1) We're still in the early days of a new season but are you seeing anything that makes you think the Oilers might be better than you thought?
Alan: Yes. Connor McDavid. He's a freak, he's superhuman, and I figured he might emerge as the best player in the world by the end of this season, but didn't think it was likely to be true at the very start. He's a machine. I haven't seen the updated season stats since the Hurricanes game last night but I believe through the first three games his scoring chance for/against ratio was 17-2 while the entire team when he is off the ice was 14-20. His team relative rates of possession, high danger attempts, goals for and basically anything else you want to evaluate are obscene. He's a god. If Edmonton has more success than I anticipated this year, it will be because he hoisted the boulder that is this franchise and carried it to prominence in a display of near mythical awesomeness. The only other thing that I believe has possible improved the potential for Edmonton making the playoffs is how terrible the Kings and Ducks look early on. It's early, but they've both been brutal and those two teams falling off in a big way opens a door that didn't appear possible a few weeks ago.
Jeff: It was encouraging to see goals last night from Anton Slepyshev (his first career goal) and Tyler Pitlick (his fifth career goal). This would like to make me think that secondary scoring might be on the upswing this year, but we're through just four games, and I can't say this with any degree of certainty. Fortunately, Connor McDavid is still healthy, and maybe Cam Talbot has the jitters behind him.
Sunil: The performance of Connor McDavid has me thinking that his talent just might carry this team, and all of its glaring flaws, higher up the standings. I’m not convinced that this is a playoff team, but if McDavid continues to drive the offence like he has over the first four games, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve also been impressed by the play of Adam Larsson, and I can see how this player might be able to reduce the amount of shots and scoring chances against. His skating is better than I thought it would be, he’s good along the boards, and he’s been able to complete passes to the forwards through the neutral zone (!!).
Shona: No because I’ve fallen for this trap before. The Oilers have some early success and I start to hope and then bam by December I’m a desolate black hole of despair.
Ryan: I’m looking at this a bit like Shona is, with a ten times bitten, eleventh time shy approach (that’s how the saying goes, right?). Connor McDavid’s start to the season has been absolutely amazing and it’s easy, fun even, to get swept up in all of that, but if I’m being honest most of the things I thought were question marks are still question marks after four games, so I’d have to say no, the Oilers aren’t better than we thought. The Oilers are who we thought they were.
2) Try to make some sense of the Oilers' right side. Is there a combination that the Oilers haven't tried yet that you'd like them to? Do you think they'll find something that works or is this going to be a season long game of musical chairs?
Alan: The only way to make sense of the right side is that Peter Chiarelli is either an idiot, or he chooses to listen to idiots, which probably makes him one too, so those might be the same thing. Giving away an NHL player in Yakupov for no immediate help, passing on proven reliable veterans like Parenteau on waivers and letting Versteeg slip through his fingers are each individually bewildering. Collectively they are gross misconduct. They had the option to have depth and actively chose not to. Caggiula's injury keeps Draisaitl at centre mostly which means you're handing top six minutes to either a rookie who is overwhelmed in Jesse Puljujarvi or Zack freaking Kassian. Top. Six. Minutes. It's foolish and they are fools for letting themselves get to this position. Jonathan Marchessault is killing it in Florida...just saying. Not sure if anyone mentioned him last spring...maybe I'll go back and look sometime. As for what I would try, I'd put Eberle with RNH and try to stabilize a 2nd line that has looked pretty lousy for the most part. I'd put Puljujarvi with McDavid since most of the game is played in the offensive zone when 97 is on the ice and I think that's where Puljujarvi can actually survive right now.
On defence there's not much they can do based on what they have. I think playing Russell's pairing with McDavid is brilliant. They have a real problem with Nurse and miss Davidson terribly. Honestly, Montreal is Montrealing with Zach Redmond by healthy scratching him despite glowing reviews on his play in the pre-season because Sergachev. I'd be offering them Reinhart for him right now to get another good right-handed guy in here that can bring far more to the table than Gryba. a Davidson-Redmond 3rd pair when BDavy gets healthy would be dreamy.
Jeff: There is no sense to be made of the Oilers right side. You've got Adam Larsson holding it up top, Kris Russell trying to keep all the tomatoes in the bag, and a rotation of Eric Gryba and Mark Fayne. Normally I'd vouch for Fayne to play 3RD, but he's got Darnell Nurse on the left side to work with, and for whatever reason, 25-6 seems to work better than 25-5. Bring me a healthy Brandon Davidson yesterday.
