Happy Halloween. Let’s dive right in.
The Oilers had high hopes in 2019-20. Hoping to take a deep dive into the playoffs, those hopes and dreams were shattered once the club faltered in the play-in series to the Chicago Blackhawks in just four games.
Whenever the next season starts, the Oilers will no doubt look to take the next step towards success. With plenty of new faces in the mix, the Oilers will look for that perfect blend of current and new to make it come together.
Getting there is the tricky part. Can they have another year where the power play reigns supreme? Can the defence overcome the loss of Oscar Klefbom? What about in between the pipes? The Oilers will have Connor McDavid and their reigning 2019-20 MVP in Leon Draisaitl, but it takes more than two to tango. Others will no doubt need to contribute to push the Oilers to success.
With that in mind, here are three players that will go help define the season for the Oilers in 2020-21.
- With Oscar Klefbom likely out for an extended period of time due to a shoulder injury, Darnell Nurse instantly becomes the club’s number one defenceman. Nurse was second among Oilers skaters in TOI (avg 23:27 per game), and he’ll be asked to deliver the groceries from behind the blue. Nurse’s offensive capabilities aren’t in question, he’s gifted and he loves to carry the puck. The Oilers will be counting on Nurse’s defensive positioning and his ability to help break up plays in 2020-21 more than ever. Nurse was on ice for 71 goals against this season, the most of any other defenseman in the league. I’m absolutely certain he (and the Oilers) would love to trim that number by 5% or more in 2020-21.
- MIKE SMITH
The Oilers are going to need Mike Smith in 2020-21. The question is: how much, and can Smith bring the goods when called? Smith’s .902 SV% did not put him in the top 50 in goaltender SV% in 2019-20, and he’ll no doubt be looking to bounce back with even a couple of save percentage points higher than where he finished. We’re not yet sure how many games will be played in 2020-21, but I’d bet that Smith will play at least a third of the games scheduled. Anything over .910 would be a big improvement. After the last two seasons of finishing .898 and .902, can he find some gas left in the tank?
- KAILER YAMAMOTO
After getting called up to the Oilers late in December, Kailer Yamamoto burst onto the scene. Yamamoto was the right side of a killer line that was centred by MVP Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the left. The line couldn’t stop scoring. From the time he was called up, Yamamoto went 3-4-7 in 8 January games. The first round selection from 2017 finished the year with 26 points (11-15-26) in 27 total regular season games, even as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was eventually moved off the line. Yamamoto has a big chance to become the club’s premier right winger in 2020-21, can he continue to seize his opportunity?
If Darnell Nurse can emerge into a top defenceman, and if Mike Smith can pick up his game a bit, and if Kailer Yamamoto can keep the points coming after a successful 2019-20, the Oilers will be just fine. The season is not won or lost on the backs of these three players, but things will be a lot smoother for the Oilers if things work out the way they’d hope.