The countdown has started and on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings, the Edmonton Oilers could clinch their first playoff berth in 11 years. It’s a milestone that ends years of ineptitude and failure in Northern Alberta.
With the Oilers primed for the playoffs, many pundits are laughing the Oilers off as a quick first-round elimination. The basis of nearly every argument comes down to the fact the Oilers have next to no playoff experience. Is it true, though?
This couldn’t be any further from the truth as the Oilers have 14 players who’ve been to the post-season, including seven players with at least 20 games of playoff experience. Five of those players were on teams that went to the Stanley Cup Finals, and seven of them have been to the Conference Finals. Peter Chiarelli has made two trips to the Stanley Cup finals with the Bruins and has a ring from 2011.
Todd McLellan (who’s deserving of some Jack Adams award praise) has been to the finals as an assistant to Mike Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings in 2008, winning a Stanley Cup. He’s since been to the Western Conference twice with the San Jose Sharks (2010 and 2011). McLellan also coached the Houston Aeros to the 2003 Calder Cup championship.
It’s the Oilers first playoff appearance since their Cinderella run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. So how much playoff experience do the Oilers have on their roster and do they have enough to make a deep run in 2017?
Cam Talbot has just two games of playoff experience, both in relief of Henrik Lundqvist during the New York Rangers run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
Talbot’s playoff experience equates to just 46:19, stopping 11 of 13 shots, but he was on a team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals. The first was the last 19:32 in Game Six of the Quarter Finals against the Philadelphia Flyers during a 5-2 loss.
Talbot wouldn’t play again until Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Montreal Canadiens. He played 26:47 that night.
The other goalie in the system that has NHL playoff experience is Jonas Gustavsson, who’s currently playing for Edmonton’s AHL affiliate in Bakersfield. Gustavsson’s experiences also came during the 2014 Quarter Finals against the Boston Bruins while playing for the Detroit Red Wings.
The Wings turned to Gustavsson for the final two games of the series, and he was impressive in Game Four, making 37 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss. He made 29 saves in Game Five, but the Wings were eliminated by the Bruins in a 4-2 loss.
Who knew Gustavsson has the most playoff experience than any goalie in the Oilers system?
To sum up all the defensemen in Edmonton that don’t have playoff experience it’s easy — Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning. Five Oiler defensemen have some form of varying playoff experience.
A lot of people debate Kris Russell’s worth to the Oilers, but one of the reasons Chiarelli brought him in was his playoff experience. Russell leads all Oiler defensemen with 36 games of playoff experience.
Russell’s been to the playoffs on four different occasions, with four different teams (Columbus, St. Louis, Calgary and Dallas). On three of those occasions, Russell’s team advanced to the second round. His most impressive run was in 2014-15 with the Flames where he averaged 26:44 per night over 11 games.
Mark Fayne on the other hand, another player currently in Bakersfield, has only been to the playoff once, but he’s had the longest run. Fayne was a top-four blueliner for the New Jersey Devils during their run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals in just his sophomore season. He played 24 games for the Devils averaging 20:19 per night. The Devils would ultimately lose the series in six games to the Los Angeles Kings.
Adam Larsson also played for the Devils during that 2012 run to the finals but was a depth defenseman. He played just five games and averaged 16:25. Four of those games came in the Devils second-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, and one of them was in the Eastern Conference Finals. Larsson, an 18-year-old rookie at the time, never suited up in the finals against the Kings.
The other two are Andrej Sekera and Eric Gryba. Gryba has two appearances with the Ottawa Senators in 2013 and 2015 totaling ten games. Sekera has been to the playoffs twice with the Buffalo Sabres in 2010 and 2011.
Milan Lucic is the Oiler with the most playoff experience, a total of 101 games. Lucic was a part of several lengthy playoffs runs with the Boston Bruins including two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals. He’s also the only player on the team with a Stanley Cup ring (2011), and he almost had two (2013), but the Bruins ultimately fell to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Benoit Pouliot has 14 points in 54 games, 10 of which game during the Rangers run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals. Pouliot was teammates with Talbot during that run and averaged 15:42 in ice-time over 25 games. If you remember, this is the year that earned Pouliot his five-year, $20 million contracts with the Oilers.
David Desharnais has been to the playoffs four times with the Montreal Canadiens, which includes a run to the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals. Desharnais had eight points in 17 games and played 18:40 per night. Matt Hendricks had a limited role in four playoff appearances, three of which came with those heavily favored Washington Capitals teams between 2011 and 2013. He’s got 34 games of experience and has been to the second-round once (2012), losing to the Rangers in Game Seven.
Patrick Maroon’s been to the playoffs twice with the Anaheim Ducks. In 2014, the Ducks lost in Game Seven of the second round to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Kings — he had a fair seven points in 13 games. In 2015 the Ducks went all the way to the Western Conference finals, but once again lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, this time it was the Blackhawks. Maroon was even better this time around, scoring 11 points in 16 games and averaging 17:55 per night.
Then there’s Mark Letestu who’s been to the playoffs on three different occasions with the Blue Jackets and Penguins. There’s also Zack Kassian who’s got eight games over two appearances with the Vancouver Canucks.
What Does It All Mean?
There’s a lot of talk about how inexperienced the Oilers will be come playoff time, but the fact of the matter is that they have 14 players who’ve been to the post-season, including seven players with at least 20 games of playoff experience.
Five of those players were on teams that went to the Stanley Cup Finals, and seven of them have been to the Conference Finals.
The only player with a Stanley Cup is Lucic, but there are enough guys on the ship that know what kind of sacrifice and effort is needed to make a deep playoff run. Remember both Chiarelli and McLellan have rings as well.
When you talk about playoff experience and the Oilers, there not as inexperienced as you’d think for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 11 years. Some of the core guys like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom and so on are all Oiler picks that have never been. Sure that’s a significant chunk of your roster, but these guys have played in pressure situations in the past.
McDavid is a generational talent, and they all typically kick into an extra gear come spring time. Jordan Eberle has won three gold medals at the World Championships (2015), World Juniors (2010) and U-18’s (2008). He’s also earned a silver medal at the 2010 WJC with Canada. Nugent-Hopkins won gold at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka tournament, was named Best Forward at the 2013 WJC and played on Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Draisaitl was MVP of the 2015 Memorial Cup Championships in a losing effort with the Kelowna Rockets (WHL) and lost in the World Cup finals playing on Team Europe. Klefbom was also a star defenseman at the 2012 WJC when Team Sweden won gold and was also named to the tournament all-star team.
So when you add it all up, Edmonton’s far from an inexperienced team. Some might even go as far as saying the Oilers have pedigree when it comes to past playoff experience whether it’s NHL or not. Regardless, don’t count the Oilers out this spring, they could make some serious noise.