Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid Image by: Getty Images
Led by Connor McDavid, the Oilers returned to the post-season with a bang. But that comes with a new set of expectations for Edmonton to deliver upon.
The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the Edmonton Oilers.
Stanley Cup odds: 10-1
Key additions: Ryan Strome, RW; Jussi Jokinen, LW; Yohann Auvitu, D; Kailer Yamamoto, RW
Key departures: Jordan Eberle, RW; Benoit Pouliot, LW; Tyler Pitlick, RW; David Desharnais, C; Griffin Reinhart, D; Andrew Ference, D; Matt Hendricks, LW; Jonas Gustavsson, G
Can the Oilers get any better than this?
The Oilers have the reigning MVP and scoring champion in McDavid. Draisaitl just popped for 77 points. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson have established themselves as a minute-munching top pair. Cam Talbot just led the league in wins, minutes and saves en route to a fourth-place finish in Vezina Trophy voting.
The Oilers are a young team with many important players just entering their primes, but think about how much went right next year. Can McDavid be better than a 100-point scorer? Can Talbot play more than 73 games? Everything went perfectly for the Oilers. Whether they elevate from contender to championship-caliber team likely depends not just on their established stars, but also on how their other youngsters step forward. Can Darnell Nurse, for example, start to handle a bigger role as a shutdown defenseman? Can freshly acquired Ryan Strome, still just 24, realize the potential he never unlocked as a New York Islander? Does Kailer Yamamoto stick with the big club all year as a 19-year-old? Does Jesse Puljujarvi work his way back to the NHL and become a difference maker later in the season?
We know McDavid and Talbot and Draisaitl are the franchise’s pillars, but they’re already performing at elite levels, so the rest of the young core has to evolve now if Edmonton wants to win a Cup.
Success breeds confidence and the Oilers experienced that for the first time in more than a decade last season. It started at the top with Connor McDavid but carried through the lineup with personal-best seasons from Leon Draisaitl, Cam Talbot, Patrick Maroon, Oscar Klefbom, Zack Kassian and others. Under the direction of coach Todd McLellan, Edmonton has a vaunted attack that is multi-dimensional and features three potent centers. The additions of Ryan Strome and Jussi Jokinen bring more creativity. McDavid is still just 20. His best offensive seasons are still ahead of him. There doesn’t appear to be a defense capable of containing him over the long haul.
Talbot led the league with 4,294 minutes played in the regular season last year. That’s almost 72 full games, the most by an NHL goalie in one season since Cam Ward in 2010-11. And at 30, it looks as though he’s only getting started. Talbot doesn’t have a lot of mileage on the tread, having played more than 40 games just three times in 12 seasons, including just twice in the NHL. His composed presence will be a steadying influence in the years to come.
The injury that will keep Andrej Sekera out of the lineup for the first part of the season may have a domino effect that plays havoc with the defense corps in a subtle way. Klefbom and Adam Larsson have proven they can play the big minutes in a two-way role. But who replaces Sekera on the second pair with Kris Russell? And is the shot-blocking specialist Russell the right type of blueliner to have out there with a young Darnell Nurse or Matthew Benning? Can Eric Gryba or Mark Fayne really replace those important minutes on the third pair?
It will be interesting to see how teams choose to defend the McDavid-Draisaitl duo after they torched the league last season. If they’re on the ice together during 5-on-5 play, does that expose the second or third line? If McLellan has them centering separate lines, what happens if the opposing coach decides to primarily focus on shutting down the Draisaitl line and lets McDavid do what McDavid is going to do anyway? Is there a chance Edmonton becomes a one-line team that may or may not outscore the opposition?
THN’s PREDICTION: 2nd in Pacific Division, but with a trip to the Stanley Cup final. We still like the Ducks to win the division – they’ve done it five straight times and seem to just have the regular season thing down – but the Oilers will best them this time when it counts. They have their Crosby and Malkin in McDavid and Draisaitl, plus a nice mix of youth and speed plus brawn and grit. Bet on them clashing with the Penguins in the Cup final.
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