It’s been a long time coming for the Edmonton Oilers, but they have finally assembled a roster that will get the job done after all this time. The drought for winning the division title is at 34 years, the longest in the NHL. The New York Islanders are close behind, having won their division a year after the Oilers’ last one.
The two top scorers in the world, a No. 1 ranked power play, forward depth, an underrated goaltending duo, and an overblown defensive group. You may have been led to believe one thing, but the stats say something else. The Oilers will be a top-10 team in the league and just beat out the Vegas Golden Knights for the division title.
The general consensus is that the Golden Knights will win the Pacific Division. After that, there are many mixed opinions on how the order will be. Some have the Oilers coming at second, while others have them missing the postseason or just sneaking in. The middle of the pack is anyone’s guess regarding the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Seattle Kraken, and Los Angeles Kings, while the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks are set to be bottom-feeders once again.
Golden Knights Don’t Live Up to the Hype
Regardless, almost everyone is sleeping on the Oilers to take the division over the reigning division champions from 2019-20. That year saw the Oilers finish only three points behind the Golden Knights in a season that was cut short by 11 games for each of them. Who knows how that could’ve played out with the tear Leon Draisaitl was on and Connor McDavid just recently returning from missing time.
Keep in mind that the Oilers had three fewer home games than the Golden Knights and one more regulation win.
The big loss here is Vegas’ Vezina Trophy winner in Marc-Andre Fleury as they traded him to clear up cap space. The cap space was shed and replaced by some forwards, but they failed to get a No. 1 centreman, their biggest need for some time now. Sure, the top line of Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, and Chandler Stephenson look great, but I would put Stephenson at a third-line centre position at best on a playoff contender. The wingers on this line are top-tier, and the chemistry that they all have has cushioned the blow of not having a centreman of a higher caliber manning the first line for the Golden Knights.
theScore ranks this line as the fourth best league-wide heading into this season, while the Oilers’ top line of McDavid, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Zach Hyman rank fifth. That’s just one opinion, but Stone’s Selke-worthy play year-in and year-out is definitely a factor.
The Golden Knights solidified their depth at forward, but it’s a high-risk, high-reward scenario they set up for themselves. They added Nolan Patrick and Evgenii Dadonov to their third line. This doesn’t mean they’ll stay there, just that they should start there.
Maybe Patrick plays himself into the first-line centre conversation, or maybe his injury problems continue and the Golden Knights are without a third line centreman. Even when healthy, the former No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft has yet to break out and prove why he was picked so high. He just barely reached 30 points in each of his first two seasons in the NHL and took a massive step backward last season, recording nine points in 52 games, while being a minus 30 player.
Dadonov’s first three seasons back in the NHL with the Florida Panthers saw him perform very well. He scored at least 25 goals each season. It was when he joined the Ottawa Senators last season where things went south. He scored 13 goals and only 20 points on a Senators team that didn’t get shut out one game and in the highest scoring division last year.
He is once again in a lesser role with the Golden Knights, with younger inexperienced players beside him. He may return to form, but those stats came while playing with elite talent on the top lines in Florida with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
A hit to the Golden Knights’ forward group is Alex Tuch missing a significant amount of time to begin the season after recording 33 points in 55 games last season.
Oilers Additions Give Them Edge
Oilers’ Forward Group
The most prominent addition of the offseason was winger Zach Hyman to round out the top-6 and finally create some stability on the left side of McDavid. The chemistry of Puljujarvi and McDavid has already been well on display and carrying over from preseason, looks even stronger. Hyman, who has played with skilled forwards in Toronto, will have no problem fitting in with these players. Hyman has been deployed on the penalty kill alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and tested out on the power play.
The other key additions at forward include Warren Foegele, Derek Ryan, and Brendan Perlini. These additions are huge upgrades from the players filling those roles last season. They take the place of Dominik Kahun, Alex Chiasson, Jujhar Khaira, and Gaetan Haas.
Ryan is a proven reliable depth centreman, while Perlini is primed to return to the goal-scoring talent he was in his first two seasons in the NHL. If he is able to score at even a fraction of what he did in the preseason on a line with Devin Shore, then fans should be happy. Hyman is the obvious upgrade to Kahun, who spent a good chunk of time in the top-6 last season beside fellow German countryman Draisaitl.
