1. Can the Oilers finally claw their way out of the basement of the league?
Before answering that question we have to look at last season.
Last season many analysts looked at the Oilers roster and figured they weren't going to be a playoff team but assumed they'd at least finish somewhere between 20 and 25. As we know that did not happen in fact for most of the season the Oilers seemed to be fighting Buffalo for the 30th spot.
The assumption that with the addition of "good" leadership, the team would be able to turn the corner. The biggest question mark for most analysts seemed to surround Dallas Eakins and not for the obvious reason of being a rookie coach in the NHL but because this was the Oilers' third coach in 4 years.
By the end of November the Oilers had 8 wins 17 losses and 2 OT losses and were 8 points out of the coveted 20th spot. The only thing that saved them from being DFL in the league was an even worse Buffalo Sabres team.
Fast forward to the end of the 2013/14 season. The Oilers had made some big moves, they moved Linus Omark, Devan Dubnyk, Ilya Bryzgalov, Nick Schultz and Ales Hemsky. They acquired Matt Hendricks, Ben Scrivens, Mark Fraser, Viktor Fasth and bunch of Steve Tambellini's Trademarked Majic Beans. In the off season they lost Sam Gagner, Ryan Smyth (retired) and Anton Belov but acquired Nikita Nikitin, Teddy Purcell, Benoit Pouliot, Mark Fayne and Keith Aulie. Overall it looks like a wash with the exception of maybe defense and goaltending which both look a few points stronger but not by much.
Some of the biggest failings of the off season though are at the position of centre. The Oilers got rid of a centre but never really replaced him. It would appear from the way things are shaking out in training camp that Oilers centres for this season are going to be Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, Boyd Gordon and one of either Anton Lander or Mark Arcobello. With the centre position being such an important spot in the lineup this is obviously a fail since 1/2 of the centres on the team aren't proven NHL calibre centres.
On right wing the Oilers have Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov (LW or RW depending on Eakins' mood), Teddy Purcell and again one of either Lander or Arcobello. On left wing the Oilers have Taylor Hall, Benoit Pouliot, David Perron and Matt Hendricks. The 13 & 14 wingers include Luke Gazdic and Jesse Joensuu. It's a very similar lineup to last season with the exception of some depth on the 3rd & 4th lines. I'll give this a pass but just barely.
Defensemen knew they Oilers biggest weakness over the past few seasons and took full advantage of it. The guys that resigned over the summer will either no longer be with the team come trade deadline (see Jeff Petry) or they trapped the Oilers into a bridge deal that only they could win (see Justin Schultz). The rest of the crew include Nikitin who is probably be over paid, Mark Fayne, Andrew Ference and Matin Marinicin/Keith Aulie. This was a minor improvement with the potential for complete and udder destruction. Again the defense is barely a pass.
Probably the biggest improvement since the begining of last season is the goaltending. Both Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth are unproven number one goalies but as a unit are probably an upgrade from our goalies last season. This is pass.
Taking everything into consideration the Oilers have a F on Centre, a C on Wing, a C on Defense and a B on Goaltending. That kind of report card that may be enough to get you out of highschool but chances are you're going back to upgrade. This team has the potential to keep us interested past January but reality will sink in come late February. It also means that there is a good chance they do finally find themselves off of the cold basement floor and reaching to open the door to the main floor. If I had to guess I'd say the Oilers end up 23rd overall this season and when you're an Oilers fan that's a huge ask from your team.
2. Can Arcobello handle the second line centre job?
If you asked me this question a week and half ago I'd probably have said yes. Ask me this question today and the answer is "I don't know". In many people's eyes Mark Arcobello seemed like the obvious answer to be the 2L centre but with the way the Oilers have been pushing Leon Draisaitl I just don't see Arcobello in a 2L centre role. With Boyd Gordon the obvious choice for 3L centre that leaves Arcobello fighting for a spot on the 4th line. As we witnessed last season that wasn't the best place for him even though he performed pretty well considering his line mates.
Unless the Oilers realize that the best route for Draisaitl is to allow him to develop some more and send him back to junior Acrobello is destined for the 4th line or the waiver wire.
I have no doubt in my mind that Arcobello can handle a second line role. He's done it in the past and performed well but he will be swimming upstream the whole way in order to secure that role.
3. Can Justin Schultz live up to the "Norris Trophy potential" prophecy of MacT?
The best answer to this question is peanuts as in "Good Grief". I remember the day Schutlz signed with the Oilers, I was helping my sister move and had to listen to Lowetide's weekend show on my phone (this was prior to the Low Down with Lowetide), when it was announced that Justin Schutlz chose the Oilers LT played Hallelujah hymn for about 30 seconds. It was a big deal for the Oilers to sign a highly sought after UFA like that.
The following season was the lockout and Schultz lit up the AHL with his offence. When the NHL season finally started in January, Schultz continued his offensive play which earned him some bonuses. It was then that is struck me as to why Schultz had chosen the Oilers to sign with and not New York or Vancouver or any other good team in the league. If he had gone to any other team, his potential to reach his bonuses would be less. Signing with the Oilers gave him the opportunity to maximize his bonuses while auditioning for a future big payout.
It is the audition for future big payouts that may actually motivate Schultz to live up to that the "Norris Trophy potential". This will probably be Schultz biggest year of his short career. Performing at a high level will do nothing but make him more money and if he wants to hit that $6M/season this is the season he has to perform like that.
I know I'm really making him out to be a money driven ass but that is not my intention. What I am getting at is that in order for Schultz to earn a long term contract for big dollars this is the season he has to take a big leap forward.
Does he have that potential in him? From what we've seen so far I have to say no.
Can he ever get there? If the right motivating factors are there he may be able to but it is a huge mountain to climb.