Oilers Are a Few Moves Away From Being the Next Avalanche

There’s a lot of similarities you could draw between the Edmonton Oilers and the 2022 Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche who got over the hump this season. From impacts of certain players, to moves, to progress, we will look at it all and see how close the Oilers are with just a few moves.

Oilers, Avalanche Built Through the Draft

The Avalanche had a long span of time between drafting their captain Gabriel Landeskog in 2011 and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cale Makar in 2017. They even had a couple of impactful young players on their roster from the top of the 2019 Draft, so it takes time to build a winning team and it’s the easiest to do so through the draft. Six of their nine first-round picks from 2011 to 2019 were on the team while one of them (Tyson Jost) was used to acquire another member (Nico Sturm).

As for the Oilers, since 2011, they have drafted 14 players currently with the team or organization, whether be playing, injured, or on the cusp of the NHL. This group includes Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi, Tyler Benson, Markus Niemelainen, Kailer Yamamoto, Stuart Skinner, Evan Bouchard, Ryan McLeod, Philip Broberg, and Dylan Holloway. Ten of the 14 were first-round picks and they’ve missed on just one first-rounder in the past 12 years. Two of the other four are second-round picks while the final two are third-rounders. Klefbom is likely done with his career due to injury while Benson and Niemelainen may spend some time in the minors next season. As for Broberg, Skinner, and Holloway, they are NHL ready and will make the team next season.

Evan Bouchard. Edmonton Oilers
Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

Seven of the 10 top regular season point-getters were drafted by the Oilers while six of the top nine scorers in the playoffs this past season were as well. Many teams rely on free agency or trades to bolster their team, but in the end, that either causes overpayments to outbid the other teams or assets to acquire players in a trade. The best teams hit on their draft picks and they fill their lineup contributing.

Similar Talent on Both Teams

The Avalanche may have had more players who put up points, but keep in mind the Oilers didn’t have Evander Kane for half of the season or he would have added to the total tally from their players. Either way, both teams have two gamebreakers; it just so happens the Avalanche have one at forward and one on defence rather than two down the middle/on the same line. I’m, of course, speaking of Nathan MacKinnon and Makar for the Avalanche and McDavid and Draisaitl for the Oilers.

The Avalanche have a defence unit that is further along than the Oilers, but that is also understandable considering they made some stellar trades acquiring Devon Toews and Sam Girard over the past number of years. Instead, the Oilers have traded for the likes of Duncan Keith and Adam Larsson and didn’t win the trades like the Avalanche did. The Oilers can somewhat compete with the Avalanche from a standpoint of overall production from their defencemen, though. The Avalanche received 64 goals and 233 points from their back end this season while the Oilers got 39 goals and 197 points. The Oilers had more defencemen record 20-plus points, but the clear difference there is the top pairing of Makar and Toews.

Cale Makar Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

At forward, when the Oilers went with a 1-2 punch of McDavid and Draisaitl down the middle, it’s the strongest in the league, even more so than MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri who combined for 175 points in 136 games. The strong players on the wings that the Avalanche have that the Oilers must match up with are Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Valeri Nichushkin, and Andre Burakovsky. When trying to draw similarities to the Oilers’ roster, Kane may be that for the Oilers with more physicality. Both are top-line wingers and can score. But from the same draft (2011) there’s Landeskog and Nugent-Hopkins. Both have similar offensive ability, but in this case, Landeskog is the much more physical player, so the pair on each team even out.

As for Nichushkin, he is exactly what the Oilers hope Jesse Puljujarvi will become with the size, speed, relentless pressure, and strong defensive game. It took Nichushkin a few seasons to round out entirely, but he scored 25 goals in the regular season and nine in 20 games during the playoffs while Puljujarvi was pushed down the lineup and couldn’t score. This has created a storm that may very well see him on a new team next season.

Moves the Oilers Must Make

The Avalanche are further along as a team than the Oilers. It was MacKinnon’s ninth season in the league while it was only McDavid’s seventh. I mentioned the difference in Nichushkin and Puljuajrvi while the Oilers’ third-line centre McLeod was in his rookie year rather than in his sixth like J.T. Compher who stepped up in the playoffs and had a solid season in total.

Before we get to the moves the Oilers must make to match the level the Avalanche were on this season and may be on next season, it’s about getting the experience for the young players for the Oilers who will help them immensely in the future. McLeod developed very quickly and looks to be an excellent player already while Bouchard played his first full season and Broberg played 23 NHL games in his first season. Yamamoto and Puljujarvi are young and haven’t hit their primes yet, so the deep playoff run will help them a lot in seeing quick improvements.

Goaltending is one area that stands out very clearly. Consistency and health was a big concern this season for the Oilers’ netminders as Mike Smith was injured three separate times, and though he ended the regular season strong, there couldn’t have been more extreme highs and lows in the playoffs. The regular season was dominated by both the Avalanche goaltenders with save percentages (SV%) of .921 and .916, but even though Smith had the better stats on paper than Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz in the playoffs, it’s the easy saves Smith didn’t make and the turnovers that generated the attention. Acquiring a goaltender is a must for the Oilers, and it just so happens the very starting goaltender that just won the Cup may be available in free agency this season.

Darcy Kuemper Colorado Avalanche 2022 Stanley Cup
Darcy Kuemper of the Colorado Avalanche carries the Stanley Cup following the series winning victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

It isn’t likely we will see another Makar in the league anytime soon, but Bouchard and Broberg have the potential to be very good two-way defencemen and produce at a high rate offensively. Bouchard already showed that ability by leading all Oilers’ defenders in goals and points during the regular season and in the playoffs.

Related: 3 Avalanche Free Agents the Oilers Should Target

The Oilers appear to be set on defence when their young studs develop more, but they very well may be parting ways with Puljujarvi, so the hope is that they get back a player similar in skill but more consistent. Puljuajrvi did put up stellar numbers 5-on-5 in regards to his two-way game, which won’t be easy to replace in a trade, but more offence could make up for that in a return.

The Oilers must now ensure they bring back Kane and Yamamoto with the Puljujarvi trade likely to occur, plus move out the necessary money to be able to complete all of these transactions. With Ken Holland at the helm and the moves he made with the Detroit Red Wings to have them competing year after year, there’s a high level of confidence he can do the same in Edmonton.

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