Season Preview: Edmonton Oilers
Despite getting three consecutive first overall picks from 2010 to 2012, Edmonton is still struggling to escape the NHL basement.
Offensive potential counted for little (again) last season, as the Oilers finished bottom of the West (28th overall) and finished with the worst defensive record in the NHL.
But the Alberta franchise appears to be trying to learn from its mistakes; attempting to address its depth issues this summer and seeking new ideas to improve the team, including hiring of noted analytics proponent, and fierce critic of the franchise, Tyler Dellow.
Taylor Hall had a career year (27 goals, 80 points) and Dave Perron put his concussion issues behind him to tie Jordan Eberle for the lead in goals (28) last season.
With another solid effort from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who continues his development, there are positives at the top of the roster. But the club will want more from 2012 1st overall pick Nail Yakupov. The Russian clashed with Head Coach Dallas Eakins last season, and has been the subject of trade rumours for much of the past 18 months.
Entering the final year of his entry level deal, Yakupov has the offensive talent to be a good goal scorer in the NHL but has some well documented issues away from the puck – with his horrendous -33 being something of an indicator of both his, and the teams, defensive woes.
General Manager Craig MacTavish made two significant moves this summer, in a bid to improve the lack luster supporting cast for the Oilers young core.
Centre Sam Gagner was dealt to Tampa Bay (who subsequently sent him to Arizona) for Teddy Purcell, whilst former New York Rangers forward Benoit Pouliot was signed to a 5-year deal.
Pouliot is widely regarded as one of the better ‘possession players’ in the league; and on a team who have struggled to keep hold of the puck, should be a key addition for the club.
2014 draft pick Leon Draisaitl is also expected to get a shot at making the team, but it has to be said the Oilers bottom six still needs work if they are to compete in the tough Pacific Division.
At The Back
Edmonton acquired Nikita Nikitin from Columbus during the offseason, and signed free agents Keith Aulie and former New Jersey D man Mark Fayne in a bid to bolster their troublesome blue line.
Veteran Andrew Ference is entering his second season with the club whilst Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz also agreed to one year extensions, with the former Wisconsin star seen as the a cornerstone of the teams defence moving forward.
Oscar Klefbom had a 17 game stint with the Oilers last season, and is likely to get further opportunities this year as the franchise seeks to put years of defensive ineptitude behind them.
Between The Pipes
Whilst attempts have been made to improve the blue line, serious question marks remain over the clubs goaltending.
Viktor Fasth was acquired from Anaheim in March, but played just 7 games for the Oilers last year and is entering the second year of the two year deal he signed whilst in Orange County.
The Swede made a meteoric rise during the 2012/13 season, but faces a much different challenge playing behind the Oilers defence and is still largely unproven with just 37 NHL games to his name.
Partner Ben Scrivens was a solid contributor in Toronto before a brief stop in LA last season. The affable 27-year old now has a prime opportunity to prove he can cut it as an NHL starter, but like Fasth is largely unproven.
With just 109 games between them, it’s hardly a tandem that Oilers fans can hang their hat on; but options are perhaps limited for a team who have struggled for nearly a decade, and are at the mercy of some harsh winters, when it comes to attracting new talent.
Perhaps an in season trade will offer up a solution, particularly if Yakupov continues to struggle and Edmonton look to move him – but for now Edmonton need to hope one, or both, of their puck stoppers finds some form and seizes the #1 role.
Behind The Bench
Dallas Eakins came to Edmonton with a big reputation, built during his time as Toronto Marlies coach.
While his candid interviews and dedication to fitness have won him many admirers; his first season as an NHL coach was somewhat humbling for Florida native.
The appointment of Craig Ramsay as an Assistant should help Ekains during his second season as Oilers Head Coach, whilst some useful offseason signings give Eakins a little more to work with this year.
Biggest Addition – Benoit Pouliot
Any player who can help the haphazard Oilers hold on to the puck, thus giving their dynamic offence a chance to actual lead games rather than chase them, is a massive boost to the franchise.
Biggest Loss – Sam Gagner
For the same reasons he was a key addition for Arizona, Gagner is a loss for the Oilers.
Experienced and talented with youth on his side; Gagner might have benefited from finally having some stronger role players, like Pouliot, around him. An impending no movement clause forced Craig MacTavish’s hand, with the Oilers GM preferring Teddy Purcell’s play-off experience to the Ontario natives.
Key Man – Justin Schultz
The 24-year old is still learning his craft, but a gifted offensive defenceman is essentially to the clubs future if they are to utilize the bevy of talented forwards at their disposal.
Schultz will be a key figure on the clubs powerplay and transition game this season, and it would not be surprising to see MacTavish working on a long term deal with the defenceman.
This Seasons Chances…
It’s hard to see the Oilers making the play-offs this year. Or next. But with a young core, some good prospects and an improved roster, the club at least appears to be getting itself on track.
It is still likely to be a tough road in the short term, but there is little doubt Edmonton has the firepower to compete if/when they can plug the holes at the back.
Posted on September 10, 2014, in Edmonton Oilers, Hockey, NHL, Season Previews 2014 and tagged Benoit Pouliot, Dallas Eakins, Edmonton Oilers, NHL, Sam Gagner, Season Preview. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.