Edmonton Oilers 2013-14 Season Preview

Jonathan Willis
October 01 2013 08:52AM

It all starts tonight. Will 2014 bring with it the Oilers’ first trip to the playoffs since 2006? Or will this season end the same way the last seven have?

Forwards

The current Oilers’ depth chart (though not their line combinations) looks something like the picture above.

Starting at left wing, Edmonton has a fantastic group of players as long as Taylor Hall stays at his natural position. This is also a testament to how much one player can make a difference, because when Hall switches to center (as he will for the time being with both Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner injured) that extremely strong depth chart starts looking rather shaky. With everybody healthy, though, the Oilers have seven strong options here, plus a pure heavyweight.

Center isn’t bad when everybody’s healthy. The pair of Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner give the Oilers a strong 1-2 offensive punch down the middle, while Boyd Gordon is a reasonable bet in an almost purely defensive role. It’s fair to wonder whether any of the next three players on the depth chart really belong in the NHL at this juncture – Acton’s an AHL-level defensive specialist, Mark Arcobello is an AHL-level scoring star, and Anton Lander is probably best-suited to the role of fifth center at this stage in his career. Thanks to injury, Arcobello is being handed a golden opportunity to break through on the second (or third, depending on perspective) line while Acton beat Lander for the last center job in camp.

At right wing, Edmonton has three top-six options, which gives them lots of flexibility for the top three forward lines. After that, Mike Brown and Luke Gazdic (technically a left wing, but as a pure enforcer…) add physical play and not much else. Ryan Jones was a relatively established NHL player until this year, but he’s coming off a poorer season and lost a job in camp; meanwhile Tyler Pitlick had a superb camp and if he can carry that over to regular season play he’ll be an NHL option.

Put everything together, and this is actually a very good group of forwards when everybody’s healthy. Everybody, however, isn’t healthy and with the top two centres on the team out for extended periods of time and the Oilers evidently committed to running a fourth line long on physical play and short on puck skill the actual (expected) opening-night lineup is far less intimidating than the depth chart is:

Defence and Goaltending

The defensive depth chart here actually mirrors the opening night pairings.

On the left side, the Oilers have two very decent second-pairing defencemen, an exceptional third-pairing defenceman, a total question mark in Denis Grebeshkov and two up-and-coming prospects that are legitimate call-up options and would be in most any organization. Essentially, this is a very good depth chart except that there isn’t a guy I’d consider a true top-pairing defender on it; the Oilers have tried to address that problem with strong depth and while that might have been the only possible play it’s one that leaves them weaker than they would ideally be here.

The right side is more intriguing because of the potential for it to be more, but right now it has to be considered in much the same way as the left side. Jeff Petry and Justin Schultz are two players I’d be very comfortable with as second-pairing options but neither is an established top-unit guy. Anton Belov steps in as a third-pairing guy for now but he’s huge, mobile and can move the puck so he might very well end up being a pleasant surprise in Edmonton. The rest of the chart gives the Oilers’ exceptional depth – both Potter and Larsen are strong options as reserve defencemen, while Taylor Fedun is a very good AHL’er and a respectable call-up for when injuries hit.

In net the Oilers are solid 1-3. Devan Dubnyk has a pretty good resume as a middle-third starting goalie; I have no idea why he takes the amount of flack he does. Jason LaBarbera is a good NHL backup. Richard Bachman has had NHL stints in the past and looks like a solid bet in the number three role. It’s not a stellar group, but it’s a respectable one and certainly one that should be good enough for playoff contention.

All things considered, the goaltending is just fine and general manager Craig MacTavish has done a wonderful job building a deep defence corps. The problem is the lack of proven top-pairing types on the blue line: the Oilers are employing a by-committee approach because those are hard slots to fill, but it isn’t ideal by any means.

