For the elite few who have been reading my blogs (and for that I honestly do wish to say thank you) you know that I have been rather critical of the Oilers over the past several weeks. My reason is simple. For a team that has Connor McDavid on the last year of his ELC, they have made startling few changes to improve from last years success and instead banking on internal growth which is a strategy that was implemented (and failed) over the Decade of Darkness.
Matt Henderson just wrote a blog detailing some of the gambles the team is banking on with the moves they have made this off-season. You can find that blog on a distant far off place known as "The Front Page."
I am going to focus on players from the 2016-2017 roster that remain that should have better seasons than last. Those are:
1.) Ryan Nugent Hopkins
2.) Milan Lucic
3.) Darnell Nurse
4.) Laurent Brossoit
5.) Jesse Puljujarvi
Ryan Nugent Hopkins
RNH was once heralded as the Oilers best centre since Doug Weight... now he has found himself behind both McDavid and Draisaitl with many calling him an overpaid third line centre. Contract aside RNH is still a very valuable player to this team who has embraced a defensive game... maybe a bit too much.
At Even Strength, RNH had a TMGF60 (Team Goals For Per 60) of 2.65 and a TMGA60 (Team Goals Allowed Per 60) of 2.04. Both are the highest and lowest of his career respectively. Put simply, when Nuge was off the ice his teammates were scoring more and when he was on the ice the opposition was scoring less. Combine that with a very low Sh% of 6.85 and we see a player who is cheating for defense. It's something in post season interviews that Ryan himself admitted he needs to change and hopefully we will see the creative player we saw in earlier seasons.
Lucic was great on the powerplay... not so great anywhere else. Of Lucic's 50 points last season 25 of them came on the powerplay. He was used more on the powerplay than any other year of his career. He had a whopping 25% shooting percentage and more than doubled his previous career high in PP goals (from 5 to 12).
While his powerplay numbers will likely dip next season there is good reason to believe his 5 on 5 numbers can improve. The Lucic-Nuge-Eberle line all struggled offensively last season with no one shooting at their usual clip. Lucic will be 30 next season so it should be too early to be talking about a steep decline in production just yet.
Nurse is a player that confuses me. He is a large physical player who is inconsistent physically. He is growing into an effective puck moving defenseman but lacks the offensive production of a Klefbom. They say it takes a defenseman at least 150 games until we know what the player is. Nurse will start the year on his 126th game.
The impact of the Sekera injury could be lessened if Nurse is ready to step up. Last year we saw bursts of his ability, most notable was in the playoffs when Klefbom was injured. Consistency is the biggest issue that plagues young defensemen and for a player like Nurse that likes to join in the rush we have seen those mistakes directly translate into goals against. It's a cliched statement but Nurse will be another year older and should come into training camp ready to prove himself.
In my previous blog I stated that Talbot had a franchise record season and while he has established himself as a true starter, to expect him to play 70+ games a season and not tire out is not fair. This is hopefully where Brossoit comes in. Brossoit posted a .928 Sv% last season in 8 games but that's not exactly a true statement considering he did not start every game. Nevertheless the Oilers need to figure out what they have in Brossoit and play him. If he can give this team at least 15 games he will be a huge asset to Talbot.
One of the only complaints I really have from last season is how the team handled Puljujarvi. They burnt a year off his ELC by not sending him down until after the 40 game mark...despite only playing him in 28 games. The young Finn clearly struggled during his time with the big club but found some of his skill rejuvenated after sent down to the AHL.
Looking at players who took a similar route such as Nylander, Rantanen, and Pasternak there is plenty of optimism that there isn't any reason to worry about Puljujarvi yet. Right now I have Puljujarvi slotted on a third line with Finnish player Jussi Jokinen. While I don't believe Strome can replace the production lost from Jordan Eberle, perhaps the two combined can.
Chiarelli has taken a number of gambles this off-season. In order to save face he needs for the above mentioned players to step up and perform either better than they had last season in the case for some; or for others continue to develop and improve.
Thanks for reading!