In mere hours, Edmonton’s 2017-18 NHL season will get underway. After a decade of darkness, they’ve got great expectations. Here to talk all things Oilers, we’ve got Shona, Sunil, Ryan and Patrick.
Part one of our two part series begins today and will wrap up tomorrow.
Contestants ready? Gladiators ready?
1) The 2016-17 Oilers finished the year with 103 points. They took out the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs before ultimately succumbing to the Anaheim Ducks in round two. Can they repeat (or better) this feat in 2017-18? Why, or why not?
Shona - I think they can repeat the feat. This is based solely on the fact they haven't changed any of their core pieces from last year. Yes, the defense is a bit wobbly, but the Oilers have had a wobbly defense for as long as I can remember. However, I'm pretty sure that Oilers fans are expecting a bit more this year. I just don't see it happening. The Oilers team hasn't changed very much over the off season, so unless something gives in the division, I don't see the Oilers doing a lot better, but hey they could surprise me. I'd like that.
Sunil - I’m not overly confident that they will have the same level of success as last season. A lot will have to go right. For one, they’ll have to hope that their key players, including McDavid, Talbot and Klefbom will be as healthy as they were. Their top six forwards - McDavid, Draisaitl, Eberle, Lucic and Nugent-Hopkins - all played 82 games last year. Maroon played 81. Their three best defencemen – Klefbom, Sekera, Larsson - missed a total of five games between them. Depth is an issue for this team, and there isn't enough talent to fill-in if injuries do arise.
Secondly, they’ll need to find a way to replace the offence that Eberle provided. Through training camp, we haven’t seen someone emerge to grab a spot on the right side, which is definitely concerning. And the fact that Draisaitl might start the season on the wing, and that Kelly might get a contract has raised a few red flags about the teams procurement strategies.
Third, they need to replace Sekera’s minutes, and I remain skeptical that Nurse and Benning can handle the load. Especially on special teams. Hopefully those two can continue to progress, but it’s an unnecessary gamble that management has made when the team should be in a win-now mode. Not faith-mode.
The other thing in their way is the competition in the Pacific, which has improved. Both Calgary and Arizona improved their defence. San Jose still has productive players and plenty of offence. And Los Angeles should be better with a new coaching staff and Quick back in the fold.
Ryan - They absolutely can top last season, and the reason for that is Connor McDavid. That said, at least in terms of their regular season point total, I don't see it happening. Everything went their way last year, especially injuries, and I wouldn't bet on that happening a second time. McDavid is good enough on his own to keep them near the top of the Pacific Division but, in the end, I see them finishing with a point total in the mid to high 90s, and then hopefully they can get hot and win a couple rounds in the playoffs.
Patrick - Can they? Yes, easily. Let's not forget that they also would have beaten the Ducks had goaltender interference been enforced. McDavid should still be getting better, Klefbom should continue his ways and Cam Talbot might be able to avoid having his leg tugged this time around.
As for the regular season, the Kings, the Coyotes, the Golden Knights and the Canucks are all going to be really bad. Just by playing these teams so many times the Oilers are going to accumulate a lot of points. The 103 points they got last year really should be a hurdle rate. That being said, a long-term injury to one of Klefbom, Talbot or McDavid could completely torpedo the season.
2) Connor McDavid posted an impressive 100 point season en route to the Hart Trophy. What's his ceiling this year?
Shona- I think his ceiling will depend on what the rest of the division looks like. However, I would expect that it's higher than 100 points. He seems like the type of player who figures out the opposition and takes advantage of that. Let's say he increases production by 10%, that'll give him 110 points on the season. I may be entirely wrong and the opposition might have figured McDavid out and we'll see his points total drop, but I doubt it.
Sunil- Sky is the limit. Seriously, he’s not even in his prime yet. If he’s healthy, I can see him surpassing 103. And if the league starts to call more penalties, and our first powerplay unit gets more ice time, look out.
Ryan - If he stays healthy I could see him getting close to 115. Especially if the NHL keeps calling penalties like they did during the preseason.
Patrick - Connor McDavid has no ceiling. The only reasonable point expectation is 'a lot'. He's one of those players like Sidney Crosby or Peter Forsberg where you could never predict what they were going to do with the puck. They make you question it as it's happening and then shut you up a few seconds later. Because I can't predict what they'll do 2 seconds into the future, I most certainly can't suggest there's a cap on the amount of points.
3) What's more likely to happen: Leon Draisaitl grabs hold of the second line and settles in nicely, or we see Draisaitl spend the majority of his time alongside Connor McDavid?
Shona - Based on what we've seen so far, I think McDavid and Draisaitl playing together is more likely. That seems to be the pairing the Oilers coaching staff are defaulting too in tough situations. I would like to see the other though. Two lines capable of producing consistent offense would be fantastic.
Sunil - I think he’ll split his time between his own line and playing wing with McDavid, depending on the game-situations. They’re a great combination, and I can see the coaching staff hastily putting them together the second they’re desperate for offence.
The team really needs as much of its talent playing the minutes when McDavid isn’t on the ice. Draisaitl needs to be one the premier players and hopefully he takes another step in his development and be that driver. I just don’t see enough in his game and his numbers that indicates he can produce without a high-end talent with him.
Ryan- At some point, the Oilers are going to need Draisaitl to take over the team's second line. For this year though I expect the Oilers to shuffle Draisaitl around a lot depending on how badly the Oilers need a goal and what match-ups the opposition is looking for, so I suspect that we'll see him on McDavid's wing more often than not.
Patrick- I think we'll see a bit of both. This season I wouldn't look too much into line combinations at practice. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Strome, Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi are going to see time on at least two lines this year. Draisaitl and McDavid are extremely lethal together, either you put them on together when you're down by a goal or keep them together all game so you're not down by a goal in the first place.
Our roundtable discussion concludes tomorrow where our panel will discuss Patrick Maroon, the Pacific Division, and the second season. Click it or ticket.