Sophomore Oilers: Realistic Expectations

There are a handful of players on the Edmonton Oilers who will be returning for their second season with the team. For these players, their first year was one that ended in disappointing fashion but at the same time was a year that has to be viewed as extremely promising. They joined a successful team that made the playoffs and has one of the best young talents in the NHL as their leader.

Following Connor McDavid, many new faces played significant roles for the Oilers and they’ll be counted on to not only repeat their performances but in some cases, improve on them.

Kris Russell

Russell was a lightning rod of controversy in 2016-17. Now that he’s signed a healthy extension with the Oilers, he’ll be expected to not only reproduce the defensive effort he’s become known for by people who like him, but he’ll be expected to turn some of the naysayers into believers.

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kris Russell (John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports)

Offensively, Russell brought the team very little. With only one goal and 12 assists, the Oilers organization will be the first to tell you he’s not expected to produce numbers on the scoresheet, but behind the scenes, to be worth the money he was given this summer, he’ll need to start chipping in a little.

Russell signed a four-year extension worth $16 million. If he doesn’t again lead the league in blocked shots and if he doesn’t provide big and effective minutes on the Oilers blue line in a defensive shutdown role, many will immediately start to rate his contract as one of the worst on the team. Russell would do himself a huge favor by potting four to five goals and add another 15-20 assists.

Realistic Expectation: 3 goals and 16 assists for 19 points, team leader in blocked shots and top-three in the NHL. 21-22 minutes on ice per game. 

Milan Lucic

The minute Milan Lucic signed his long-term deal with the Oilers last summer, two things happened. First, fans were elated to have a guy like Lucic on the team. He was the type of physical and offensive player the Oilers felt they’d been missing for over a decade. Second, they immediately criticized the length and size of his deal.

The reality is, Lucic hovers right around the mark of a number of $6 million players. Kyle Okposo, Jordan Staal, Gabriel Landeskog, Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene, Tomas Plekanec and Joe Pavelski all sit in that salary range and produce a similar amount of points. In the NHL, $6 million buys you 45-55 points per season.

Lucic is a pretty consistent 50-point player who can improve your power play and provide a physical presence. There should be no reason he can’t get another 20 goals and 50 points and if things click with a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who is looking for a rebound season offensively, or Leon Draisaitl stays the Oilers second-line center most nights, Lucic could get 55-60 points.

Something that isn’t quantified is the feeling Lucic gives his teammates by sitting in that locker room and wearing the same jersey they do.

Realistic Expectation: 22 goals and 54 points. A second-line left wing and top-two on the team in power play goals. 

Matt Benning

Not many believed Matt Benning would come in and handle the NHL as well as he did. A college free agent signee, he played significant minutes down the stretch for the Oilers and was relied upon heavily in key situations. He finished the season averaging just over 16 minutes per game, but that number should rise in 2017-18.

With Andrej Sekera on the shelf to start the season, players like Benning and Darnell Nurse will be expected to carry the increased load and something suggests Benning is up to the task.

Darnell Nurse, Matthew Benning
Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Benning finished 2016-17 will three goals and 12 assists. He was plus-minus, plus-eight and he had the confidence of the coaching staff.

Realistic Expectation: Six goals and 17 assists for 23 points. More special teams time on the ice and an increased average time on ice per game. 

Drake Caggiula

Another college free agent signing, Caggiula was a player some might thought would see NHL action early and others believed we’d be among the Oilers first call-ups. Caggiula made the team out of camp last summer but an early injury derailed his momentum. He finished the 2016-17 season with seven goals and 11 assists in 60 games.

(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

With the departure of Benoit Pouliot, Caggiula might see more ice time in the top-six. The Oilers have Patrick Maroon and Lucic ahead of him at the left wing position but in his sophomore season, Caggiula could move around the lineup a bit and get moved up from time to time based on line chemistry.

With the Oilers signing Jussi Jokinen (a very versatile forward) Caggiula won’t necessarily be sentenced to a fourth line or bottom-six role.

Realistic Expectation: 12 goals, 15 assists for 27 points. Increased time on the power play and most likely an energy role in the bottom six. 

Jesse Puljujarvi

The Edmonton Oilers are hoping for big things out of Jesse Puljujarvi this coming season. After starting with the club in 2016-17 (his rookie year), the Oilers moved him to Bakersfield in the AHL where he found much more confidence and started to produce more frequently.

Jesse Puljujarvi (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

After trading Jordan Eberle, the Oilers are banking that Ryan Strome can come in and get 45-50 points and that where Strome may fall short, Puljujarvi will make up the difference. He is the Oilers future at right wing and they need a productive sophomore season from the Finn if the organization doesn’t want to sign a player midway through the season or look to move Leon Draisaitl onto the wing more regularly.

The Oilers brought in Jokinen to not only add depth but mentor young Puljujarvi as he translates his AHL efficiency to the NHL.

Realistic Expectation: 15 goals, 20 assists and significant time in the top-six. 

Adam Larsson

When Adam Larsson came to the Oilers, he wasn’t given a fair shake. No one expected he’d be an equal return for the departing Taylor Hall, but what wound up happening was the Oilers improved their offensive totals from the previous season and Larsson was a steady hand on the blue line. Ironically, after giving him up, the New Jersey Devils are in desperate need of a player just like Larsson.

Adam Larsson and Cam Fowler (Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

Offensively, you know what you’re going to get out of the gritty Swedish stay-at home defenseman.  He is consistently around the same totals every year. If the Oilers have another season where he’s continually useful on the top-pair with Oscar Klefbom and plays big minutes every night, he’ll be worth every penny of the $4.16 million the Oilers are paying him.

Realistic Expectation: 5 goals, 15 assists. 20-22 minutes per game and staying healthy, paired with Kelfbom making them one of the most cost-effective top-pair blue line tandems in the NHL.