-18
The man affectionately known as ‘Pool-Party’ has had a lot of expectations to live up to since impressive showings for Finland at the World Juniours. There was a point where Puljujarvi was considered an almost equal prospect to fellow country man and 40 goal scorer, Patrik Laine.
Usage has been a big question in Puljujarvi’s development, last year Puljujarvi saw only 48 minutes on the PP, less than a minute game. A player like Jesse who strives on confidence, built through offensive sustainability, deserved more looks with the extra man. Especially compared to a player like Milan Lucic who saw nearly three full hours of PP time but only managed three goals.
If the plan is to give Puljujarvi more minutes expect an increase in production, even more so if given a chance to play alongside Leon Draisatl. Pool-Party has a chance to prove himself this year and for the Oilers to contend will need to be leaps and bounds better than years previous.
2018-19 Projection: 22G, 19A
67GP: 31-31-3, .908SV%, 3.02GAA
Let’s not call it a breakout year, but a bounce-back season for Cam Talbot.
Inconsistency in net killed the Oilers playoff dreams last year, and it will continue to do so if Talbot can’t return to his earlier form. While last year can’t be completely put on Talbot’s shoulders, he should have to carry some of the load.
In 2016-17 Talbot finished 4th in Vezina voting but what Oilers fans got last season was not the same level of play in net. Statistically speaking it was Talbots worst ever season for goals against, SV% and GAA.
Good news (hopefully) for Oilers fans is that once you hit rock bottom, there should be nowhere to go but up. If Talbot can even manage average numbers for a starter, that should be enough for the Oilers to make a playoff push.
2018-19 Projection: 65GP: 31-27-8, .917SV%, 2.55GAA
DUE TO REGRESS:
14GP 5G, 4A
It might be strange to think that the only player due on the Oilers to take a step-back would be Ty Rattie but stick with me here.
Ty Rattie, in his limited time played with Connor McDavid, was a 45.5% Corsi player, on a line with the most outstanding player in the NHL. He managed to be on the wrong side of shot totals by nearly 5% despite having more than 53% of his shifts start in the offensive zone.
Rattie is a weird case study for the Oilers, in that if he doesn’t play with Connor McDavid and RNH he doesn’t have a spot on the roster. I expect the Oilers to find a better solution than Rattie for McDavid’s right side and would not be surprised if Rattie is sent to the AHL before the 15 game mark this season.
Other than Rattie, most Oilers underperformed so poorly last year that it would be hard for players like Cagguila, Lucic, or Klefbom to have even more of a down year.
2018-19 Projection: 15GP 1G, 4A
6th in the Pacific, 11th in the West, 84 points
It’s disappointment once again in the City of Champions, as the Oilers, fail to make the playoffs for a second straight year.
Edmonton made minor improvements over the offseason, and I don’t believe they filled enough holes to be a playoff competitor in the West. The Oilers are still two proven wingers and a top 4 NHL defensemen short of making the playoffs.
Once the Oilers season starts, they can put Sekera’s 5.5 million on the LTIR. I expect them to make a deal for a right shot defenseman, who can work a power play and can play on the second pairing. Justin Faulks name has come up on numerous occasions on the rumour mill, and for my money, he’s their man.
Connor McDavid, (who I feel like I haven’t talked about as much for an Oilers article) said goal scoring was what he wanted to work on during the offseason and I believe he will crack the 50 goal mark for the first time in his NHL career. Capturing his first Rocket Richard trophy.
Milan Lucic should bounce-back, seeing as it couldn’t get much worse. The odds of him going on another streak of 1 goal in 46 games are extremely low. His production should go up from the 10G, 24A last year.
Poor asset management and GM Peter Chiarelli crossing his fingers while making deals has stunted the Oilers growth as a team and wasted precious years of Connor McDavid. Edmonton has a lot of expectations on them this season and missing the playoffs for a second straight year will cost Peter Chiarelli his job.
Come back tomorrow when we cover the LA Kings.