Connor McDavid (Andy Devlin/Getty Images)
The Edmonton Oilers improved in an instant by winning the draft lottery and landing Connor McDavid, but they’ve also gone out and acquired goaltender Cam Talbot and defenseman Andrej Sekera in hopes of changing their fortune. The Oilers might not be a playoff team this season, but expect them to be exciting to watch.
2014-15 Record: 24-44-14 (62 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 5th, Pacific Division
What To Expect: Oilers ownership knew the moment the organization won the
Connor McDavid lottery that their fortunes had changed overnight. Still, after trying for nine years to break the cycle of misery that saw Edmonton become a perennial lottery team, it was clear the franchise needed a new crop of decision makers to guide the McDavid era. Thus, the president of hockey operations, GM, coaches and scouts were swept aside to make way for new architects: CEO Bob Nicholson and GM-president Peter Chiarelli. The first stabilizing move Chiarelli made was hiring coach Todd McLellan, who led the Sharks to the playoffs six out of seven seasons. Chiarelli then shored up the blueline, signing
Andrej Sekera and dealing for
Eric Gryba, and fortified the crease with Rangers backup
Cam Talbot. His performance as the No. 1 this season will have as great a bearing on the club as McDavid’s — Edmonton’s goals against has been pitiful.
Despite its crop of first-overall picks up front, the Oilers’ offense ranked 26th last season. McDavid, who could surpass 80 points, will surely get the Oilers out of the bottom 10.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and
Jordan Eberle will get their usual points, and
Nail Yakupov will finally break through as a 50-point threat. The back end remains suspect but does improve with Sekera and Gryba. Sekera will play 20-plus minutes, and fans are hopeful he can reprise his 44-point season of 2013-14. Edmonton also needs a rebound year from
Justin Schultz. In banking on Talbot to rescue the goaltending, the Oilers place their hopes in a 28-year-old with 57 NHL games. He was an impressive 21-9-4 filling in for
Henrik Lundqvist, but starting is an entirely different challenge. There hasn’t been this much buzz heading into an Oilers season since the Wayne Gretzky years. With McDavid bringing fans out of their seats nightly and a young core beginning to turn the corner, Oilers faithful have every reason to be excited.
Best-Case Scenario: In the past three seasons, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames have bucked expectations and played above their heads to manage a post-season berth. So why not the Oilers? There aren’t many teams that boast the name-power the Oilers do in their top six, and their defense improved this off-season. It might take a wild-card spot to get into the playoffs, but they could very well push for a berth if they catch some breaks.
Worst-Case Scenario: The worst-case scenario in Edmonton isn’t missing the post-season. It’s not having Talbot go through weak periods or struggles. It’s not even McDavid going on scoring droughts or seeing a top-six forward fall to injury. The worst-case scenario would be if the Oilers show no signs of progress. Edmonton isn’t winning a Stanley Cup this season. They’re not winning one in 2016-17. But they can start to turn things around this season with hopes of becoming a contender within the next five years. That has to begin this season.
Who To Watch: McDavid has all the makings of an NHL star, but, as mentioned in What To Expect, Talbot’s play between the pipes could be a big factor in Edmonton. Over the past five seasons, Devan Dubnyk, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ben Scrivens, Viktor Fasth, Ilya Bryzgavlov, Richard Bachman, Jason Labarbera and Martin Gerber have all gotten multiple starts in Edmonton’s net. That level of inconsistency between the pipes is rarely a good thing. Talbot comes in after a stellar 2014-15 campaign and could offer the Oilers a more permanent fix in goal, which is something they need in a big way. Talbot’s sample size is small but he took the reins in New York during Lundqvist’s injury and helped the Rangers to a Presidents’ Trophy. Even if his numbers slip, he’s the best option Edmonton has and he’ll be relied upon heavily by the Oilers.
What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):
Click here for more detail on these predictions. This isn’t the year that the Oilers finally break through, but that day is coming. Getting a generational talent like McDavid gives the organization immediate credibility and an almost get-in-the-playoffs free card once he gets settled. That’s if he can play at the same level as another generational talent. Sidney Crosby played consistently above a five WAR level during his peak years and if McDavid can reach those heights the Oilers will be set. An average team is worth around 11 WAR combined meaning that a generational talent can take a team almost halfway there on his own.
But McDavid won’t be there just yet. Right now he’s projected for just above one WAR based on his closest comparables' (Crosby and Patrick Kane) rookie seasons. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him surpass that and if he can he’ll likely boost his teammates numbers in the process which could take the Oilers closer to the playoff picture. Still, there’s not much talent overall on the roster. The top six is gushing with the other young phenoms the Oilers have drafted over the years, but the bottom six forwards are thin. Same with the defense. Talbot should help in net, but it’s uncertain how he’ll fare going from the Rangers defense to the Oilers. Scrivens – who looked great on a good team once, too – drags the goaltending numbers down a fair amount, but the team should still be above replacement level in that department which is not something they could tout over the last two seasons. It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers fair this season. It’ll likely be a step in the right direction for the organization with a few wildcards that could go in their favour. But big things will likely have to wait.
THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.