Oilers Need Neal, Russell, Chiasson & Turris to Step up in the Playoffs

Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Darnell Nurse are the Edmonton Oilers’ biggest stars and their top goal scorers of the just-completed 2020-21 National Hockey League season. Alex Chiasson, James Neal, Kris Russell, and Kyle Turris have spent time this season on Edmonton’s taxi squad and would need to combine their stats to crack the top 5 on the Oilers for goals.

But while the former have suited up for only 17 playoff games each in their NHL careers (13 in Edmonton’s run to the second round in 2017, four in last year’s Stanley Cup Qualifiers loss to the Chicago Blackhawks), the latter have each appeared in at least twice that many postseason games.

Of all the 32 players populating the Oilers active roster, injured reserve, and taxi squad, Neal, Turris, Russell and Chiasson are the four who have played the most times in the postseason, experience that could prove pivotal for a young team looking to make its first serious run at the Stanley Cup.

As the Oilers get set to open their North Division semi-final series against the Winnipeg Jets (7 p.m. MT on Wednesday at Rogers Place), here’s a look at their veteran’s postseason resumes.

James Neal

Career playoff stats: 108 GP, 33 G, 25 A, 92 PIM

This is the 11th consecutive year reaching the playoffs for Neal, who has played in more postseason series (19) than half of Edmonton’s current roster has played in postseason games. He appeared in the Stanley Cup Final for two straight years, with the Nashville Predators in 2017 (losing 4-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights in 2018 (losing 4-1 to the Washington Capitals). The winger also reached the second round three other times, with Pittsburgh in 2013 and 2014 and Nashville in 2016.

James Neal Edmonton Oilers
James Neal led the Oilers with a plus-three rating in the 2020 postseason. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Neal has scored five game-winning goals in the postseason, including two in overtime. His greatest individual playoff performance came with the Penguins in Game 5 of the 2013 first round, when he had a hat trick and added an assist in Pittsburgh’s series-clinching victory over the Ottawa Senators. In the 2020 postseason, Neal led the Oilers with a rating of plus-three and fourth on the team with three points (two goals, one assist) in four games.

Kyle Turris

Career playoff stats: 69 GP, 14 G, 18 A, 68 PIM

Turris has skated in the NHL playoffs eight of the last 10 years, including the last three with the Nashville Predators, but he is most remembered for his playoff heroics in Ottawa. He helped the Sens reach the playoffs four times, including a trip to the second round in 2013 and a run to the 2016 Eastern Conference Final, where Ottawa pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins to overtime of Game 7 before bowing out.

The centreman scored three overtime goals for the Senators, striking early each time (his game-winners came at just 2:32, 2:42, and 6:28 of sudden death). He was Ottawa’s leading goal scorer in the 2013 playoffs, with six in 10 games. Turris struggled last year in Nashville’s Stanley Cup Qualifiers loss to the Arizona Coyotes, with 0 points in 4 games and a minus-four rating tied for worst on the Predators.

Kris Russell

Career playoff stats: 53 GP, 3 G, 17 A, 24 PIM

Russell has been part of the Oilers’ most recent trips to the NHL postseason, last year and 2017. He made his playoff debut in 2009 as part of a Columbus Blue Jackets team that was itself making the first postseason appearance in franchise history. The defenceman has also suited up for playoff games with the St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames, and Dallas Stars.

Kris Russell Oilers
Kris Russell has played for the Oilers in the 2017 and 2020 postseasons. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With Calgary in 2015, Russell tied for the team lead with five assists in 11 postseason games, and he scored the game-winning goal with just 30 seconds remaining against the Vancouver Canucks in Game 1 of the first round. He has played in two Game 7s, both in the second round, for Edmonton against the Anaheim Ducks in 2017 (2-1 loss) and Dallas against St. Louis in 2016 (6-1 loss).

Alex Chiasson

Career playoff stats: 34 GP, 3 G, 3 A, 8 PIM

If any of the Oilers want to know what it’s like to win the Stanley Cup, Chiasson is the man to ask – the forward was a member of Washington’s championship team in 2018. Although he was a healthy scratch for all five games against Vegas in the 2018 Final, Chiasson suited up 16 times for the Caps that postseason and scored in Washington’s series-clinching victory over the defending champion Penguins in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Semi-Final series.

Chiasson played all four games for Edmonton against the Blackhawks in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier, notching a goal and assist in Game 2 when the Oilers doubled Chicago 6-3 for their lone win of the series. He has also reached the postseason with Dallas, Ottawa, and Calgary.

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So what to expect from the aforementioned veterans in the days, perhaps weeks, ahead? As the regular season came to a close, no two were in too similar of a situation.

Chiasson has played the most regularly and recorded four points in the last six games to finish the season with nine goals and seven assists. Neal dressed for just 18 of Edmonton’s first 44 games but suited up for 11 of the last 12, as coach Dave Tippett ostensibly reintegrated Neal into the lineup for postseason deployment.

Russell was a regular in Edmonton’s third pairing before been sidelined with a lower-body injury at the end of April and is not expected to be ready for the beginning of the series with Winnipeg. And Turris has largely been relegated to the press box, playing just six games in the last 10 weeks and only two of Edmonton’s final 15 contests.

The Oilers will welcome whatever postseason contributions they can get from the old guard, knowing they can only get so far into the 2021 playoffs without.

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