The Edmonton Oilers came out of the 2014-2015 season with a 24-44-14 record, putting them sixth in the Pacific Division with 62 points. The Arizona Coyotes finished with 56 points and the Buffalo Sabres had 54, so it could’ve been worse for the Oilers. Edmonton scored a disappointing 193 goals, the second worst offensive totals in the Western Conference, and they allowed an astonishing league-worst 276 goals against.
The Oilers should be better than this, right? They’ve missed the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons and have routinely inhabited the league’s basement, despite having incredible luck at the draft lottery. That luck continued with the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, where they turned an 11.5 percent chance of winning the top spot into the one and only Connor McDavid.
The Oilers also swept through management, hiring Bob Nicholson as their new chief executive officer and vice chairman. He hired Peter Chiarelli as the new president of hockey operations and general manager, replacing Craig MacTavish. And then Chiarelli hired head coach Todd McLellan, making him the seventh coach of the team in the last eight seasons.
It’s not very often that a number one draft pick is entered at the top of the depth chart, but that’s exactly the case with the Oilers and the aforementioned Connor McDavid. The 18-year-old from Richmond Hill is expected to lead the charge in Edmonton and the city is pretty, pretty excited about what he could mean to the team. He’s a tremendous skater with offensive ability that you have to see to believe.
McDavid will have a pretty awesome supporting cast, too, with other number one picks like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov forming a convincing offensive group. Hall produced 38 points in 53 games last season and is still capable of anchoring down a top line, even if he can be a little reckless at times. And Yakupov is yet another terrific young winger with offensive talent. He had 33 points last season.
Things get more interesting when you look past the top two lines. The Oilers kind of taper off a little, although centre Anton Lander is a very clever hockey player and a quality depth forward. The likes of Matt Hendricks, Rob Klinkhammer and Teddy Purcell provide some depth options. Purcell had 34 points in 82 games last season, producing five goals on the power play.
Defensively, this is a bit of a wobbly group. The Oilers allowed a lot of goals last season, but their defensive group hasn’t exactly been made over. They acquired Andrej Sekera as a free agent, but most of the focus has been on the forward group. Sekera can move the puck and log big minutes, even if he lacks the physical side of his game and is prone to getting pushed around.
22-year-old Swedish blueliner Oscar Klefbom is the marquee stay-at-home defenceman in Edmonton, at least for now. At 6’3, 210 pounds, Klefbom owns his size advantage and uses it to hammer the opposition. This can lead to some recklessness, which in turn has gotten him into injury trouble. He’s still growing into his game, though, and has a lot going for him.
Justin Schultz continues to disappoint in Edmonton and that’s a problem. The 25-year-old arrived in 2012 and has yet to live up to the hype. With Sekera slipping into his slot and Klefbom balancing out the top unit, Schultz will take a tumble in minutes. He finished a dismal -17 last season, too, which is kind of forgivable given the relative quality of the rest of his team. There is good news, though, in the form of Darnell Nurse. He may well arrive this season, giving Edmonton another top-tier shutdown option.
Cam Talbot gives the Oilers a significant upgrade in goal. He won 21 games in 36 appearances for the New York Rangers last season, posting a 2.21 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. Talbot is 6’3, 205 pounds and covers a lot of the net. He’s a hard worker and he’ll give the Oilers a fighting chance, even if he does have some consistency issues.
25-year-old Swedish goalie Anders Nilsson is even bigger than Talbot at 6’5, 227 pounds. He covers most of the net in his butterfly and challenges shooters with his athleticism and mobility. Nilsson does have consistency issues, as Talbot does, and he can let in some soft goals. Ben Scrivens is also still an option, but he’s not the quickest netminder on the roster. He’ll challenge Nilsson for the backup slot.
The Oilers acquired prospect Griffin Reinhart from the New York Islanders in 2015 and he’s certainly one of the most exciting defencemen in the pool. He’s a puck-moving blueliner with poise, plus he can log big minutes and has offensive upside. Reinhart does lack physical strength, at least for now, but there’s plenty of time to build into a complete player.
Centre Leon Draisaitl is also worth checking out. He posted nine points in 37 games last season and could be ready to break out, which is a good thing because he’ll give the Oilers more options down the middle. Draisaitl is a playmaking centre with tremendous passing ability, but there are some issues with consistency to be addressed.
The Path Ahead
There are reasons to be optimistic for the Edmonton Oilers, but there usually are before the puck drops on a new season. As thrilling as this team looks on paper, there are still some missing links that will likely keep them from playoff contention. McDavid is a team-changing player, but gaps in defence and uncertainties in goal will prevent the Oilers from excellence.
Will the Oilers make the post-season in 2015-2016? It’s doubtful. They’ve made some changes, but this is a team still looking for that extra something. A top-tier veteran defenceman would make a difference and a little more stability in goal would help open Edmonton up for some much-needed success.