If you can forget Edmonton’s 5-2 loss at the hands of the New Jersey Devils yesterday, I would bet you that you’re pumped up about the return of hockey season. That’s good, so are we. The Oilers surely want to forget last year’s 78 point finish after finishing at 103 points the year prior, now can they do it?
There’s a lot of questions surrounding the Edmonton Oilers this year, and our panel of Copper and Blue contributors ready with the answers. Contributing to our roundtable are all of your Copper and Blue favourites including Shona, Coopsie, Corey, Czechboy and Patrick.
This is the first of a three part series.
Question: The Oilers are coming off what could only be described as as disappointing 2017-18 season. Finishing with just 78 points (36-40-6) and a full 20 points out of the playoffs, what is the biggest thing that will need to happen in order to find the playoffs in the spring?
Shona: Well, it would be super nice if they could put together more than one or two lines that look to be of NHL quality on a consistent basis. But I’d really settle for re-evaluating this ludicrous thought process which equates one good or decent season with success going forward. The flip side of that thought process for the Oilers is to write one bad season off as just an anomaly. You really can’t have it both ways and at an NHL level you can’t wait until x players has multiple bad seasons to start evaluating how you want to shore up that position.
Another thing I think might really help is to find someone who has a new perspective. I’m not sure they’ve done this, but they’re currently a bunch of guys sitting in a room telling each other all the same things. Those things haven’t worked before and they’re all super surprised they don’t work now, but they have no diversity in opinions.
I’d also like Talbot to have less of a shit year. *shrug emoji*
Coopsie: We all know the story. Talbot was fantastic in 2016/17, in my opinion, the team’s co-MVP with Connor McDavid, as he finished fourth overall in voting for the Vezina trophy. On the other hand, Talbot struggled mightily during the 2017/18 season. In particular, Talbot struggled in the first half of the season where he had a save percentage barely over .900 and a goals against average hovering around 3.
Talbot’s play did improve in the 2nd half of the season and that was reflected in improved numbers, however, at the same time, to my eye, his play in the 2nd half was still lacking. Talbot never looked confident in the net, was seemingly sliding around on his knees more often than in the past and was still leaking soft goals (although not to the extent we saw in the first half). With that said, to me, one additional primary negative factor was that Talbot simply wasn’t coming up with big save when the team needed it, something he did with regularity during the prior season.
As we all know, goaltending is the most important position in hockey and poor goaltending is extremely hard to overcome in today’s NHL. The bright side is that the stats show that last season was the clear outlier for Cam Talbot and “regression to the mean” would indicate he should have a much better 2018/19 season.
Add in a healthy Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson, a defensive group coached by Trent Yawney and an improved team penalty kill (much of Talbot’s struggles were on the PK) and Oilers fans should be optimistic.
Early signs are very positive as Cam Talbot had a fantastic pre-season – he looked calm, compact in his movements and confident in the net while showing plus rebound control and letting in very few weak goals. Talbot threw in some highlight real saves and, importantly, was back to making important saves at the right times.
Other keys to the Oilers’ success: the health of Connor McDavid and the top 4 defence, Matt Benning being able to handle 2nd pairing minutes and special teams.
Corey: I think the biggest thing has to be special teams. The Oilers were atrocious both on the powerplay and the penalty kill in 2017-18. The team wasn’t particularly great at evens either. But without poor special teams play, it would have been just a meh season, where fans may have at least been strung along by the possibility of a late surge until mid March or so. Instead, the team was never really in the playoff race at all. I don’t see a ton of improvement at even strength happening, with a largely similar roster (maybe a couple young guys can step up), but, due to an overhauled coaching staff, large strides on special teams seems like a realistic area of growth.
Czechboy: One thing? I don’t think there is one thing. This team is built on hope and is a house of cards. Short answer - Talbot needs to win the Vezina.
Long answer - Leon needs to become Malkin and carry a line. Talbot needs to be close to .920. So does Koskinen. McDavid needs to win 2 of the 3 scoring categories (goals, assists and points). There can be zero injuries on Defence. Chia needs to get a 4th Top 4 Dman. Sekera needs to not come back at all this season and confirm that early on so we can use the LTIR room. One of Jesse, Ty or Kailer really need to light it up and get an ‘Eberle 50 to 60 points’. Lucic needs to get 50 points or go to line 3/4 and dominate. Then, whoever replaces Lucic, needs to get 50 points.
Patrick: Goaltending and Special Teams. Get those to even average levels, and McDavid can handle the rest.
