Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers.
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers
Last season was a complete turn around year for the Edmonton Oilers. They came into the season with a healthy Connor McDavid, and got Jesse Puljujarvi third overall at the draft. Leon Draisaitl had a career season, and Cam Talbot was solid for them in net. The Oilers finished the 2016-17 campaign with a total of 103 points. The last time the Oilers finished with 100 points or above was the 1986-87 season. They also finished the season with 47 wins.
Following a great regular season, the Oilers faced the San Jose Sharks in the first round. They defeated the Sharks 4-2 in the series. Next up was the gritty, skilled and experienced Anaheim Ducks in the second round. The Edmonton Oilers grabbed a 2-0 series lead right off the get go, with both games being won in Anaheim. The Ducks did the exact same thing when they came into the Oilers barn for games three and four.
Anaheim got a 3-2 series lead when they won game five in the Honda Center. The Oilers came out angry in game six and won it by a score of 7-1. The Oilers forced game seven, but this was where the story would come to an end, it was a 1-1 game going into the third period. Ducks forward Nick Ritchie scored three minutes into the third and got his team a 2-1 lead. The score held and the young and talented Oilers team was defeated.
Heading into the off-season, there was two big tasks for Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli. Signing restricted free agent Leon Draisaitl, and locking up the face of the franchise, Connor McDavid, a year before his entry-level deal is up. He did both. First up was McDavid, on July 5th McDavid signed an eight year deal worth $100 million dollars, a cap hit of $12.5 million dollars starting in 2018-19. It’s a truck load of cash, but Oilers management knew it was worth it for the superstar they have in their center.
Next up was Draisaitl. After weeks of discussing potential deals with Draisaitl’s camp, the two sides came to an agreement. On August 16th, Draisaitl signed an eight year deal worth $68 million dollars. A cap hit of $8.5 million dollars starting right away in 2017-18.
The Oilers also signed another wave of guys that they believe can contribute for them. This first one is more of a subtraction than an addition, the Oilers bought out forward Benoit Pouliot who would go on to sign with the Buffalo Sabres in free agency. Now onto the additions and re-signings. The Oilers signed Kris Russell to a four year contract on June 23rd. Russell’s contract sits at a $4 million dollar cap hit.
On June 26th the Oilers re-signed forward Zack Kassian to a three year deal, making $1.95 million per season. On June 27th the Oilers extended Eric Gryba to a two year deal worth $1.8 million dollars. Another notable signing was Jussi Jokinen who was signed to a one year deal worth $1.1 million dollars. The Oilers also traded forward Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.
2017-18 Predicted Line Combinations
The top six group is no surprise to most people. With both of their centers signed, the Oilers look like they plan to use McDavid and Draisaitl as their one-two punch up the middle. After being acquired in the off-season, Strome will most likely be with McDavid and look to shine. Patrick Maroon spent most of his time last year with McDavid last year, finishing the year with a career high in goals with 27.
Jesse Puljujarvi is an interesting name in the top six. After playing the first 28 games with the Oilers in 2016-17, management thought it would be in his best interest to develop in the AHL. Puljujarvi tallied eight points in those 28 games with the Oilers. When he went to the AHL, he put up 28 points in 39 games for the Bakersfield Condors. He scored 12 goals and had 16 assists as a 19-year-old in the minors.
The bottom six is where things get tricky. Although Nugent-Hopkins has been a contributor for the Oilers, there might not be room up front for him. If the Oilers decide to have McDavid and Draisaitl as their one-two, Nugent-Hopkins has no wiggle room.
Jussi Jokinen will most likely look to provide depth production for the Oilers as they need it. Zack Kassian was able to do that for them last year and in the playoffs. Management will look to Jokinen for that as well.
Letestu was also a good depth guy last year who will look to keep on improving. Slepyshev saw NHL ice time last year too, he’ll also look to be a key guy for the Oilers.
Seventh Defenseman: Eric Gryba
With Andrej Sekera possibly being out until Christmas, the Oilers blue line has taken a bit of a hit. Klefbom played in his fourth NHL season last year, but it was only his first 82 game season. Klefbom was mostly paired up with Larsson, and it looks like it will be the same thing this year too. Klefbom, 24, had a career season last year. He seems to be developing into the defender the Oilers looked for when they drafted him 19th overall in 2011.
