As the 2023-24 NHL season approaches for the Edmonton Oilers, the same roster is at camp, with a handful of PTO players and Connor Brown joining them. This team knows what it is and what it’s capable of. Now it’s simply of matter of executing and having each member of the roster pull their individual weight and come together as a team.
In a two-part bold prediction series, the first part will look at four individual performances. These will be players I’ll either be watching to have big seasons or could be players I believe may be on the hot seat as the Oilers try to maximize their use of assets in this season’s window to win.
Evan Bouchard Will Have 60 – 70 Points
Following the 2022-23 trade deadline, Evan Bouchard assumed the role of the right-handed quarterback on the blue line, resulting in a remarkable surge in his performance. Over the last 21 games of the season, Bouchard tallied an impressive 5 goals and 14 assists, projecting to an astounding 74-point pace over a full season. He was incredible during the playoffs and his production should pick up right where he left off.
He might not produce at the same rate he did in the post-season (1.41 points per game), but if he does even half of that over a full regular season, he’ll produce 58 points. I’m betting he’s better than that and will peg him about a 55% production rate of his playoff levels. That puts him at 63.9 points on the season. A 64-point season out of Bouchard would be a huge help for the Oilers.
This would have placed him in the Top 10 in scoring by defensemen last season.
Leon Draisaitl Scores 60 Goals
He’s yet to do so in the NHL, but Leon Draisaitl is bound to hit the 60-goal mark in a single season. Connor McDavid did it last year with 64 and Draisaitl fell short, finishing with 52. Leon’s highest is 55, which he hit during the 2021-22 season. These two are super competitive in the best way possible, so you know they’ve had a friendly conversation this year about Leon getting 60 and winning the goal-scoring race.
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Granted, a recent interview about McDavid not caring about stats and only wanting to win might test the theory that these two have chatted about individual success, but there’s a difference between how Vincent Desharnais talked about McDavid saying he doesn’t care and it’s only about the team and knowing that Draisaitl scoring a ton is good for the group and in helping secure wins.
Darnell Nurse Quiets His Doubters
It seems like every other year, Darnell Nurse is either beloved or blasted for his play, a critique that often coincides with his new hefty contract. Last season, he played well, but in the first year of a deal that paid him $9.25 million per season, fans were watching and waiting for mistakes. Every time he made one, Nurse was labeled (especially by fans outside the Edmonton market) as one of the worst contracts in the NHL. This season, Nurse makes a lot of those same fans eat crow.
There is a lot to like about Nurse’s game and when he settles into a role that works and helps the team, he’s really solid. And, if he’s paired with an improved Cody Ceci (who struggled last season), Nurse looks better by association. Finally, Nurse doesn’t get the benefit of gravy points on the best power play in the NHL. If he had 10-15 points because he took minutes there, the narrative surrounding him would be different. I’m not suggesting head coach Jay Woodcroft tries to put him there to help in that regard, but I think Nurse gets more looks on the man advantage which will pad his stats a touch.
Jack Campbell Rebounds
Another player who took a critical beating from the fan base this past season was Jack Campbell. And, at times, it was deserved as he seriously lacked consistency. That said, when Campbell was good, he was very good and all he needs to do is replace a handful of the lousy games with good ones and we’re telling a different story about his contributions to this goaltending tandem of Campbell and Stuart Skinner.
The biggest thing for Campbell is to get off to a good start this season and mentally realize he’s in the conversation as the starter. If he’s ruled out early because he has bad games, he seems to be the type of player who can’t get out of his own head and that could be a problem. If things are really bad, expect Campbell to be dumped in a salary cap offloading trade that includes a sweetener to send him elsewhere.