Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2023-24 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2023-24 Edmonton Oilers.
2023-24 Edmonton Oilers
For the 2023-24 Edmonton Oilers, it is time to get serious. The lack of turnover within the lineup must show continuity between the front office and players. What it is showing is that the team is close. It is almost just plain bad luck that Leon Draisaitl didn’t will them through to the third round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That being said, expectations are, as they have been, sky-high in Oil country. Will the Oilers be able to keep the puck out of their net when it matters the most? Can they stay healthy or will they be able to make the necessary adjustments as the season progresses? Who knows, but let’s give you our best guesses of what is to come.
The 2022-23 Season: Review of Last Year
Despite not going farther in the playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers did have some magic in 2022-23. Connor McDavid seemed to flick a switch and turned into a goal scorer. He became only the sixth player in NHL history to reach the 150-point mark. His partner in crime, Draisaitl, had an amazing 13 goals through just 12 playoff contests. Additionally, they had made just the types of trade deadline acquisitions you feel confident making. Having added Nick Bjugstad and Mattias Ekholm had the vibes around the squad buzzing. However, in the playoffs, they ran up against a well-constructed Vegas Golden Knight side. The Oilers lack of depth showed as the very deep Vegas team got passed them in six games. The Oilers season ended in disappointment. Fans and players alike must relish in the fact this was a tough lesson learned and the group will grow.
2023: Offseason Changes (Or Lack There Of)
The lack of offseason changes made by Oilers management can only be seen as a good sign. Feeling camaraderie and cohesion in the group tends to mean success is to follow. They did lose the likes of Bjugstad and Kailer Yamamoto, and Jason Demers is still a UFA. Conversely, some of the smaller moves they made might make a difference. Bringing in Connor Brown is a strong piece to add, especially with a bonus-laden contract, he only costs $775K against the cap. Having Sam Gagner around on a PTO will push young players and might spark some magic from years past. Also, signing Evan Bouchard and solidifying the future on defence was a clutch move. One more worth mentioning is that having added Ekholm at the trade deadline was another win for management. He’s locked up for another three years. So, even though it was nothing major, the Oilers offseason leaves the feeling of optimism.
2023-24 Edmonton Oiler Lineup Projections Starting With the Forwards
The Edmonton Oilers will once again rely on being top-heavy. Given the rate at which those top players can put the puck in the net, it should be a successful model to operate on. As long as their bottom six can play the way they are capable of playing, upfront they should be all right. It is the defensive side of the puck, where it is a bit more delicate for the Oilers. If they can find consistency, maybe this is the year the Oilers go all the way.
The Top Six of the Top Heavy Oil Attack
The top-six forwards on the Oilers need no introduction. We’ve already mentioned the offensive leaders like McDavid and Draisaitl. In contrast, after a 104-point regular season, add Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to that list. The attack is rounded out by Evander Kane and Zach Hyman. This allows for the hot hand to slot into that other spot. There are lots of names that could make the list of candidates. Mattias Janmark could get hot and find himself in the top six, or maybe they side with a young player. Dylan Holloway, 22, played 51 games for the Oilers last year and could play a key role on this 2023-24 squad.
Bottom Six Forward Group
This is a bunch with a lot of pressure placed on their shoulders. They need to carry the team through tough matchups but don’t provide a lot of collective offence. The leaders of the group include Ryan McLeod, Warren Foegele, and Brown. Even 36-year-old Derek Ryan can still take a regular shift, played 80 games in 2022-23. They hope to have a complementary push from the prospects looking to take advantage of their opportunities. For example, Raphael Lavoie a 25-goal man from a year ago with Bakersfield of the AHL would like to get a shot.
The Defence: Top Four and the Bottom Pair
The Oilers like their top four. Adding Ekholm was huge. A guy ranked eighth in the league with a DPS of 5.8, he is a defensive leader on the backend. Furthermore, the emergence of Evan Bouchard had General Manager Ken Holland gleaming. One thing they do need is Darnell Nurse earning is $9.25 M price tag. Between Cody Ceci and Brett Kulak, they have veterans to fill out the top four if need be. Another need for the Oilers is for one of their young D prospects to step up. Philip Broberg is a 22-year-old who fits that bill to a tee. With only 69 NHL games under his belt, as the Oilers 2019 first-round pick, the team would love for him to step up. If the Oilers are to have a different outcome in the post-season from 2022-23, the defence will be a huge reason why.
The Story on the Goalies
As much as the defence will be a huge reason for playoff triumph, the goalies will be more of a reason. At 25, Stuart Skinner had a great NHL rookie season. He posted a .913 SV%, including an impressive .823 HDsc SV%. His .883 SV% in the post-season left much to be desired, but that is where experience and growth are necessary. That was supposed to be Jack Campbell’s role, to provide the support as an experienced NHLer. Campbell having played in the scrutiny of Toronto, should be able to pass his wisdom on to Skinner. However, Campbell’s .888 SV% was not indicative of someone setting a good example. The Oilers need Skinner to stay the course, and get a little more out of Campbell. If this is not happening, maybe they will need to make an addition between the pipes.
Players to Watch in the Organization
When discussing the 2023-24 Edmonton Oilers, we have touched on some of these types of players already. Aside from Connor Brown hopefully bringing a reliable veteran presence, they have some young players. Two we have mentioned, to watch for in 2023-24, are Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg. If these players can play consistently in third-line roles, it will be a huge difference maker. The Oilers desperately need reliable depth through their lineup, and it will be the job of prospects to do the task.
The current supporting cast may shuffle around a bit over the next few years. However, let the prediction be known, the group led by McDavid, Draisaitl, Nurse, and Skinner wins a Stanley Cup within three years. It would just be too perfect for that to be in 2023-24 Edmonton Oilers, amidst McDavid at the pinnacle of his point-producing years. All in all, the Oilers still need to be a stronger defensive unit when it counts. Ekholm, Brown, and the emergence of Skinner was a start so it won’t be long, just not in 2023-24.
Main photo: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports