The Edmonton Oilers are less than 24 hours away from opening their season and things are starting to come into picture. The team held their last practice before the season starts earlier today and the roster is pretty much set for opening night.
Oilers today:— Reid Wilkins (@ReidWilkins) January 12, 2021
If you read my previous articles on ideal forward and defensive groups you will notice that things are almost where I would expect them to be. The main difference is that I had Kassian and Puljujarvi swapped...but that is something I expected will happen somewhere down the line. Otherwise, this is the 2021 edition of the Edmonton Oilers.
So, with this in mind, I decided to take to present some of my Craig MacTavish BOLD Oilers predictions on the upcoming season. From goaltending changes to breakout stars I have a few obvious and some not so obvious thoughts on what could occur....
1. Mike Smith Is Replaced By The Midway Point
My first prediction is also the most obvious one. It was clear from the get-go that Ken Holland did not want to bring back Mike Smith unless it was absolutely necessary. After the club lost out on the Jacob Markstrom sweepstakes Smith was the de-facto plan, much to the dismay of Oiler fans.
The expectation going into the season is that Smith will have a much more limited role on the team with Mikko Koskinen taking on the starting position. Smith will be 39 in March and is coming off a brutal play-in performance that cost the Oilers dearly. I expect Smith to get a few games in but, at some point, we will see him either shipped out as part of a deal or relegated to a third-string position.
The loss of Anton Forsberg on the waiver wire eliminates the possibility of the team’s third-string in usurping Smith as I don’t believe that Skinner is anywhere near NHL-ready.
If I were a betting man I would say a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for either Antti Raanta or Darcy Kuemper.
2. Connor McDavid Eclipses 95pts & Wins Hart
This is the type of prediction that would be met with a shrug and “of course” in a normal year but that doesn’t ring true for the 2021 shortened season. With teams only playing 58 games this would mean that McDavid would have to score at 1.6pts/game which is completely doable for the Oilers captain. He has scored a 1.3pts/game clip for his entire career to date and he had 97pts in 64 games last season.
Add to the fact that he will have much better linemates than he had last year and that he will be playing against Canadian teams and I think 95 is completely reasonable for someone of his calibre. This will lead to him running away with the Art Ross.
This season will also cement McDavid’s status as the absolute league MVP and the Hart trophy will stay in the Alberta capital for two consecutive seasons for the first time since Wayne Gretzky won the award in 1986 & 1987.
If you want a really bold prediction, I will say that McDavid will put up 32 goals and 64 assists for 96pts in 58 games.
3. Jesse Puljujarvi Flourishes Next to McDavid
Yes, I know I have been beating this drum for quite some time, but hear me out. Puljujarvi is the exact type of player you would want next to McDavid. He is a big strong player who has a shot-first mentality and is oozing with skill. He isn’t a player who will be able to tow his own line but he is the perfect complimentary player who can benefit from the smooth play-making ability of both McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Now that he is another year older and more mature I think he is in the best position to be successful. His confidence was shot in his previous stint with the Oilers and with that built back up again, Puljujarvi is coming in with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.
As I previously touched on at the start, Puljujarvi will get the start on the team’s third line but I don’t expect that to last long. A guy with the amount of skill that he has is destined to be a top player at some point.
In the spirit of being needlessly specific, I predict that we will see Puljujarvi promoted to McDavid’s RWer no later than February 23rd’s matchup against the Vancouver Canucks.
4. Evan Bouchard Is an NHL Regular By Season’s End
I am a huge fan of Evan Bouchard and the way he plays the game. He is an offensive defenceman who can move the puck like a madman and make plays you don’t expect him to make. The problem in his game has always been his skating but his time in Sweden this past year has shown that he has made ‘strides’ in that area.
When I was pondering what Edmonton’s ideal defensive pairing could be by season’s end I ultimately left him out of the top-six and labelled him as a wildcard player, which I thought was completely reasonable. The right-side of Edmonton’s defensive group is plugged up with quality NHLers like Bear, Larsson and Barrie and I couldn’t see anyone that Bouchard could potentially leapfrog.
With that in mind, I started to seriously think if the club could deploy him on his off-side to see how he handles it. The one true open spot on the lineup is the LD spot on the third pairing that will be fought for by guys like Kris Russell and Slater Koekkoek. I think Bouchard is more skilled than either of those players and, when he inevitably plays a few games, it will become clear that he is a much better option.
I foresee a Bouchard-Larsson pairing by season’s end.
5. Kailer Yamamoto Scores a Minumum of 20 Goals
The Oilers have not had a capable young winger capable of scoring 20 goals since they drafted Taylor Hall first overall in 2010. That will now change as Kailer Yamamoto will do just that in the 2021 season. This might be the boldest of all the predictions you will see here today but hear me out.
Yamamoto is another one of those shoot first players that you want to have in your top-six. He has insane chemistry with Leon Draisaitl and the addition of Dominik Kahun has the potential to pay off big time. In just 27 games with the Oilers last year he had an impressive 11 goals, so predicting 20 over the course of 58 games is not too big of a stretch.
This will obviously have some implications on his next contract this summer so I will also give a swing at that. Yamamoto will sign a long-term five year deal with the Oilers with an AAV of 4.5 million dollars.
6. Edmonton Will Finish First in the Canadian Division
You heard it here first, folks. The Edmonton Oilers will take home the title of “best Canadian NHL team” by finishing atop of the Canadian division. The reason for this being that this year’s iteration of the team is the deepest we have seen from the Oilers in over a decade. They have two of the best players in the league playing center, giving them the deadliest 1-2-punch in the league along with a great assortment of skilled wingers to supplement them.
Their defensive group has some question marks swirling around it but their young players have shown no signs of slowing down and Holland’s offseason additions have made them a steadier overall group.
The biggest question mark lies within the crease. Koskinen will handle the majority of starts this season and I, for one, don’t think we should be all that worried. The big Finn posted some impressive numbers last season that put him in the upper bracket of goaltenders and there is no reason to believe that he regressed all that much heading into this season. I also believe that Holland will make a move to strengthen this area sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, I can’t wrap my head around what a really good record would be in a shortened season so I won’t be providing one. That should cover my behind should I be wrong.
Those were pretty Craig MacTavish BOLD, right?
You can take each and every one of those predictions to the bank as I am 100% that each of them will come true by the season’s end. Don’t let me off the hook either. If even one of these predictions fail to materialize, which I don’t see happening, I want a relentless onslaught calling for my resignation to appear in my Twitter notifications.
In all seriousness, I hope everyone got some sort of joy from reading my rambling thoughts and I hope you are all just as excited for the season to start as I am!
Gimme your spicy taeks in the comment!