Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, 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 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2018-19 Edmonton Oilers.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 Edmonton Oilers
There was no team as disappointing last season as the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers had the second best odds to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup last season according to Vegas odds, sitting only behind back-to-back champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The club finished with a record of 36-40-6 and placed 12th in the Western Conference – a mere eight-point finish ahead of the last place Arizona Coyotes. They also finished 20th in goal scoring as well as fifth last in goals against, which is a far cry from the previous year where they finish in the top 10 in both categories.
The Oilers special teams were also a huge disappointment as the team finished with a league-worst powerplay percentage at 14.8% as well as the seventh worst penalty kill percentage at 76.7%.
Reasons for Concern?
Outside of Connor McDavid (who led the entire league in points with 108) and Leon Draisaitl (70 points), the team’s offence dried up. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was putting together a solid season and was the only other 20+ goal scorer on the roster, but missed 20 games due to injury. Milan Lucic‘s game is on a downward spiral and had only 10 goals last season compared to 23 the year before. Trading a proven 20 goal scorer in Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for Ryan Strome, who has never hit 20 goals, certainly didn’t help the team either and was a confusing trade from the day it was made.
The other big issue the Oilers had last season was their goaltending. Cam Talbot took a massive step back as he put up a record of 31-31-3 with a 3.02 GAA and a .908 save percentage. Last year was a disappointment compared to the prior one, where he finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting. If the Oilers want to get back into contention, they are going to need a much better performance from their starting netminder.
The Oilers held the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft. They used it to draft stud defenceman Evan Bouchard from the London Knights of the OHL. It was a solid pick for the Oilers as he was arguably the best player available. Also, the Oilers are in need of some depth on the right side. Bouchard, who was ranked 9th by Last Word’s Ben Kerr, was thrown into the number one role with the Knights as Victor Mete had made the Montreal Canadiens roster and Olli Juolevi went to Finland to play pro. He responded extremely well to the added pressure scoring 25 goals and 87 points in 67 games. On July 17th the Oilers signed Bouchard to an entry-level contract.
Here is the complete draft for the Oilers:
1-10: Evan Bouchard
2-40: Ryan McLeod
2-62: Olivier Rodrigue
6-164: Michael Kesselring
7-195: Patrik Siikanen
The Oilers made some minor moves improving their depth in free agency. They signed forward Tobias Rieder to a one year $2 million contract. As well as brought back former Oiler Kyle Brodziak on a two-year deal worth $2.3 million. The team also invited Scottie Upshall to a training camp on a PTO.
Projected Lineup for 2018-19
The Oilers offence will need to bounce back in a big way if they want to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They made some minor changes to the lineup bringing in depth players Rieder and Brodziak. If the Oilers really want to address their scoring, they will need someone to step up from within.
The top line is a line that was put together last year for the final 12 games of the season. In those 12 games, (although Nugent-Hopkins missed two of the final 12) the line scored 18 goals and 25 assists for 43 points. However, outside of the McDavid line and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers offence dried up. They need a bounce-back year from Milan Lucic, who’s contract is looking like a complete disaster at this point. As well as youngster Jesse Puljujarvi, who is looking to earn a spot with the big club. Also, even though not listed in the lineup, there is potential for Kailer Yamamoto to earn a spot with the team, but moves would have to be made to fit him in. Unless, of course, he beats out Puljujarvi.
Kris Russell-Evan Bouchard
The Oilers defence took a hit when they got the news that Andrej Sekera would be out indefinitely with a torn Achilles tendon. The Oilers do have the depth on the left side to fill the hole left by Sekera. However, with no notable signings in the off-season and the lack of depth on the right side, Evan Bouchard could potentially crack the lineup. Not necessarily a bad thing, as Bouchard has the tools to become a top-four pairing defenceman, but could be a big ask from a young kid.
The only other possibility for the Oilers on the right side would be 21-year-old Ethan Bear, who did play 18 games with the Oilers last season, scoring one goal and adding three assists. It’s also highly possible that the Oilers look for another right shot defender between now and the beginning of the regular season.
The biggest question mark for the Oilers this season will be their goaltending. After putting up solid numbers in 2016-17 and finishing fourth in Vezina Trophy voting, Talbot bombed last season finishing with a record of 31-31-3 3.02 GAA and a .908 save percentage in 67 games. Talbot has been an absolute workhorse for the Oilers starting in 73 games in 2016-17 and 67 last season. The Oilers are hoping to take some of the load off of Talbot this season with the signing of KHL standout Mikko Koskinen. The club also still has Al Montoya under contract and could challenge Koskinen for the backup role. However, after giving Koskinen $2.5 million and the way he played last season in the KHL(1.57 GAA and a .937 save percentage in 29 games), it’s hard to envision him losing the job to Montoya.
Players to Watch
Rattie was recalled by the Oilers late last season and he didn’t disappoint. In the remaining 14 games, Rattie scored five goals and added four assists. He played the last 12 games alongside McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins and looks to slot in there again to start this season. His offensive abilities have never been in question as he is a very skilled and creative forward, but it is his defensive abilities that have been the issue. However, Rattie has put in a ton of work of the past few years to develop his defensive game and now seems to not be such a liability out there in the defensive end.
Rattie’s career was rejuvenated by the recall. He has only played in 49 games since being drafted in the second round in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. His play in the final 14 games was enough to earn him a new contract. The Oilers signed him to a one-year $800k contract at the end of the season. Now 25, Rattie looks to finally earn a full-time NHL job with the Oilers.
Is this the year Puljujarvi finally earns a full-time position on the roster? The fourth overall pick in 2016 is entering the final year of his entry-level deal and will be playing for a new contract next season. Puljujarvi hasn’t made an impact at the NHL level like fellow draftees Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine but has the skill to be a top line winger in today’s game. His versatility and solid two-way style of gameplay gives the Oilers options to move him up and down the lineup as needed. However, it’s very likely we see Puljujarvi step up in a big way this year, and earn a spot in the top six.
The Oilers first round pick at this year’s entry draft will look to make an instant impact. Bouchard has been said to be the closest player to being NHL ready outside of Rasmus Dahlin and Andrei Svechnikov from this year’s draft. He already has NHL size at 6’2”, 192lbs. Bouchard has the offensive abilities to be very effective at the NHL level. He is an exceptional puck mover and has an absolute bomb of a shot. The one knock on him is he tends to get caught out of position. However, he should be able to fine-tune his defensive game with the Oilers coaching staff. Bouchard could potentially be a Calder Trophy candidate this year for the Oilers.
Looking at the rest of the Pacific Division, the Oilers are the least improved team outside of Vancouver. Chiarelli decided to not make any major shakeups after a disastrous season. Instead, the Oilers will look within to solve their problems. It’s hard to count out a team led by arguably the best player in the world, Connor McDavid. If Talbot can return to form or Koskinen can take the reigns and take over as the number one netminder, the Oilers should get back into contention. While it’s unlikely they will get back into the top three in the Pacific, the Oilers will be right in the mix of things fighting for a Wild Card spot.
Main Image: EDMONTON, AB – MARCH 27: Edmonton Oilers Center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point on a goal by Edmonton Oilers Left Wing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) in the first period during the Edmonton Oilers game versus the Columbus Blue Jackets game on March 27, 2018, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, AB. (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)