Darnell Nurse played in 69 games last year for the Oilers. While he was mostly paired up with Eric Gryba and played bottom six minutes, the young defender might be forced to play top four pairing minutes due to Sekera being out. Even if he doesn’t play top minutes every night, management will want to see what they have in him. Nurse is said to be one of their best defensive rookies, and he’ll look to take a step forward this season.
Kris Russell will have to play top four minutes due to the money he was signed to. Although he’s criticized a lot based on his advanced numbers, management sees value in him for the team, and for the foreseeable future.
Mark Fayne is in the same boat with Russell also. With a cap hit of $3.625 million dollars, he’ll most likely be playing third pairing minutes because of the lack of room for him in the top four, unless an injury occurs.
Matthew Benning was a depth guy for the Oilers last year, and he’ll look to play that role again. Gryba is listed as a seventh defender, he and Benning will likely bounce in and out of the lineup.
With Cam Talbot playing solid in the 2016-17 campaign, it looks like the Oilers have found their number one goalie. Talbot finished the year with a 42 win season, 2.39 goals-against-average and a .919 save percentage while playing 73 games. In just his first year with the Oilers, he also managed to rank seventh in goalie wins in franchise history. He was only pulled three times during the whole season, proving that he’s consistent.
Laurent Brossoit only played eight games but also proved to be a decent backup. He finished with four wins and only one loss in the season. Having a 1.99 goals-against-average and a .928 save percentage. He came into relief for Talbot only three times.
Players to Watch
It looks as if Puljujarvi will look to capture a roster spot in training camp and stay with the team. If he does so successfully, which it doesn’t look in doubt at this point, the young forward could make a lot of noise for the Oilers. He played well in the minors last year after he was sent down. The young teen could see himself playing top six minutes if he impresses management in camp and pre-season. If that’s the case, he should have a great second year.
Caggiula played his first season in the NHL last year after being signed out of college. He found himself on the third line for most of the year. He had 18 points, but the Oilers will look for more of him this year. If a forward in the top six goes down with an injury, Caggiula will look to jump at the opportunity. It should be noted that he’s also on his final year of his two year contract.
Slepyshev is another player who is on his last year of his contract, his entry-level contract is up at the end of the year. He spent most of last season playing with either Caggiula or Draisaitl. It was his second year playing in the NHL, he drew in 41 games for the Oilers while tallying four goals and six assists for a total of 10 points. Slepyshev, 23, will look to improve his game this year and prove to the Oilers that he’s valuable to them. Whether that means a first line sniper or a third line sniper, he’ll look to show management that he deserves another contract at the end of the year. Similar to Caggiula, if someone in the top six gets injured, he’ll look to fill that role.
Players on the Rise
Puljujarvi has been mentioned a lot in this, but it makes sense as to why. He’s no question the best prospect the Oilers have in their system. They weren’t even sure he’d be available with where they were picking in the 2016 draft, but luck found the Oilers again as it always does in drafts. They were obviously very high on him and he proved why when he played fantastic in the AHL at such a young age. Puljujarvi will look to be a regular NHL player when October rolls around.
Players on the Decline
As mentioned earlier, the Oilers look at Russell as a key part of their defence. At least it sure looks that way from his most recent extension. Although the Oilers might see Russell as an integral part of their blue line, advanced stats show otherwise. Russell is a mediocre defender on almost all parts of the game. At 30 years of age, it’s hard to see Russell getting any better in the future.
2017-18 Season Prediction
The Oilers look like a promising team heading into the season. With a healthy team and the addition of Strome, making the playoffs shouldn’t be a problem for them. Not to mention Puljujarvi possibly making the team and contributing to their high power offense. They could also roll with Nugent-Hopkins as their third line center.
It’s not worth questioning how McDavid and Draisaitl will do. The whole hockey world knows those two will continue to shine this year, and for the upcoming years. Although Draisaitl had a career year while playing alongside McDavid for a good portion, it’ll be interesting to see how he does at the number two center spot this year. It seems likely that he’ll have either Puljujarvi or Strome on his right side to start the season.
Talbot needs to maintain his consistent play that helped the Oilers have the success they did last year. Something that can be alarming to people is his number of games played. Talbot started between the pipes in 73 games for the Oilers last year. That’s simply too much ice time for a goalie in today’s NHL. Brossoit will be looked upon to relieve some of those games and be a decent backup.
If all goes well for the Oilers, they can definitely make the second round this year again and possibly go further into the playoffs. It’s no question that they have the talent, they now just need to put it together on a consistent basis.