Along with all the upgrades, the Oilers still have McDavid and Draisaitl, projected to score 150 and 125+ points, respectively, in 2021-22. Their power play has only gotten stronger with Puljujarvi or Hyman slotting in net-front over Chiasson or James Neal.
Defence: Oilers vs. Golden Knights
The Golden Knights’ six defencemen will be the same group as they iced last season, with Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo leading the way. Quietly doing great work on the blue line is Alec Martinez, a stud defensively, and posted 32 points, outperforming Pietrangelo.
Martinez put up a season that shouldn’t be repeated this season if Pietrangelo stays healthy. Martinez only received all of those opportunities, 5-on-5 and on the power play because Pietrangelo missed 15 games. Martinez ranked fourth on the team in power-play points with nine. For the Golden Knights’ sake, the hope is that Pietrangelo can bounce back and return to the player that he was with the St. Louis Blues.
Theodore is a dark horse in the Norris Trophy race, and if his progression continues, should play even better than he did last season when he was on a 65-point pace over an 82-game season.
The Oilers bring in 3-time Stanley Cup winner Duncan Keith, Cody Ceci, and promote Evan Bouchard to the NHL in a full-time role. They parted with Caleb Jones, Adam Larsson, and Ethan Bear.
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Keith is a clear upgrade to Jones, who can be compared as they were included in the same trade. Keith brings experience that Jones didn’t possess, a key part of what the Oilers were missing from their team the past couple of seasons on the back-end. Keith’s role will be reduced in Edmonton and allow him to have more favourable matchups and not play as much, while as an Oiler, Jones struggled to even stay in the lineup for a significant amount of time.
“Cody Ceci isn’t as physical as Adam Larsson, he moves the puck better.”– Jason Gregor
It’s true, Larsson was a big loss, but there wasn’t much the Oilers could do about him leaving. They filled the open spot the best they could and we shall see how it goes. As far as Bouchard and Bear go, Bouchard is ready to play in the NHL, so Ken Holland used Bear as a trade chip to upgrade at forward after a down year by Bear. The penalty kill may suffer a little, but the newcomers could surprise and step up under a new system in Edmonton.
Underrated Oilers Goaltending Duo & William M. Jennings Trophy
The best goaltending duo in Vegas is no more after the trade that saw Fleury go to Chicago. Fleury and Robin Lehner combined to win the William M. Jennings Trophy in 2020-21. Lehner is no stranger to the trophy, as he was a winner in 2018-19 with the Islanders alongside Thomas Greiss.
The Jennings Trophy is awarded to the goalies from the NHL team with the least amount of goals against at the conclusion of the season. The requirement for the goalies is to play a minimum of 25 games that season. That translates to 30 percent of the games in a full 82-game schedule. So for a 56-game schedule, the games are shortened so that 30 percent of the games are 17. Lehner just made the cut, playing 19 games for the Golden Knights after battling injuries throughout the season.
He has only suited up for 22 regular season games for the Golden Knights since being acquired at the trade deadline in 2020. If Lehner is able to stay healthy and play at his career average of a .918 save percentage (SV%), Vegas should be fine in net, as it is his time to take the crease. They will also have to rely on Fleury’s replacement Laurent Brossoit who is coming off a strong year in Winnipeg. His career has been so up and down it’s hard to predict what goalie we will see this season.
Mike Smith and the Oilers goalie tandem continue to be underestimated (“Ranking the NHL’s goalie tandems from 1 to 32: Why the Islanders reign supreme”, ESPN, Sept. 28, 2021). Mikko Koskinen was forced into a role he wasn’t ready or able to perform at his best in. Smith returned from injury after a tough start to 2020-21 and played his way to seventh in Vezina Trophy voting. He will hopefully be able to provide the Oilers with 50 plus games this season in net, replicating his success of last year with a 2.31 goals-against average (GAA) and .923 SV%.
Koskinen is more reliable in a backup role, and that’s where he should stay if all goes well. If he plays around 25-30 games for the Oilers this year and the games are spread out, he should provide the team with the best results. After his bad start, Koskinen settled down and returned to the level of play he displayed in 2019-20.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. As a fantasy hockey veteran, he will be informing you on the best weekly options for your matchups to begin the week and mid-way. He will also keep you in the loop for weekly news and updates on the Oilers & Flyers.