As the Edmonton Oilers get ready to embark on another NHL season, the team, fans, and the organization should likely expect the stars to be stars. In other words, players like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should be their productive selves — their seasons are not what people are worried about.
That said, if last season has told us anything, the expected production from the best of the best is not enough to make Edmonton and playoff contender. What the Oilers need is a step-forward season from a few unexpected sources. No, we’re not talking bounce-back campaigns from guys like Milan Lucic or Oscar Klefbom. We want to know, is there anyone on this current roster that has the potential to be the next breakout player or explosion on offense?
The Oilers website just ran a series of articles about Jujhar Khaira and how motivated he feels playing next to a star like McDavid. He described the idea of just being on a team that ices the best player in hockey every night makes you want to up your game. The Oilers are hoping that motivation turns into a hugely productive season and by most measures, Khaira has the potential to break out.
A big, skilled and quick body who is going to get an opportunity playing alongside Ryan Strome and Jesse Puljujarvi, Khaira could double his point production last season if things go well and he gets off to a strong start. Strome may have been a letdown based on expectations but he’s still a steady center who fits perfectly as a third line pivot. The consistency that could come with playing alongside a proven center like Strome means if Khaira produces, he’ll have the opportunity to build chemistry and find a home on that third line.
Kharia has already shown an ability to score goals with 11 last season in a bottom-six role. With the bigger opportunity he’s being given out of camp, and in a contract year, it means he’s got the potential to explode offensively. There’s no proven track record to suggest he could get 20 goals this season, but don’t put it past him.
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This has to be the season Jesse Puljujarvi shows the Oilers he can be what he was pegged to be when drafted fourth overall in 2016. The consistent storyline with the huggable Finnish prospect has been to preach patience and while being patient is better than rushing a player who needs to figure out the NHL, the Oilers need him to break out and fill in the holes missing on the Oilers right wing depth chart.
A position the team is lacking proven commodities, Puljujarvi has an opportunity to move up the roster if he does well. All signs point to the fact that he looks more comfortable in camp and he did finish last season with 12 goals. He’s got a good shot, will likely get increased power play time and if Khaira and Strome step up their game, Puljujarvi will improve his numbers as a result.
One thing to remember is that despite being in his third NHL season, Puljujarvi is still quite young. He’s only four months older than Kailer Yamamoto and last season he played a lot of time with two players who stunk up the joint — Strome and Milan Lucic. If his new linemates have improved seasons (they should), Puljujarvi might find a rhythm. If he finds a rhythm, he may get promoted in place of a guy like Ty Rattie. A little confidence could make him look like the top-end draft pick he was expected to be.
Outside of Ty Rattie, there may be no player getting a better opportunity than Tobias Rieder. Now an NHL veteran, Rieder has moved around the NHL as a bit and been a journeyman. In Edmonton, he’ll be expected to offer the same qualities he brought to Arizona and Los Angeles (penalty killing and speed) but also produce points playing next to Leon Draisaitl and Milan Lucic. With Draisaitl, he’s got plenty of experience, both having played for team Germany together.
Rieder was signed to a one-year deal at $2 million. In many ways, this is a show-me contract that could turn into a long-term deal if he produces. He’s got two seasons with 34 and 37 points on his NHL resume so he’s shown he can score even if that wasn’t his primary role. Is a 45-point season out of the question? Not if he sticks with two players who should get 50 or more points. Sometimes being a third on a pairing that works means easy production — it’s that thinking which explains why Ty Rattie currently has a contract.
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Every year, the NHL sees one player go through the process of a PTO and light it up in the NHL. Could Alex Chiasson be that player this season in Edmonton? Added late in the summer on a professional tryout with the Oilers, there are many reasons to think Chiasson could exceed expectations.
Chiasson is still young (28) and has a few NHL seasons where his point totals suggested he’s more than a hockey player who couldn’t find a contract. He struggled a bit last season but still had 18 points in 61 games and is coming over from a Washington Capitals team that had a much deeper roster than the Oilers did. Of his six NHL seasons, he’s had half of those seasons be double-goal campaigns and he’s already shown in camp that he can produce.
The question will be about opportunity. Will he get it here in Edmonton? He’ll have to show better than players like Scottie Upshall, Pontus Aberg, and Drake Caggiula. Should he win ice time over those forwards, who knows what he could do?