The Edmonton Oilers are exactly one week removed from the start of their regular season on October 13th against the Vancouver Canucks. The team has completed six out of eight preseason contests, with only two remaining, both of which against the Canucks.
While it can be foolish to read too much into preseason performances, the Oilers’ first six contests have given enough material to start dissecting what this team will look like when the games start to count. So far, there have been some good, some bad, and some perplexing storylines to watch.
Here are the Oilers’ biggest preseason takeaways to date.
Takeaway #1: Jesse Puljujarvi’s Continued Emergence
Puljujarvi on Bison he saw a couple of days ago:
“Kind Bison. He was nice.”
— Tony Brar (@TonyBrarOTV) October 4, 2021
Unlike last year, Puljujarvi is starting the season on Connor McDavid’s wing. Coach Dave Tippett has crafted a trio consisting of those two, along with newcomer Zach Hyman. The goal is to give the captain size, skill, and tenacity on his flanks in an effort to take McDavid’s already electric numbers to an even higher level.
The sample size is too small to draw any sweeping conclusions just yet (they’ve spent only 22 minutes together at even strength), but the early arrows do look positive, specifically for young Puljujarvi. He already has three points through three games, two of which are goals. He is also helping to drive strong possession numbers that are north of 50% in terms of Corsi, Fenwick, Expected Goals For. These numbers indicate that the Oilers succeed more offensively when Puljujarvi is on the ice.
The numbers and the eye-test show that Puljujarjvi has easily been one of Edmonton’s best performers in camp.
Takeaway #2: Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci Remain a Work in Progress
The Oilers dramatically restructured their defence this offseason. On the other end of that dismantling and reconstruction has emerged the de-facto second pairing of Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci. Unfortunately, the pairing hasn’t jetted off the starting line like the Oilers may have hoped.
Initial complications emerged when Keith was forced to quarantine for a week following a delayed United States’ trip to receive the Covid vaccine. This left him off the ice for the entire first week of training camp.
In the meantime, Ceci was able to dress for three of the Oilers preseason games without Keith. The results weren’t great, with a negative goal share and sub-40% shot and scoring chance metrics.
On Monday, Keith finally made his debut with the club and, to no surprise, formed a duo with Ceci. Again, it’s too little of a sample size to make a sweeping statement, but the results were about the same: outshot, out-chanced, and not pretty.
The good news for these two is that the season hasn’t started yet, and they have two more games to adjust. For Keith, this season represents a significant change after 16 years with the Chicago Blackhawks. For Ceci, it’s his fourth organization in three years. In both situations, an adjustment period to a new system and structure is certainly expected.
Still, this is the year that the Oilers are hoping to make the jump to being a legitimate contender. If this pair can’t find their footing shortly into the regular season, Tippett won’t hesitate to change things up.
Takeaway #3: Evan Bouchard is Primed for the Next Step
Tippett hasn’t been discreet regarding his plans for defenseman Evan Bouchard this preseason. Through the first six Oilers preseason games, Bouchard has already been slotted into a team-leading five of them. In those games, he is averaging over 21 minutes of ice-time a night. He’s getting both power play and penalty kill time, and is being played at key moments in each game.
Despite the heavy workload, Bouchard’s numbers have been excellent. He is coming up positive in almost every metric possible, from goals, to shots, to high danger chances. He still has some work to do with cutting down the number of his mistakes, but that is the case with most young defencemen.
Bouchard has been primed to take a next step for a little while now, and it looks like Tippett is finally ready to serve him that challenge.
Takeaway #4: Brendan Perlini Can’t Stop Scoring
When the Oilers signed Brendan Perlini to a one-year, $750,000 contract in August, expectations weren’t exactly high. Perlini had just finished a season in the Swiss League (albeit a good one), after falling out of the NHL due to declining performances in the years prior. The Oilers were looking for a veteran to compete for a depth, fourth line role in the absence of Alex Chiasson and James Neal, among others.
Perlini has certainly been competitive. Through four games, he has five goals, plus an assist. He’s accomplished this while playing close to 42 out of 44 even strength minutes of hockey without Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. This is not a case of being zoomed by two of the league’s best players. It’s also worth noting that, through those four games, he is north of 50% in both Corsi and scoring chances. That’s important for a player who has had a history of poor possession numbers.
No one is reasonably expecting Perlini to keep up this torrid pace and score 20 goals or more goals this season. Having said that, now that he has almost certainly cracked the opening squad, what is a realistic expectation for him?
A 10-12 goal pace, with an ability to tread above water on goal differential would be ideal given his contract. That level of performance would also go a long way in helping the Oilers solve their perpetual bottom-six woes.
Takeaway #5: Connor McDavid is Still Sensational
Surprise! Connor McDavid is still really, really good at hockey. To absolutely no one’s surprise, he was named to Canada’s Olympic roster this week, which will be an absolute joy to watch.
— NHL Deutsch (@NHLde) September 29, 2021
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images