Hard to believe we are already into August. For myself, thinking about how over a month of summer has gone by is an unhappy thought. Luckily, all I need to do to cheer myself up is think about we are that much closer to training camp and then, opening night. One thing I always look forward to in seeing in August is nhl.com’s 30 in 30 preview. It’s a great way to recap the moves of each team and breakdown the overall look of each team as we approach training camp. Today I want to take a closer look at the Edmonton Oilers and provide my own analysis, questions, and things to look forward to going into the 2015-2016 season.
We’ve all heard this part a dozen times. The Oilers were awful last season. They were supposed to be better. They weren’t. Optimism was at an all-time low and there seemed to be no end in sight. Then the Oilers won the draft lottery and everything changed. Within a week Bob Nicholson was named chief executive officer and vice chair of the Oilers Entertainment Group and Peter Chiarelli was named GM, replacing Craig MacTavish. Shortly after that, Todd McLellan was named as head coach. At the Draft we saw Chiarelli taking calls and making deals. Griffin Reinhart, Cam Talbot, and Eric Gryba entered the fold, and of course, some kid named Connor McDavid. Free agency saw highly sought after defenceman Andrej Sekera signed to a reasonable deal. Boyd Gordon was dealt for Lauri Korpikoski in a move that didn’t make much sense until Mark Letestu was signed. In short, the team has come a long way since Craig MacTavish stood in front of the media, stating he only imagined a couple roster changes before next season.
30 in 30’s questions centred on if McDavid can meet expectations, if MacLellan can get the team back on track, and if the team can return to the playoffs. My answers respectively are; yes if you don’t think he’s going to score 100 points, yes, and potentially (more on that in a bit).
To delve a bit deeper into the question marks surrounding this team, here are my three questions.
Will Cam Talbot be an effective NHL starter?
Talbot was a great choice for the Oilers to pursue. He is 28 and has a chance to grow with this team. He had arguably the best mentor possible to learn the craft of goaltending in Henrik Lundqvist, and has put up very promising numbers. The biggest question mark there is the small sample size. Oiler fans remember all too well when Ben Scrivens came in and looked like he was ready to be a starter, then watched him plummet hard this past season. Talbot also had one of the best defences in the league in front of him. Where he once had Girardi, McDonagh, and Staal now has Sekera, Klefbom, and Schultz. Talbot will see more shots and higher quality shots coming at him this season and in order for this team to improve he has to be able to stop the puck.
Will Taylor Hall stay healthy?
Before this last season, there was a very good argument to be made for Taylor Hall being one of the best LW in the game. He had scored 80 points in 75 games in 2013-2014 and 50 points in 45 games in a shortened 2012-2013 campaign. This past year saw Hall once again injured, missing large chunks of games throughout the season. This may eventually be McDavid’s team but right now Hall is still the offensive catalyst of this team. After returning from injury near the end of last season, he was producing on a third line with Anton Lander and Andrew Miller. This season he will have many more choices with RNH, Yakupov, Eberle, and of course McDavid as potential linemates. If Hall can stay healthy it isn’t unreasonable to think we will see his first 30 goal season this year.
Can Justin Schultz be an effective NHL defenceman?
Let’s start by saying what we already know. Justin Schultz is bad at defence. Watching him play top pairing minutes night in and night out was in a word, painful. Schultz is however good at moving the puck and jumping in offensively. With a veteran coach in McLellan and veteran players in Fayne and Sekera we should see Schultz utilized better and with fewer minutes. Look for Schultz to be used in a second pairing role with plenty of offensive zone starts and on the top powerplay. I look forward to what the kid can do on a McLellan powerplay.
Four Reasons to be Optimistic
What else is there to say? All I will add to this is reasonable expectations are key. All signs point to McDavid dominating the NHL for years to come but next season he will still just be a rookie. Rookies make mistakes, have to overcome the grueling NHL season, and the struggles that come with playing against the best players in the world. Time will tell how quickly we can count McDavid among those players.
I didn’t like many things that Eakins did, but one of my biggest complaints of the coach was how he utilized his weapons on the powerplay. Under Todd Nelson we saw a re-engized PP and players, most notably Jordan Eberle drastically improve their production. Next season the Oilers will have Todd McLellan behind the bench. One thing that has always been associated with McLellan's Sharks were their PP, which has been one of the best in the league over the past 5 years. With Hall, Eberle, RNH, McDavid, Pouliot, Yakupov, along with guys like Sekera, Schultz, and Klefbom, there are plenty of options at the new coach's disposal.
First Glimpse at the Future of the Defense
I used Justin Schultz as one of my questions but in reality almost the entire Edmonton defense could be included there. Sekera was a great pickup but the defense is still an eclectic grouping of inexperienced players not ready for top pairing, and aged veterans in decline. Though it may not be consistent we should see flashes of brilliance from our young D core. Oscar Klefbom was a lone highlight from last year. He quickly solidified himself as the best on the backend and didn't just survive expectations but in many ways surpassed them. Reinhart and Nurse should both see at least some time on the NHL roster. There are still many who are unsure of Reinhart, specifically because of what was given up for him but he is a big man with a big shot and is surprisingly mobile. If he can put those things together at the NHL level the Oilers will be desperately appreciative. The only player who might prevent Reinhart from making the team is Nurse. I loved watching Nurse at developmental camp. Even though it was a no contact scrimmage that didn't stop Darnell from showing his physicality. The kid obviously wants to be on the roster opening night and it might be tough to tell him no.
The Fans are Having Fun Again
Alright, this one is less about the team itself but I would argue equally as important. Things are much different here in Oil Country than they were at this time last summer. Aside from the few unflappable optimistics this was a team that was dead in the water before the season started. Now, fans are excited. People are talking about playoffs as a true possibility instead of an unattainable myth. It's been 30 degrees outside and it's almost impossible to walk anywhere without seeing at least one McDavid jersey.
So Do They Make The Playoffs?
Honestly, probably not next season. For them to have a chance the answer would have to be yes to all my above questions. However it could happen, and we aren't talking about the often mocked Oilers hope. This is a team that has finally gotten on the right tracks. While we might not see playoffs this year, things should be entertaining up until the very last game. For now I recommend everyone sit back, enjoy the remainder of the summer, and prepare for what should be the most enjoyable Oilers team to watch in a long time.
Thanks for reading.