Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word on Hockey 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 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Our series continues with the 2019-20 Edmonton Oilers.
2019-20 Edmonton Oilers Preview
The 2018-19 edition of the Edmonton Oilers was a huge disappointment, to say the least. They finished second to last in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons.
They got off to a very slow start, which eventually lead to the firing of head coach Todd McLellan in late November. Things got a little better after Ken Hitchcock took over as head coach but injuries held the team back and hurt their chances for staying in the playoff race. The team went through a long stretch without two of their top-four defencemen in Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell. On top of that, they were without Andrej Sekera for most of the season.
Offensively, the Oilers simply weren’t good enough. Aside from Connor McDavid (116 points), Leon Draisaitl (105 points), and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (69 points), no other forward scored more than 38 points last season. As a result, the Edmonton Oilers finished 20th in goals for (229) with McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent Hopkins accounting for more than 50% (119) of the team’s total goals.
Defensively the team struggled as well. They had the second-worst penalty kill in the NHL at 74.8% and allowed the fifth-most goals against at 271.
In a few desperate attempts in trying to save the season, former Oilers’ general manager Peter Chiarelli traded useful role players in Ryan Strome and Drake Caggiula for pieces (Ryan Spooner, Brandon Manning) that didn’t pan out. To the relief of many Oiler fans, Edmonton officially announced the firing of Peter Chiarelli January 22, 2019.
All in all, the 2018-19 campaign was one Edmonton would like to forget. In many ways, it was a wasted season for their young superstars McDavid and Draisaitl who each respectively had All-Star caliber seasons.
The Edmonton Oilers made several moves this off-season. First and foremost, they named Ken Holland general manager and president of hockey operations. Shortly after that, they named Dave Tippett as the team’s new head coach.
Holland and his staff got busy right away and were able to ink highly-touted Swedish forward Joakim Nygard to a one-year-deal. At the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Oilers surprised a few people by taking Sweedish defenseman Philip Broberg eighth overall. Then right before free agency, they bought out veteran defenceman Andrej Sekera.
During free agency, Edmonton was one of the more active teams this summer. They were able to sign veteran goalie Mike Smith, Markus Granlund, Tomas Jurco, Gaetan Haas, and Josh Archibald. Perhaps the biggest move for the Oilers this summer was when they traded Milan Lucic and a conditional draft pick to the Calgary Flames for James Neal.
Given the cards he was dealt, Ken Holland gave the Oilers a major facelift in a short period of time. So we can expect many new faces to be in the Oilers’ lineup on opening night.
Tyler Benson – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – James Neal
Markus Granlund – Gaetan Haas – Alex Chiasson
Joakim Nygard – Jujhar Khaira – Josh Archibald
The top-six features two of the best offensive players in the NHL in McDavid and Draisaitl. One of the biggest ongoing questions is where Draisaitl will play this season?
Will he be on McDavid’s wing? Or will Dave Tippet let them each run their own line?
It remains to be seen, but like years past we might expect Draisaitl to be on-an-off McDavid’s wing the entire season.
Aside from McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, the other three forward spots can fluctuate throughout the season. But a name like Zack Kassian might be a good bet to start on the first line, as he found success with McDavid last season.
A name like James Neal is expected to slot in as a top-six winger. Meanwhile, many expect a young player like Tyler Benson to secure a role as a top-six winger for the Oilers this year.
The bottom-six has a mix of speed, skill, and strong two-way play. Players like Nygard and Hass will be interesting to watch. We will find out if their skillset can smoothly translate in the NHL next season.
Meanwhile, players like Chiasson, Archibald, Khaira, and Granlund seem like a group that can add speed and versatility to the team. Additionally, they should be able to provide more offence than the previous year’s bottom-six.
Granlund and Archibald are capable penalty killers that should improve the PK. Meanwhile, a player like Chiasson could see time up in the top-six if Kassian, Neal or Benson do not produce up there.
Finally, Jujhar Khaira is another versatile player that can move up and down the lineup, providing the Oilers with some size, greatness and strong checking wherever it is needed.
