The Rest of the Tour:
The Winnipeg Jets
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Calgary Flames
The Ottawa Senators
The Edmonton Oilers had a span of three seasons in a row where they had the #1 pick in the NHL entry draft. With these three picks they chose Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nial Yakupov which seemingly sets them up for years to come. Add in 2008 1st round pick and former 34-goal scorer, Jordan Eberle, this team should have all the offensive firepower to score goals and keep up with the powerhouses in the west. Yet, the Oilers have yet to make the playoffs since there magical run in 2006 when they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven-games. By making a couple key blue-line and goaltending transactions, there is finally a sense of stability and well-roundedness amongst the organizations depth in all departments. Is this the year that Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and Yakupov break out and put the Oilers back into the playoffs?
The Oilers have not had a solid goaltender between the pipes since the early dynasty days in the 80’s. Aside from a couple of good seasons out of Tommy Salo, and one good year from Dwayne Roloson when he brought them to the cup final, the Oilers have been on the search for a franchise goaltender that can make a personal claim between the pipes for years. The Oilers had seven different goaltenders to suit up and play for their team. By far the most goalies to play for any other team last season. These number were not even inflated by injuries, but just poor play of every goalie in the system and uncertainly forced the Oilers to exhaust all options in the organization. They thought they had found their starter of the future in Devon Dubnyk, but after an 11-17-2 record they decided they were going to move on from Dubnyk and traded him to Nashville in exchange for depth forward Matt Hendricks. Then the Oilers made a couple more goalie moves by trading Ilya Bryzgalov to Minnesota and brought in Viktor Fasth and Ben Scrivens to be their goalie tandem of the future.
Scrivens played in 19-games for the LA Kings before being traded to Edmonton and he had a stellar 1.97 GAA. However, once traded to the far less talented Oilers his numbers dipped and he finished with a 3.01 GAA in 21-games with the Oilers. Fasth was brought in from Anaheim to help solidify a good 1-2 punch in net for the oilers for this upcoming season and looks fairly sharp so far in his limited pre-season action. In the 48-shots he has faced up until this point just two of them have beaten him. The Oilers are hoping for some good goaltending competition throughout the rest of camp to determine who get the start on night one when the Oilers play the first game of the regular season on October 9th when the Flames come to town. Although given the upgrades make on defense this offseason, the Oilers goaltending should expect to get a little more help clearing the front of the net and allow their goalies to see the puck.
I have already mentioned the Oilers getter deeper on defense which has been a huge struggle for this team the past few years and as the old saying goes “defense wins Championships”. The Oilers got better on the backend by adding Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne. Nikitin is going into his sixth season in the NHL and is ready to take on more responsibilities. Nikitin played in 66-game last season and was a +9 for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and also played in 5-playoffs games as well. The Oilers don’t have many players with playoff experience under their belt so Nikitin, though little experience, will be counted on to be a leader if they can make the post season. Fellow newcomer, Fayne, will also be relied on to bring leadership and experience to the group. Fayne plays a very aggressive defensive style game but is very smart in his own zone as Fayne has just 99-penalty minutes in 242 NHL games, and had just three penalties in 24-games in the New Jersey playoff run in 2012 that ultimately ended in a game six elimination at the hands of the LA Kings. The other defenseman the Oilers will rely on for leadership will be Andrew Ference. Ference has a Stanley Cup ring from his time in Boston, and also had a strong 2004 playoff run with Calgary when they were one-game away from winning the cup. He has played in 120-playoff games in his career and knows what it takes to win; as the captain and leader of this team he will need to instill a winning culture for them to succeed this season.
As for the youth of the team, a couple of Oiler defenseman will be hoping to breakout this year and make a name for themselves in the organization. Justin Shultz will enter his third year in the NHL and at the age of 24 he should be ready for a breakout campaign. Schultz was a highly sought after free agent out of college prior to the lockout season and hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations the Oilers had of him. Schultz had 33-points in 74-games last season with a poor -22 +/- rating. At just 21-years-old Oscar Klefbom is one of the Oilers best prospects poised to make the team out of camp. Klefbom was given a short 17-game audition late last season to see how he fairs next to NHL level talent. He managed to score just 3-points and was a -6 in his short season in the pro’s, but after a full offseason and a strong camp Klefbom hopes to solidify one of the final two or three spots on the Oilers blue-line. Darnel Nurse was the organizations 7th pick in the 2013 draft. With exceptional athletic ability Nurse is also trying to claim one of the final defensive spot on the roster. Nurse spent last season with his junior club Sault St. Marie Greyhounds where he put together a good year with 50-points in just 64-games. At 6’4 Nurse has the size to play with the big boys but given his raw potential he’s displayed so far in camp, he may be best suited to develop for one more season rather than risking his development as the team’s future elite defenseman prospect. Martin Marincin and David Musil are fully expected to compete with Nurse and Klefbom for a spot on the roster. Marincin, 22, played in 44-games for the Oilers last season and held his weight playing in the NHL. He had 6-assists and was just a -2 on a team that allowed its fair share of goals last season. Marincin and Klefbom seem to be in the biggest battle for a top-six spot on the Oilers bue-line.
