If there is one adjective that fans of the Edmonton Oilers will groan at, it’s optimism. It’s been a very difficult time for a fan base that hasn’t exactly had anything to cheer about since coming just shy of winning the Stanley Cup in 2006 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
After floundering to find their place in the NHL as a bubble-team between 2006-07 and 2008-09, the team finally committed to a rebuild at the end of the 2009-10 season and drafted Taylor Hall 1st overall in the 2010 NHL Draft.
Instead of things turning around after drafting Hall, the Oilers followed that up with a horrendous on-ice product that led to them also drafting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011 – 1st), Nail Yakupov (2012 – 1st), Darnell Nurse (2013-7th) and Leon Draisaitl (2014-3rd).
Now after drafting Connor McDavid 1st overall at the 2015 NHL Draft this past June – mind you that’s just five years after drafting Hall -, the Oilers have no excuse to be a basement-dweller anymore.
This summer, the Oilers upgraded the front-office with the addition of new-GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Todd McLellan.
Even after drafting McDavid, the Oilers should be applauded for signing a potential top-pairing defender in Andrej Sekera and trading for an underrated starter in Cam Talbot.
They then added depth to the prospect pool with Anders Nilsson coming in from Chicago to challenge Ben Scrivens for a backup job, a former 4th-overall pick in defenseman Griffin Reinhart and a few other moves (see below). Now, all of a sudden, this actually looks like a decent roster on paper.
The Oilers are an improved club on and off the ice and things are finally heading in the right direction.
2014-2015 RECORD (FINISH)
Record: 24-44-14 (62 points)
G Anders Nilsson (Trade from Chicago)
G Cam Talbot (Trade from NY Rangers)
D Erik Gryba (Trade from Ottawa)
D Griffin Reinhart (Trade from NY Islanders)
D Andrej Sekera (UFA Signing)
LW Lauri Korpikoski (Trade from Arizona)
C Mark Letestu (UFA Signing)
C Connor McDavid (Drafted)
G Viktor Fasth (Signed in KHL)
D Martin Marincin (Traded to Toronto)
C Boyd Gordon (Traded to Arizona)
C Derek Roy (UFA)
C – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Don’t let the arrival of McDavid make you think ‘RNH’ is an after thought. He’s slow emerging as an elite level two-way player and is a great complimentary piece who had great chemistry with the Oilers top scorer last season Jordan Eberle. He’ll be a key piece in giving the Oilers two solid offensive lines.
LW – Taylor Hall – For every elite playmaker there is hopefully an elite sniper. Entering his sixth season in the NHL he’ll be pressured to break his career high 27-goal seasons. He had an injury-plagued season last year but now that he’ll be on a line with McDavid the two saviors who have book-ended the Oilers rebuild will have a lot of pressure on themselves entering 2015-16. It’s entirely possible that Hall breaks the 30-goal mark for the first time this season but anything less would be a bit of a disappointment.
RW – Jordan Eberle – The strength in the Oilers offense comes from having a group of forwards that can produce. It wasn’t Hall, it wasn’t Nugent-Hopkins, it was Eberle who let the Oilers in scoring during the 2014-15 season with a 24-goal 63-point season. He’s a few seasons removed from a 34-goal season in 2011-12 but there is nothing saying the 25-year-old can’t break the 30-goal mark again.
#4 Taylor Hall
|#97 Connor McDavid||#10 Nail Yakupov|
|#67 Benoit Pouliot||#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins||
#14 Jordan Eberle
#28 Lauri Korpikoski
|#51 Anton Lander||#16 Teddy Purcell|
|#23 Matt Hendricks||#55 Mark Letestu||
#15 Tyler Pitlick
|#20 Luke Gazdic||#29 Leon Draisaitl||
#12 Rob Klinkhammer
* New additions bolded
D – Andrej Sekera – If you’re looking at the Oilers off-season in three big additions on-ice, one of the three along with Talbot and McDavid is bringing in Sekera. His addition comes with a $5.5M cap hit but he takes the pressure off a developing stud like Klefbom who emerged last season as a legit top-four defenseman.
D – Oscar Klefbom – Sekera will play some of the harder minutes and gives the Klefbom-Schultz pairing more favourable match-ups that hopefully won’t overly expose their development which happened more than the team would’ve liked last year. Klefbom emerged as a solid top-four NHL defender but will need more consistency this season to really make his case as a future top-pairing defender in Edmonton.