Management and Coaching

Craig MacTavish impressed many during the summer, sounding far more suited to a top hockey operations role than his predecessor and following up the talk with lots of activity. He proved unable to make the big splash that many fans were hoping for, though there is significant evidence that he tried. How he responds to in-season needs is going to be a key point – Steve Tambellini was painfully slow to address obvious problems and while MacTavish seems a strong bet to be more active it’s a situation where there’s no way of knowing what he’ll do until he faces the situation.

New head coach Dallas Eakins is one product of MacTavish’s activity. He hasn’t acted much like a first-year NHL head coach, ruffling feathers at times and leaving no doubt that he has a clear vision and that he’s going to execute it. It’s going to be very interesting to see if he can get more out of this new group than Ralph Krueger managed with last year’s squad; the drop off in results from Tom Renney to Krueger with much the same group of players suggesting that coaching was part of the problem in 2013.

Outlook

With everybody healthy, I thought this was likely a playoff team. With the combination of injuries they’ve suffered already, they should still be in contention but I have them figured for somewhere around the 9/10 spot in the West. If they can survive the early going – where the combination of injury and a tough schedule has the potential to put them in a deep hole – this will be a group to be optimistic about.

Recently around the Nation Network

Brian Sutherby explains how to play StreakCred, a Nation-sponsored game with fantastic prizes and straight-forward mechanics that also helps local charities. Here's what the prizes look like right now:

New hockey memorabilia and prizing will be given to the champ each month. The main prize for October will be the coveted Streakcred trophy and the choice of a Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry or Jamie Benn autographed jersey along with a pre-paid gift card. Prizes will also be given to the top 20 streaker’s each month, to the person with the most wins and to a couple lucky random draw winners just for playing. Over the course of the season the cupboard of available jerseys and memorabilia will only continue to grow.

Click the link above to check it out, or feel free to check out some of my recent stuff below:

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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 djc
October 01 2013, 10:02AM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

Sean Monahan makes it in Calgary, for the first 9 games anyways. Looking forward to seeing him.

Maybe you should take your useless 50 posts a day over to Flamesnation instead.

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#2 John Chambers
October 01 2013, 09:26AM
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Today's game is the first of 82 Must-Win games.

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#3 DaveChamp
October 01 2013, 10:33AM
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If you're not unreasonably optimistic with unattainable expectations, you're not a true Oilers fan. 82-0 baby! GOILERS!

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#4 Justino
October 01 2013, 09:03AM
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Let's go Oilers! I'm calling a 4-2 victory tonight.

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#5 Quicksilver ballet
October 01 2013, 09:25AM
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I had a dream last night. Sean Couturier was an Oiler and scored a hat trick in the second round of the playoffs. Sean was doing his rented mule, meet Jonathan Quick thing. Couturier set up all of Yakupovs 55 reg season goals.

....and then I unfortunately woke up.

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#6 Quicksilver ballet
October 01 2013, 09:40AM
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Sean Monahan makes it in Calgary, for the first 9 games anyways. Looking forward to seeing him.

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#7 Reg Dunlop
October 01 2013, 10:08AM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

I had a dream last night. Sean Couturier was an Oiler and scored a hat trick in the second round of the playoffs. Sean was doing his rented mule, meet Jonathan Quick thing. Couturier set up all of Yakupovs 55 reg season goals.

....and then I unfortunately woke up.

Dreaming about the oil, eh? That may be a sign you are getting old. I still dream about hookers and blow.

Oil have to beat jobbers like the jets. 3-1 tonight, just like 1980 all over again.

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#8 Lochenzo
October 01 2013, 10:16AM
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October, my favourite month! Hockey, football, baseball playoffs and scary movies. I need somebody to invent non-fat chicken wings or I'm gonna get big.

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#9 tileguy
October 01 2013, 10:43AM
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I was able to draft Belov 385th in my draft, they might as well pay me first prize now.

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#10 madjam
October 01 2013, 12:04PM
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Oilers name six A captains . Overkill ?