There is no shortage of offensive talent on this team if they all can play to their fullest potential. Taylor Hall has seemed to take his game to the next level last season and will be looking to grow off last season where he scored a career high 80-points while tying his career high in goals with 27. If Hall can produce the way he has the past two seasons the Oilers will have a fighting chance this year. One year after taking Hall with the first pick, they once again finished last and ended up selecting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011. Nugent-Hopkins had a great rookie campaign scoring 52-points in 62-games, but followed up with a subpar sophomore season where he scored just 4-goals in 40-games during the lockout year and then had 56-point last season. Nugent Hopkins is now in his fourth season and will be heavily leaned on to produce as a major offensive threat on a line with either Eberle or Hall. Eberle is a former 34-goal scorer and will always be remembered by Canadians for his last second efforts during his international career, most notably against Russia in the World Junior Tournament in 2010 when he tie it up to send the game into overtime, in which Canada won and advanced into the gold medal game. He has experienced personal success his entire hockey career. In just four seasons I the NHL (not all full) he has managed to score 221-points for the club dispute its woes since his entrance to the league. Eberle, if healthy, will be expected to score 25-30 goals this season in Edmonton as a primary source of offensive on a line with Nuge and Hall.
As for secondary scoring David Perron looks to build off a pretty good first season with the Oilers. At 26-years old Perron will be entering his prime years in his career. Perron had a career-high 57-points including 28-goals which tied Eberle for the team lead. He will be relied on for secondary scoring in the top-six and as a big bodied player he plays a fairly good defensive game in his own zone. 2014 3rd overall pick, Leon Draisaitl, is expected to compete for the second line center job and considering the lack of depth at the positon he has a pretty high chance of making the team and he will be expected to produce right away to help this Oilers team get into the playoffs. After coming over from Germany Draisaitl played for the Prince Albert Raider of the WHL. In his rookie campaign he had 58-points in 64-games and followed it up with a staggering 105-point season this past year earning him a top-3 selection in the NHL Entry Draft. Unless Marc Arcobello, Anton Lander, and/or Bogden Yakimov can push him out of his spot, the Oilers fully intend on Draisaitl to be their second-line center this season and for years to come. A Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl 1-2 combo down the middle looks like a scary combination a few years down the road.
The Oilers shipped out Sam Ganger and in return got winger Teddy Purcell from the Tampa Bay lighting and signed Benoit Pouliot to a four-year $20 Million contract to add depth to their offense. On free agency day the Oilers were scrutinized by the media because Pouliot had not yet put up consistent enough numbers to receive such a lucrative contract, but at 28-years-old he will be looking to build on his playoff success he had with the Ranger last season with their cup run. Pouliot scored 15-goals last season and added another 10-points during the Rangers’ playoff run. As for Purcell, the Oilers are hoping he can return to pre-lockout form where he had a successful 65-point campaign on a line with Steven Stamkos. Surrounding a playmaking type player such as Purcell with goal scoring threats like Pouliot, Yakupov, Perron, Eberle, or Hall will enhance the ability of each of those players to find the back of the net more often. Another player who looks to regain a previous form and “superstar” status is Nial Yakupov. He was the 1st overall selection in 2012 and has not found his way just yet in the NHL. Coming off a horrid season which saw him spend a portion of the season on the fourth-line allowing his to register just 24-points in 63-games, far worse than his rookie campaign of 31-points in 48-games in the lockout year. Yakupov is entering a pivotal season in his career when his rookie contract expires and the Oilers will have to sign him next year, and if he produce poorly again, he will not get paid what 3rd overall pick Alex Galchenyuk will be paid come this summer. As for the bottom six Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon will be the experienced veterans while players like Marc Arcobello, Anton Lander, Luke Gazdic, Jesse Joensuu, and a few other young guys will pushing for roster spots to make this team.
This team certainly has the team on paper to compete for a playoff spot this year. But that will entirely depend on a few younger guys fulfilling their potential, and strong play all around from scoring-to- defensive help-to-goaltending. It’s been eight years since the Oilers have been to the playoffs and GM Craig Mactavish made the deal possible for them to acquire experience an depth, key aspects that have been lacking from this young Oilers squad. If their top guys can stay healthy all season long, they should be fighting for a playoff spot down the stretch.