Question: Ty Rattie has had himself a fantastic preseason this year. Will he gel with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the top line? If yes, for how long?
Shona: He’s probably going to be on the top line. I’m not sure he belongs there, but there is a pretty well docum ented benefit from playing with excellent players. If he can stay out of the way of the better players on the ice and learn where to be to support them, I see him spending quite a bit of time there. If he can’t learn, then he gets bounced really quickly. I’m not 100% sure if Rattie can modify his game long term. I’d say give him a month and see how that goes.
Coopsie: Ty Rattie has already shown offensive chemistry playing with McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins. This was apparent in their trial at the end of last season and has been solidified during this year’s pre-season. Of course, it’s tougher to produce when the regular season starts, however, Rattie has the high offensive hockey IQ to know “how to play with McDavid”.
While Rattie isn’t a fantastic skater, one doesn’t need to be a plus skater to play with McDavid. What Rattie has shown is great timing, the ability to be in right place at the right time by timing his entries into the scoring areas (getting there at the right time is more important than getting there fast). Additionally, Rattie has shown the ability to give McDavid space on the ice and, importantly, to get McDavid the puck, both in transition and in the offensive zone. Rattie isn’t a line driver and he knows that so, when he gets the puck, he doesn’t have it for long – he’s not carrying it through the neutral zone, he’s looking to get it to his linemates in transition. In the offensive zone, when the puck comes to him, he uses his quick release to shoot or quickly gets the puck back to one of his linemates.
Coming in to the preseason, based off of last year’s results, I had little doubt that Rattie would be able to produce offensively with McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as well as help his linemates produce. What I was skeptical about is Rattie’s ability to play without the puck in all three zones and not be a drag on his linemates. The numbers show that, while the trio scored a lot of goals last year, they also got scored on a lot. In addition, their possession numbers (a better indication than goal share during small sample sizes) were close to negative, a rare occurrence with McDavid on the ice.
Given the foregoing, I had trepidation about the line’s success, however, Rattie has seemingly improved in some important areas. Firstly, from accounts, Rattie is coming into camp in great shape. Yes, we hear that every year about players but conditioning has been an issue for Rattie in the past. It doesn’t seem to be this year. Further, his skating seems much improved and he is able to get to the right areas at the right time.
I’m still not completely sold on Rattie being a long-term option for McDavid’s right wing as I’ll need to see the trio not give up almost as much as they get during the regular season but, from my view of the exhibition games, their dominance offensively should lead to less defensive zone time and, once in the defensive zone, improved defensive awareness and skating should help limit goals against.
Rattie has been a different player throughout pre-season. His skating looks much improved and he has been a material contributor to the line and not just a passenger riding the coattails of high-end players.
I am cautiously optimistic.
Corey: I don’t necessarily see why not. He’s a skilled guy, great junior numbers, decent, if not spectacular AHL stats. None of this adds up to being locked into a full-time role as a top line NHL forward. But, can Connor and Nuge make him look good? Sure. Do the Oilers have enough depth of scoring to have three studs on a line and still get decent production from other lines? Absolutely not. So, here we are. You don’t need to be a complete player to succeed as Connor’s winger, you just need to finish enough of the ten-bell chances you’ll inevitably get, in order to stay on his line.
Czechboy: Yes. He’s definitely exceeded all expectations in preseason. Came back in great shape. Scored at every level. Good draft pedigree. Led preseason in goals and seems to be a very good compliment to RNH and McDavid. I love how Ty celebrates his goals as well. Scores them and skates away like it is no big deal at all. Like he was meant to do this. However, how long till the coach pulls out the blender and puts Leon in that spot? There were already whispers about making RNH the 2C on the team. They should give Ty a 10 game tryout on that line. My concern is that if he doesn’t stay on line 1, where does he fit in? He feels like he will either get 50 points in the NHL or be in the AHL and playing in the Extraliga next season. I really hope he lights it up.
Patrick: I still don’t think it’s a great idea, but I’m starting to open up to having Rattie there, as long as Nuge and McDavid can cover for the rest of his game. Shooting talent is really important, and is often neglected. If he can make his chances count frequently, the scoring will be a net positive. If he’s not scoring though, get rid of him. It’s the only thing he might be good at, and if he’s not scoring, he’s useless.
Thanks to all of our contributors.
Don’t miss Part II (Monday) - 2018 first round draft pick Evan Bouchard and goaltender Mikko Koskinen
AND! Part III (Tuesday) - Connor McDavid and the second season