D – Justin Schultz – He’s entering now or never territory soon to start improving his defensive play otherwise he’ll just be seen as an offensive defenseman that has to play sheltered minutes, heavily on the powerplay, to be a useful NHLer. No one on the Oilers defense is under more pressure than Schultz this season. If Schultz can score more than his 11-goal career high and total over 40-points this season, it’ll be a success, anything less could have management looking to move him.
#2 Andrej Sekera
|#5 Mark Fayne|
#77 Oscar Klefbom
#19 Justin Schultz
#21 Andrew Ference
#62 Eric Gryba
#86 Nikita Nikitin
#8 Griffin Reinhart
|#25 Darnell Nurse||
#88 Brandon Davidson
* New additions bolded
G – Cam Talbot – Talbot was the most highly sought after goaltender on the trade market last summer and the Oilers paid a heavy price to land him and rightfully so.
Talbot, 28, posted a 2.21 GAA and 0.921SV% with the NY Rangers last season and excelled when Henrik Lundqvist went down with injury. The Oilers have had a bad run with goaltenders and it has to end at some point here with Talbot being the best goaltender on paper the Oilers have had since Dwayne Roloson.
G – Ben Scrivens – Behind him is where the real battle is between Scrivens and the newly-acquired Nilsson for the backup job.
Scrivens has really fallen out of favour after posting a 3.16 GAA and 0.890SV% in 57 games. It was a bad year. Nilsson on the flip-side was one of the better goaltenders in the KHL and is chomping at an NHL job and could be a potential diamond in the rough.
Look for one of the two to be moved during the season and Brossoit to be the first option off the farm to be called up for spot duty.
#33 Cam Talbot
#30 Ben Scrivens
#39 Anders Nilsson
#1 Laurent Brossoit
* New additions bolded
C – Connor McDavid – When you draft a generational talent and he enters his rookie season, everyone gathers around and watches the coming out party.
This will be Connor McDavid’s coming out party.
Sure Taylor Hall is going to benefit and even has a shot at cracking the 30-goal mark for the first time. Sure Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might benefit with some favourable matchups but McDavid is the guy everyone is watching in Edmonton this season.
The early projections have McDavid finishing between 70-85 points depending on who you ask, and, along with Jack Eichel, is one of the two early favorites to win the Calder Memorial Trophy for rookie of the year.
PLAYER WITH MOST TO PROVE
RW – Nail Yakupov – Without a doubt Nail Yakupov has more to prove than anyone on this Oilers roster in 2015-16.
Despite a 2012-13 lockout shortened rookie season where he scored 17 goals and 31 points in 48 games (53 points over 82 games), Yakupov hasn’t broken the 33 point barrier.
It pales in comparison to the five previous 1st overall selections (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane) who broke the 50-point barrier in either their rookie or sophomore years.
Yakupov is still looking for his first 50-point season under his fourth coach in four years with Todd McLellan coming in, which might be part of the problem when you consider his utilization.
Still he turns 22-years-old in October and has plenty of time to put it together but as each year passes on his projections from his draft year to be a future 40-goal scorer don’t seem as if they will ever materialize.
Anything shy of a 20-goal season will be a disappointment, anything north of a 25-goal season will be a major breakthrough.
It’s been a rough time for fans in Edmonton but things are finally on the upswing for real this time.
The big question is if the playoffs a real possibility this season and the answer is probably not despite the key additions of Todd McLellan (Head Coach), Peter Chiarelli (GM), a potential underrated starter in Cam Talbot, a franchise player in McDavid and a more rounded roster overall.
The defense is still an organizational weakness at the NHL level but it is improving with Reinhart and Nurse developing along with the addition of Sekera. Add in some harder minutes for Klefbom and things won’t be looking so bad in a few years, but in the meantime they’ll be some growing pains.
Keep in mind the 2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins still finished 15th overall in the Eastern Conference in Sidney Crosby’s rookie season and he scored 102-points. But Crosby didn’t have a solid supporting cast in Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin to back him up.
If McDavid truly is the generational talent that Crosby is he’s already got a supporting cast of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Pouliot and even Yakupov.
They won’t make the playoffs but they won’t miss them and be playing meaningless games in December like they have the past few seasons.
Expect the Oilers to have a stronger season than division rivals like Arizona and Vancouver and finish 5th in the Pacific division which was good enough for 12th in the Western Conference last season.
Project them to finish 11th in the West and be an outside contender for a wildcard spot for much of the season.
More importantly for Oiler fans there is finally light at the end of the tunnel and they no longer have to circle the date of the annual NHL Draft Lottery before the season even starts.