Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2016-17, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2016-17 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Edmonton Oilers.
Puck Drop Preview: 2016-17 Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers entered the last season expected to make a move towards at least the middle of the NHL’s Pacific Division. The team went through a huge housecleaning in the front office with Peter Chiarelli taking over the general manager duties from Craig MacTavish, and Todd McLellan was brought in to lead a new coaching staff in place of Todd Nelson. Team President Kevin Lowe has moved out his role to a role that gave him less access and stays overthe day-to-day management of the team. Most of their scouting staff was released from their contracts as well.
All the front office moves came after the Oilers were fortunate enough to win the 2015 Draft Lottery and the right to draft the first round pick of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Connor McDavid. Securing McDavid at the draft gave many fans hope but most acknowledged that the pain was not over. The team still had a spotty defense and goaltending was a question as well.
The team tried to address these issues, trading for New York Rangers backup Cam Talbot as well as Griffin Reinhart from the New York Islanders before leaving the draft floor. They further bolstered their blueline with the addition of Andrej Sekera in free agency.
The Oilers stumbled out of the block to start the season with a record of 8-14-2 by the end of November and they would never recover. While many of the old Oilers narratives would return they would get no help from the injury bug which was a story that was criminally under the radar.
The Oilers were in the top five teams for man games lost and were not carrying any Chris Pronger–like deals to inflate their number. McDavid missed 37 games, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins missed 27 games, Jordan Eberle 13 games and Oscar Klefbom missed 52 games. Injuries of the length and to the caliber of players would hurt most other teams as well. The Oilers finished third last in the entire league. While the season was an abject failure for the Oilers, one still has to wonder what might have been without all the injuries or if Talbot was as good as he was as the season ended.
Entering the offseason, Chiarelli seemed set on improving his defense, and aside from McDavid it appeared no one was off the table for a trade. And the rumors swirled heading into the draft.
Although they ran out of luck at Draft Lottery, they got some on the draft floor of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Expected third overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi fell into their lap when the Blue Jackets opted for centerman Pierre-Luc Dubois to the surprise of many.
They also drafted some interesting defensive draft picks in Markus Niemelainen, Matthew Cairns and Filip Berglund, but none of those players could be an answer to their defensive problems right now.
The Oilers made a huge move as the summer went on, trading leading scorer Taylor Hall for New Jersey Devils defenseman Adam Larsson. This move was largely criticised by pundits who felt that the Oilers didn’t get close to proper value for a player of Hall’s caliber. After superstar defensemen P.K. Subban and Shea Weber were dealt earlier in the summer, many felt the Oilers could have targeted a more talented defenseman.
Free agency saw the signing of Milan Lucic to a $42 million, seven-year deal. Playing the previous year with the Los Angeles Kings, the 28-year-old scored 20 goals, 35 assists for 55 points. With Lucic on the books for the long term, it will be interesting to see how the team manages its cap space going forward.
In the Western Conference, teams that have been deep down the middle usually have found success and the Three Headed Monster of McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl are as good as any in the league. The question is, can the supporting cast pick the offensive productivity?
The defense has, and for the foreseeable future will be, the question mark for the Oilers. But it might not be as far away from turning the corner as one may think. Larsson may have been too little to get in return for Hall, but that aside he is a solid two-way defenceman. Sure he is not a number one but paired with a healthy Klefbom, he is still a step in the right direction. Sekera will continue to provide a solid veteran presence and puck movement. Nurse will not only stay with the NHL club this year, but may also start to finally live up to the hype.
Tabot opened the first half of last season sharing the net with Anders Nilsson, and while he was putting up better statistics by February 4th with a goals-against average of 2.54 and a .916 save percentage, he had won only nine games to Nilsson’s ten.
From that point on, Talbot would be the undisputed number one goalie playing 27 of the remaining 32 games, and his goals-against average of 2.50 and a .920 save percentage helped him to a strong finish. If the Oilers are going to have any success this year Talbot will need to pick up where he left off.
Jonas Gustavsson is a serviceable veteran backup goalie at this point in his career. While he can provide quality backup minutes he is a guy that Talbot will not have to look over his shoulder out of concern if his starting job is in jeopardy.
Players to Watch
Lucic got a big payday in free agency and he will now have to earn it, as he is projected to play on the top line with McDavid and Eberle. The question, of course, is can he keep up, and also find chemistry with the younger forwards? If the line combination is successful Lucic could find himself having a career-year. He also needs to not let his occasional lack of discipline hinder his line and team.
McDavid entered the league with the most fanfare since Sidney Crosby, and for the most part has lived up to the hype. In a season cut short by injury, he managed to score 16 goals and 32 assists in just 45 games and earned a nomination for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. With the expectation that he will be named captain all eyes will continue to be on the young forward.
After unexpectedly falling into the lap of the Oilers at the 2016 NHL Draft, Puljujarvi is expected by many to make the team out of training camp. Many believed his acquisition made Hall expendable, so he will be expected to do his part to carry the offensive load for the Oilers.
Players on the Rise
One of the players to benefit most from the injuries that plagued the Oilers this year was Draisaitl, who was playing his first full year of pro hockey after splitting the previous year between the Oilers and the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL. Scoring 19 goals and 32 assists last season in 72 games, Draisaitl will be expected to take the next step in his development.
Nurse made a huge leap last season, managing to play 69 games in the NHL. The big-bodied shutdown defenseman may not put up all the points, but he’s a smart defender who can carry the puck or make a good first pass. Since leaving the OHL, Nurse has improved his game by simplifying it and reducing mistakes. He will be expected to make more great strides as he moves up the defensive depth chart.
Players on the Decline
It’s difficult to call anyone on such a young team “in decline”. That being said Yakupov has never really lived up to expectations in Edmonton. Sure he found some early chemistry last year with McDavid but it faded away once McDavid was injured. In 60 games last year he scored only eight goals and 15 assists. One has to wonder if this is something a change in scenery can fix or if he is just never going to live up to being drafted first overall in 2012.
It feels like this is said every year, the Oilers looked primed to move up the Pacific Division standings. Unfortunately for the Oilers, the Arizona Coyotes, and Calgary Flames both look like teams that could start reversing their recent misfortunes in the standings. While a team like the Anaheim Ducks or the Los Angeles Kings could take a step back, it likely won’t be enough for the Oilers to have any real chance at a playoff position.
If the team can stay healthy and McDavid, Draisaitl and Nurse do not suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump, they could turn a lot of heads. Lucic will be expected to make a big impact in the right way and Chiarelli is likely not done making move. With the team as it stands now, they will not finish any higher than fifth in the Pacific Division.