Who will provide the secondary scoring for the Edmonton Oilers, what can the new additions bring to the team and how will the goaltending work out? Here are three questions facing the Oilers ahead of the season opener against the Vancouver Canucks tonight.
Who Will Provide the Secondary Scoring for the Oilers?
The Edmonton Oilers have the two best scorers in the entire NHL, but that is not enough when the rest of the players don’t provide enough points. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl scored over 200 points together last season and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has also contributes points year after year. But apart from the three top scorers, the other players haven’t been able to put up enough points.
That the Oilers only ranked 14th when it comes to goals scored per game, even though the two leading scorers in the NHL play for the team, says a lot. However, there is some hope. Kailer Yamamoto was successful after being called up to the team from the AHL in the middle of last season, with 26 points in 27 games. Now, he must show that it was not just a one-time event and that he can continue to produce points for the Oilers for a longer period.
James Neal made a fantastic start to last season with six goals in the first three games, setting a new Oilers record. After 18 games he had scored 12 goals, but unfortunately the winger couldn’t stay that consistent and he ended up with 19 goals and 12 assists during the regular season. This was partly due to an injury, but Neal must also show that he can produce points on a more consistent level.
It remains to be seen which Neal the fans will see this season. We can only hope that it is the player who started the 2019-20 season and that he can maintain a high level of play for a longer period this time.
Zack Kassian is another forward that we might expect more from this season. His 34 points in 2019-20 put him in fourth place in points, tied with Oscar Klefbom (not counting Tyler Ennis who played most of last season in Ottawa.) Hopefully, both Kassian and Ennis can contribute with more points this season. Others must step forward and contribute to the Oilers offense if teams in the North Division are to be defeated. Fortunately for the Oilers, there are a lot of exciting new players on the roster this season that hopefully can contribute with more points.
What Can the Oilers’ New Additions Do?
When McDavid was asked about the new additions to the Oilers roster by NHL.com as training camp opened last Sunday, he was full of praise.
“What [general manager] Kenny [Holland] and the whole staff have done over the offseason has been amazing,” he said and continued. “They don’t have much [salary cap] room to work with, [but] they were able to add a bunch of good pieces, a bunch of really good players, but people as well.”
McDavid was talking about players like Tyson Barrie, Kyle Turris, Jesse Puljujarvi and Dominik Kahun.
Barrie is expected to play a big part in the power play. If he can reach the same standard as during his time in the Colorado Avalanche where he scored more than 50 points three times, he can be a great asset to the Oilers. Turris is another new player that the team hopes will be able to contribute with points this season. He hasn’t been very successful during his last two seasons with the Nashville Predators. However, less exposure to the the top checkers from the opposing teams as a third-line center could suit the 31-year-old better and give him a chance to bounce back.
Turris will probably play together with another new player for whom he has started to act as a mentor. Puljujarvi, who is back in Edmonton after a season in the Finnish league, has already got a lot of help from Turris to adjust to the NHL again. The number-four pick in the 2016 NHL Draft chose not to re-sign with the Oilers in 2019-20 and went back to play for Karpat in Liiga, scoring 53 points (24 goals, 29 assists). But the young Finn seems to be more prepared for games in North America this time.
“My English is better, and communication with coaches, players, is different,” Puljujarvi said to NHL.com. “It helps a lot. You speak better, you play better.”
Another new addition to the roster is Kahun, who looks to be starting the season on the second line together with countryman Draisaitl at the center position and Yamamoto on the other wing. Draisaitl and Kahun know each other from the German national team and Mannheim where they played youth hockey together. That the two players combined for 627 points during two 30-game seasons says it all. It is a reunion that could benefit the Oilers a lot.
Will the Oilers Goaltending Be Good Enough?
This is a question that a lot of fans ask before the start of the season. Are Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith a goalie tandem that can take the Oilers far in the playoffs? There are many who doubt it. After Edmonton lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the play-in round of the playoffs in 2020, both goalie’s performances were questioned.
And it’s no secret that the Oilers tried to bring in a new goaltender during the offseason. According to credible information, Edmonton tried to get former Canuck Jacob Markstrom, who at the end signed with the Calgary Flames and not the Oilers. Instead, Edmonton re-signed 38-year-old Smith to a one-year contract. In the end, the Oilers ended up with the exact same goalie tandem as last season. That’s not what many fans had hoped for.
However, both Smith and Koskinen had good periods last season. The problem was that they didn’t manage to maintain the high level for a longer period of time and that they did not perform at their best when the team needed it the most, in the playoff series against Chicago. The Oilers goalies must be more consistent this season if the team should have a chance to make a deep playoff run.
If those questions get positive answers, the other teams in the North Division will have a hard time beating the Oilers this season. With more consistent goaltending, better secondary scoring and new players that can make a difference, it can be a fun season for all Oilers fans.
Journalist and NHL fanatic. I’m writing about the Edmonton Oilers. Twitter @jonerik77