Sunil: I don’t get how an NHL team could be short on good-to-average wingers. There’s such a deep pool of them, always available at a reasonable cost, yet the Oilers have somehow managed to reach a shortage of them. I’d like to see Eberle reunited with Nugent-Hopkins, with Pouliot on the left. I’d keep McDavid with Lucic and potentially rotate in one of the younger wingers, say someone like Pitlick, who skates well and should benefit from playing on the top line. With an offensive driver like McDavid on the roster, the Oilers should be looking to spread out the talent across the lineup, similar to what Pittsburgh has constructed for a lineup that includes Crosby and Malkin. I’m also expecting the Oilers to rotate young Draisaitl on right wing in specific tactical situations (offensive face-offs on the right side), similar to what McLellan did with Pavelski in San Jose. The other issue here is that the powerplay still needs a right shooting winger, which should’ve and could’ve easily been addressed in the off-season. But now they’ll have to rely on the trade market, a process that I don’t trust the Oilers with.
Shona: I’m pretty easy to please. They have a couple combinations that almost work. And quite frankly we’ll never know if they’re actually going to be able to work when they’re being changed every five minutes. Musical linemates irritate me. Give almost works some time to see if it can actually work.
Ryan: I love some of the other answers to this question because it shows how big of a mess the Oilers are. When I wrote the question I was thinking about the right wing position, but both Alan and Jeff rightfully took the opportunity to mention the right side of the defence too. I guess I should change my answer to touch on both as well.
Up front, yeah, I think they’ll fix it eventually via trade; the pieces they’ve got aren’t going to fit, no matter how many different ways they try and put the puzzle together. And the sooner that’s realized, the happier we’ll all be. On the blue line nothing is going to change, at least nothing of significance. It is what it is, and that’s not good enough, but I don’t see a solution on the horizon.
3) Bakersfield played their first game of the season last night. Todd McLellan mentioned this yesterday as a reason why Jesse Puljujärvi started the season with the Oilers. What are your thoughts on sending the rookie down to the AHL for a little while?
Alan: I think given the moves they made to deplete the NHL roster on the right side, they basically had no choice but to keep Puljujarvi up for a while. I don't have a problem with giving him the 9 game tryout, but they don't really have anyone in the AHL that is going to come up and bring what Puljujarvi can offer the NHL line-up anyway. Edmonton's AHL-level forward prospects are terrible. They'd really have benefited from Parenteau or Pulkkinen to give them some options. Maybe another player finds their way on to waivers that would make JP more expendable, or if Caggiula comes back, they likely move Draisaitl there. The AHL is the right place for Puljujarvi right now. He might need a whole season, he might only need 40 games, but today Bakersfield is where he belongs and I hope he's there by no later than the day after game #9.
Jeff: Normally I'd have him on a plane to Bakersfield right now, but the Oiler right side is so...Oilers-y. For the development of PJ, yeah, send him to Bakersfield if he's not gonna play. Does it create a hole in the Oilers lineup? Eh, not one that can't be filled by Slepyshev for now, at least. Zack Kassian's in your top six, and that wasn't supposed to be how it goes. Could use a Versteeg type player to help smooth some things out.
Sunil: There is no reason why a young promising prospect like Puljujarvi should not be developing his skills, and adjusting to the North American game, in the American Hockey League. Through training camp and the early parts of the regular season, he’s played alright, but he won’t get the ice time he needs to develop. It also puts the Oilers in a good spot when it comes to ELC’s, which have to be managed well to ensure long-term success. The list of great players who spent time in the AHL, or other development leagues, is long enough to convince me that there is zero harm in sending Puljujarvi to Bakersfield.
Shona: Sure, if they think it will help him develop, send him down. However, the Oilers should be studying what they have in Bakersfield and moving in pieces to help their players improve. If the smaller ice is an issue, then make sure the coaching staff is capable of successfully leading that learning curve. Don’t just send him down and hope for the best. That doesn’t seem to work very well for the Oilers.
Ryan: I’m one of these crazy guys who thinks players are best served by not being dropped into the deep end of the pool and being told to swim. So yeah, I think he could benefit from some time in the AHL. In the short term that could hurt the Oilers because they have zero depth on the right side (see the question above for more on this subject), but that can’t be Puljujärvi’s problem, he needs to be playing in a role where he can compete on a nightly basis, that’s what’s best for his development, and that role is in Bakersfield not Edmonton.