It seems like Brodziak and Cave may be on the outside looking in. But given Cave’s age and potential upside, he still has a chance to work his way into the lineup and become a regular by the end of the season.
A player like Tomas Jurco might be given a chance to crack the roster as well. The 26-year-old found some success with the Chicago Blackhawks last year, chipping in 10 points in 29 games.
Oscar Klefbom – Adam Larsson
Kris Russell – Joel Persson
In all likelihood, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson will be the team’s top-pairing to start the season. The duo found success together and was a key part of helping the Oilers reach the second round in 2017. If Klefbom is able to stay healthy, he should be able to set new career-highs and chip in close to 40 points from the blueline.
Darnell Nurse has proven that he is capable of handling heavy minutes. He took a huge step forward last season, notching a career-high 10 goals and 41 points in 82 games.
With Sekera gone, the second-pairing spot could be a toss-up between Matt Benning and Kris Russell. But with Russell being the more experienced player, he could possibly be used in a mentor role to play alongside newly signed Joel Persson in the bottom pairing.
Persson appears to be the biggest question mark on defence this year. He should have a slight edge over Bouchard and Jones to make the team. But it remains to be seen whether he will become the steady puck-moving defenceman the Oilers desperately need him to be this season.
Out of all the defensive prospects in Edmonton’s system, Evan Bouchard and Caleb Jones will likely have the best shot to see playing time in the NHL this year. Depending on how fast they can develop, one of them could possibly become an NHL regular by the end of next season.
After signing Mikko Koskinen to a contract extension last year, the Oilers made it very clear that he is their main guy going forward. The Finn had a nice run for the Oilers early last season and has shown that he is capable of being an NHL starter.
Bringing in former Calgary Flames goaltender Mike Smith might be one of the more underrated moves made by Holland this year. Smith should be able to give the Oilers a solid 25-30 games as a backup. If Koskinen struggles, Smith might be capable of taking over the starting job, especially after seeing how well he played in the playoffs last year.
Players to Watch
Many expect Tyler Benson to become a full-time NHL player this year. Originally drafted 32nd overall in 2016, Benson spent the last three season fine-tuning his game in the WHL and with the Bakersfield Condors last season.
He had a very solid season in the AHL, scoring 66 points in 68 games along with seven points in ten games in the playoffs. It seems like Benson has a good shot to secure a roster spot on opening night and might be able to produce as a top-six forward as well.
Acquired from the Flames in the blockbuster deal that sent Milan Lucic the other way, James Neal has a lot to prove coming into this season. Statistically, Neal had the worst season of his entire NHL career in 2018-19. He only managed to score seven goals and 19 points in 63 games.
Some feel like the perennial 20-goal scorer is on the decline, but he will be given opportunities to prove people wrong. With the chance to play with elite playmakers in Nugent-Hopkins, McDavid, Neals’ opportunities to find the net should be there. He will likely be counted upon to be the trigger man on the powerplay.
Joel Persson might be one of the biggest dark horses on the Oilers this year. The 25-year-old had two solid seasons with Vaxjo HC in Sweden but is still unproven at the NHL level. If he pans out, he should be able to give the Oilers a solid puck-mover and provide some offence from the backend. Right now his ceiling is unknown but if he is able to become a 30 to 35 point player and give the Oilers a solid 18-20-minutes a night it might be considered a very good signing by Holland.
2019-20 Edmonton Oilers Prediction
The Oilers didn’t make any major moves to significantly improve to their lineup this summer, so it’s hard to call them a lock to be a playoff team.
On paper, it seems like they added some pieces that improve their secondary scoring in the bottom-six. But at the same time, the defence still has a lot of question marks. They are likely a Klefbom injury away from being in trouble once again. It remains to be seen whether how much impact players like Persson or Bouchard will have on this team.
Simply put, many teams in the Western Conference improved this summer. They may not finish second to last in the west again but the Oilers seem like they might be one or two pieces away from being a legit playoff team.
Prediction: They will fall short of securing a wild-card playoff spot!