The Edmonton Oilers are expected to take the next step in transitioning to Stanley Cup contenders after their final four finish last season. With the signing of Jack Campbell to improve their netminding and the re-signing of Brett Kulak, they’ve taken the necessary measures to ensure they’re stable defensively, but their main strength heading into the 2022-23 season will be their dynamic offense.
Because of that, let’s look at five Oilers who are likely to set career-highs in points next season — aside from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The two former Hart Trophy winners reached a new level of play in the postseason, finishing first and second in points, despite not playing the final round. They’re in the prime of their careers, and it’s almost automatic at this point that they’ll surpass their highest point totals. With that in mind, below are five other Oilers who have a shot of having career years in the 2022-23 season.
Evander Kane’s previous career high in points was 57 in 74 games in the 2011-12 season with the Winnipeg Jets. He joined the Oilers midway through the 2021-22 season in late January but missed half the season and needed time to adjust to the speed of the game. Still, he still recorded 39 points in 43 regular season games. He lit up the postseason when he scored 13 goals in 15 games and led the entire NHL. Additionally, Kane scored the third most goals in a series in franchise history, when he buried seven in the series against the Los Angeles Kings.
There’s no new news on his grievance hearing with the San Jose Sharks, but assuming he returns to the Oilers next season to start his fresh new four-year deal, it’s a safe bet that he’ll start where he left off, which was on the number one line right beside Connor McDavid.
With a full training camp and preseason to be in game shape when the season starts, and the abundant chemistry he’s built with McDavid, Kane should outproduce his career-high 57 points by a wide margin. If he stays healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to tally a 40-goal and 70-point season.
Evan Bouchard’s first full season as an Oiler was a slam dunk. He averaged 19:48 time on ice (TOI), had a 55 percent Corsi share and tallied 12 goals and 31 assists in 81 games, finishing 28th overall in NHL points by defensemen. There was a learning curve throughout the year, but by season’s end, he averaged 17.93 TOI in the playoffs, was steady on the second pairing with Duncan Keith, and tallied nine points in 16 postseason games.
On another note, Tyson Barrie is currently still with the team, but whether he’s with the club when the puck drops on Oct. 12 remains to be seen. If Barrie gets moved, without a doubt, Bouchard will get the promotion to play on the number one power-play unit. Even if Barrie isn’t traded, I feel by season’s end, Bouchard — with his howitzer of a point shot — will overtake the veteran defenseman on the power-play unit that finished third in the NHL last season. With more opportunity on the power play and another year older and wiser, I project that Bouchard will hit another career-high and register a 50-point season in his second full campaign in the NHL.
Kailer Yamamoto had a bounce-back season to some extent in the 2021-22 campaign, when he reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time and recorded a career-high 41 points. As a result, he was rewarded with a new two-year deal when he signed an extension with the club on Aug. 7.
His offensive game started to gain traction late last season. He had a tough start to the year with only five points in the first 20 games, but he finished strong with 14 points in his last 20.
What can we expect from Yamamoto next season? It’s been reported that McDavid and Draisaitl enjoy the small-statured winger on their line, and rightfully so. Yamamoto is feisty, retrieves pucks, and is a smart defensive player who fills in defensively when McDavid or Draisaitl leave the defensive slot (from ‘Kailer Yamamoto Signs Two-Year Deal with Edmonton Oilers. What Does It Mean?,’ Edmonton Journal, 08/03/22).
Yamamoto played 673.55 minutes with Draisaitl last season, the most out of any other forward on the team. With that in mind, we can assume that he’ll be the leading candidate to start on the second line with the former Hart Trophy winner. With the peace of mind of a newly signed two-year contract and the confidence knowing he can score 20 goals in hockey’s best league, a 25-goal and 25-assist campaign wouldn’t be out of reach for Yamamoto next season.
Zach Hyman set a career-high in points (54) in his first season in Edmonton. His transition to Alberta’s capital was seamless, and he looked comfortable from the get-go. He played in all situations — he led all forwards in minutes played on the penalty kill (136:34), he was fifth on the team in power play minutes (182:24), and he was fourth in forwards in 5-on-5 minutes (1098:01).
With a season under his belt with his new team, he’ll look to make an even bigger impact in the second season of his seven-year contract. The Oilers have a plethora of line combinations that make for a dangerous top-nine forward group, but Hyman will be situated nicely in the top-six with either McDavid or Draisaitl.
He ended the season playing the fourth most power-play minutes in 16 postseason games, and he’ll likely take the net-front presence role on the first power-play unit to start the year. Subsequently, Hyman could reach the 30-goal and 60-point plateau for the first time in his career.
Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi is a dark horse pick to set a career-high in points next season. He set a career-high with 36 points last season, and depending if you’re a member of his fan club or not, it was viewed as either a stellar season or that he underproduced given the number of minutes he played in the top-six.
He signed a one-year, $3 million contract on July 26 and avoided his arbitration hearing. I previously wrote that he should be given every opportunity to succeed in a top-six role from the start of the year, and he’s been training hard this offseason. Viima Hockey, who, according to their Instagram bio, describes themselves as “A unique individual coaching, from NHL stars to junior players,” released a photo of seven professional hockey players training, and most notably, Puljujarvi and Carolina Hurricanes’ star Sebastian Aho were in the photo.
The perfect scenario for Puljujarvi is that he walks into training camp full of confidence, starts on a line with McDavid, produces right out of the gate, and never looks back. The stars would have to align for that to happen, but it’s not completely out of the question. Puljujarvi has all the tools and skills to be an impact player, and if this is the season that he’s able to figure it all out, a 50-plus point season isn’t far-fetched for the big man.
The Oilers ended last season by scoring 65 goals in 16 playoff games, and with most of their key players returning for another run, their offense should be firing on all cylinders in the 2022-23 season. All in all, it should make for an exciting time in Oil Country.
What are your thoughts on the projected point totals of the players listed? Have your say in the comments below.