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2021 Season Preview

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NHL: Colby Cave Memorial
RIP Colby Cave
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

I won’t lie, it is shocking to me that we’re on the verge of 4 Oiler’s game by next Monday. Two back to backs against Vancouver and Montreal and our 56 game season is ready to go!

First, let’s go back to the last season opener roster to see how we’re doing. We played our first game on October 2nd, 2019 in a 3-2 win against the Canucks.

Forwards

Nygard-McDavid-Neal

Draisaitl-RNH-Kassian

Granlund-Haas-Chiasson

Khaira-Cave-Archibald

Nygard ended up playing 9 minutes that game so it’s fair to say his reign as a Top 6 winger wasn’t a smashing success. Neal is also not being currently considered a Top 6 option. Granlund and Haas never cemented themselves as bottom 6 players either. Colby Cave had a tragic and untimely death. The good news is that Kassian did enough to go from being a 2RW to a 1RW this season.

Defence

Nurse-Larsson

Klefbom-Bear

Russell-Benning

I really do hope it goes well for Benning in Nashville. The big difference is that we no longer have Klefbom (who sounds like he hasn’t had a good nights sleep since this home opener, maybe before). The gamble on Bear paid off!

Goalie

Smith

Smith had a good season and was one of the reasons we became a playoff contender. I don’t doubt that at all. He has also been on a 3 year decline due to aging. I’m sure he still works out hard, eats well and does everything like a pro but age is age.

Now it’s time to visit a projected lineup for tonight

Some big changes. No one can argue our forwards are not better than a year ago. We have a healthy McDavid as well (he was coming off a near career ending injury last year, this offseason he spent training with Austin Matthews and is in good health). I often wonder how Peter Budaj feels being the practice goalie for those 2?

Kassian has since been promoted to first line which is a bit baffling to me. I cannot name a playoff team that would have him in the first line? Yamamoto came in and was almost a .ppg player for his 27 games. We signed Dominik Kahun for Top 6 duty and that is a great signing. McDavid gets to start the season with a legit Top 6 player in RNH (both guys he started with last season are not Top 6 players so we’re halfway there!). Ennis is just a great addition with his versatility. I cannot see him sticking on the 4th line. Jesse P is the big X Factor. If he can reach his potential there is a job waiting for him on the top line with McDavid. It would also push Kassian to bottom 6. In a perfect world, that would give us a legit Top 6 with 2 very good lines and a very good bottom 6. In some ways, our 2 first rounders (JP and Yamamoto) having strong seasons would go a long way for us!

The D is a different story. I’m not sure it is better than last year’s D? I know arguments can be made that they are better and all the arguments are fair. I would argue this group can move the puck better. I’d also argue that they are in no way better defensively. I’d argue we are worse at defending the puck to be honest. When you look at our Top 4 it is a classic Oiler move where everyone is slightly above where they should be. Nurse is now the Number 1 but he is not a legit Number 1 D. Bear is now a top pair D man but he has yet to play 100 NHL games. Jones has played 60 games in his career but is also in the Top 4. Larsson is the only guy that is in the right spot. He’s a legit Top 4, #4 D. The problem with stretched out D’s is that when our first injury hits, then you have guys really playing out of their comfort ranges. Eg. what happens if Nurse gets injured early?

Do you have to play a certain number of games to be considered a legit Top 4? Of course not. Would I feel better if more than half the Oil Top 4 had more than 1 season under their belts, of course I would. I’d be even happier if they had legit experience (and success) in their roles.

Our bottom pair is always good because we like to stockpile bottom 6 D. I’d be fine with Bouchard and Lagesson there. I was not a fan of the Russel extension personally as I felt it was time to move on. A lot of people seem to think this will somehow save us in the expansion draft. I plan on asking that very question after we lose a good player to the Kraken.

Goaltending we have the same duo. We, as of this morning, don’t have a legit 3rd goalie. I think that’ll change later today but we will see. I’m totally fine with Koskinen as a tandem goalie. He’s actually excellent at that role. However, he needs to be paired with an equally good goalie (or better) and he is not. We have 56 games in roughly 120 days. The most back to backs in the North Division. We need a stronger goalie to share with Koskinen. In a perfect world, both our goalies would play about 28 games.

The North Division

Due to the state of the world, we have a new North Division. I cannot remember being so excited for a regular season in my life. The rivalries, the back to backs and all Canada all the time is amazing!

It is also one of the weakest looking divisions I’ve seen. No cup contenders and no tippy top teams. Canada averages 1 or 2 playoff teams a season and hasn’t won a cup since 1993! There are no Lighnting, Avs, Bruin’s or Golden Knight’s here. I think this will give Leafs fans a real false sense of superiority and they will be planning parades before a first round exit. Top 4 in the division go to the playoffs. Nothing would surprise me here. Oil could finish 1st or 7th. Leafs go in as the favourite but that is not a perfect team. A lot of people think the Oil will do very well but I’m quite concerned about weaker goaltending and weaker defending. I do think we’ll make the playoffs this season. If we want to be a cup contender (and I do think we’re close) then here is what I think needs to happen:

McDavid, RNH and Drai continuing doing what they do.

Kahun settles in around a .5ppg pace in Top 6.

Yam settles in around a .7ppg pace.

JP moves his way to top line and is around a .7ppg pace.

Bear has no sophomore slump.

Jones has no sophomore slump

Nurse proves he is a legit 1 and can handle the minutes.

No back injuries for Larsson.

We make a trade for a goalie before the trade deadline.

Move Kassian to bottom 6.