We’re less than a week away from the YoungStars tournament in Penticton, BC. Preseason games come quickly afterwards, and the regular season isn’t far off.
The Edmonton Oilers will look to build on an impressive 103 point season, one that saw them make the second season for the first time in ten years. The Oilers fell short of the Pacific Division title by two points. Can they get to the top this year?
Short answer: yes. Here’s a list of ten things that can give them a big push to the top.
- Connor McDavid needs to continue to do Connor McDavid things. The 20-year old phenom scored 100 points in his first full season in the NHL, and he’ll be leaned on to do something like that once again. He’s the best player in the NHL, and he’ll need to be nothing less than that in 2017-18. As Lowetide would say, ‘Music!’ As Connor McDavid goes, so go the Oilers. There is not enough space on this page to express what McDavid’s worth is to the Oilers. He’s Lennon to the Beatles, sand to the desert, and the bun to the hot dog. The top line of Patrick Maroon, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl was a force to be reckoned with last season. Speaking of Leon Draisaitl...
- Leon Draisaitl will need to run the second line. Leon had a great season in 2016-17. He played his way to 77 points, surely nothing to sniff at. Leon Draisaitl compliments Connor McDavid like cheap beer goes with a bonfire, but it’s time for Leon to grab hold of the second line centre position and make it his own. A steady Draisaitl on line two will give the Oilers two really strong lines, which is essential for the Oilers going forward.
- Someone will need to step up on the right wing. Jordan Eberle is sent to Long Island (well, Brooklyn really) for Ryan Strome. If Leon Draisaitl Does The Right Thing and is moved to the second line, the Oilers will have their choice of who can play top six. Jesse Puljujarvi, Drake Caggiula, Ryan Strome, Anton Slepyshev, even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Zack Kassian could find themselves up the lineup on the right side. The Oilers will need to plug someone in, who will step up?
- Milan Lucic will need to be better 5 on 5. Six more years on this deal, eleven 5v5 points in 2016-17. No matter what line he’s on, he’s got to start producing more at even strength. We need power play Lucic to transform over to even strength Lucic. Make it happen, you guys.
- Cam Talbot needs to repeat his 2016-17 success. I’ll take another glass of whatever Cam Talbot had in 2016-17. Another .919 SV% will help propel the Oilers to lofty heights in 2017-18.
- Give Cam Talbot a night off every now and again. The disastrous signing of Jonas Gustavsson in 2016 likely helped contribute to Cam Talbot’s excessive 73 game workload. Some faith in Laurent Brossoit (or any capable backup) will go a long way to help keep Talbot fresh.
- The Oilers’ defence will need to overcome the loss of Andrej Sekera. Edmonton was eighth overall in shots allowed last season, which is about 20 places better than where they were from 2010-16. While Sekera recovers from ACL surgery, Oscar Klefbom will no doubt be asked to shoulder the top line. Kris Russell and Darnell Nurse will round out the left side.
- Kris Russell will need to block a lot of shots. That’s a large part of what he did in 2016-17 to earn that four year extension of his, and he’ll have to do it a lot this year. We’ve gone over many times about Russell’s shortcomings about giving up the blue line and how there’s trouble getting the puck up the ice. I’ll take the next best thing at this point and that’s starfishing the puck away from the offence and to keep blocking shots. At least the puck isn’t getting on net this way.
- Edmonton needs to avoid further serious injury to their key players. Obvious statement is obvious. If 97 is gone for more than a game, look out. The Oilers didn’t fare too badly in 2016-17. Darnell Nurse was shelved for a while, and Tyler Pitlick missed the rest of the season after a torn ACL. The Oilers begin the 2017-18 season with Andrej Sekera on the shelf, can they avoid serious trouble from here on out?
- The Oilers power play must continue to click. Fifth overall in the league with a 22.9% success rate, only the Sabres (!) Maple Leafs, Capitals and Penguins fared better in 2016-17. Only the Sabres failed to make the postseason out of this group, and the Oilers ought to keep it up in order to give them every chance to stay atop the Pacific.
There’s a real chance the Oilers can make some serious waves in their push for a Pacific Division crown this year. They’ll need their star players to be stars, and a little luck goes a long way. A Division Championship would be Edmonton’s first in twenty-six years.
Is this the year?