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#11 oilerjed
October 01 2013, 01:39PM
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Smokey wrote:

Are you suggesting Nepotism? Nah!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think he actually made this team with this crop of centers. But saying that right now I'm a call-up from my beer league with the lack of center depth this organization. Got my Oiler socks packed as we speak.

Your argument could be true, but saying that, then the decision to not go after say Grabbo, or give PTO to Mueller, or not trade or sign or pull off the waiver wire a real NHL center was made because MacT listened to an assistant coach. I doubt it personally, I just think MacT is over his head in this position.

Holy crap, get off the Grabo thing already. It is very possible that he wouldnt come here knowing he was going to get 3rd line work and pay. We have a 2nd line center(well we will soon enough), move on.

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#12 jdaly
October 01 2013, 10:34AM
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I give props to the big finn, Belov and Arcobello whom I felt deserve their shot.

I am especially excited to see what Belov can do. I thought he had the best preseason of the unknowns.

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#13 The Oilers Shot Clock
October 01 2013, 09:30AM
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The depth chart is my preferred lines when everyone is healthy.

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#14 Chaz
October 01 2013, 09:52AM
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GOilers!!

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#15 BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull
October 01 2013, 10:09AM
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Big up to Will Acton on making the team.Have a great first NHL game tonight.Its cool that your dad will be there to see it.

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#16 jdaly
October 01 2013, 10:31AM
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BorjeSalming-IanTurnbull wrote:

Big up to Will Acton on making the team.Have a great first NHL game tonight.Its cool that your dad will be there to see it.

The issue I have with this, I don;t believe that he would be on the team if his dad was not on the coaching staff. There were much better 4th line centres out there.

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#17 Dennis
October 01 2013, 11:28AM
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Oilers just tweeted that Gagner is ahead of schedule in his recovery. Principe tweeted that he's expecting about 4-5 weeks rather than 6-8. Good news! If we can just weather October without Nuge ang Gagner, hopefully we'll be ok.

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#18 Smokey
October 01 2013, 10:44AM
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jdaly wrote:

The issue I have with this, I don;t believe that he would be on the team if his dad was not on the coaching staff. There were much better 4th line centres out there.

Are you suggesting Nepotism? Nah!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think he actually made this team with this crop of centers. But saying that right now I'm a call-up from my beer league with the lack of center depth this organization. Got my Oiler socks packed as we speak.

Your argument could be true, but saying that, then the decision to not go after say Grabbo, or give PTO to Mueller, or not trade or sign or pull off the waiver wire a real NHL center was made because MacT listened to an assistant coach. I doubt it personally, I just think MacT is over his head in this position.

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#19 Golden Moment
October 01 2013, 10:25AM
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Jonathan

This is an article that one keeps for the balance of the season in order to cross-reference it with the changes that might come into effect during the season.

Your articles are required reading. Thank you.

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#20 Will
October 01 2013, 10:46AM
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I am just hoping this isn't another season full of optimism, completely derailed by injuries. For years I thought we were just un lucky, then I realized our team was terrible and without key players the best we can do is ice an ahl squad.

Tending is good enough (could always just be better though, I don't think any team is happy with their goal tender, including Van, New York, LA, and Boston).

Our defence looks much, much better, and Belov could just be the diamond Mac T managed to pluck. Here's hoping he gets in a groove quickly and gets better as the season progresses. I could see him moving up the depth chart if either Petry or Schultz start to struggle.

Looking at our schedule, I still think even our injury laden forwards are going to be good enough to beat some of the eastern teams. Looking forward to getting Nuge and Gags back but I am also enjoying Hall make a go of it at centre.

Hypothetical optimism time: What if Hall turns out to be better at centre than Gagner by the time he returns? What do you do then? I mean, technically his no trade no movement doesn't kick in till next year. Is he the piece that finally nets us back say our big bruising top six winger? Our even better a legit top two defenceman? Our depth chart on defence looks impressive, especially with Nurse and Klefbomb on the way. But how much better does a top pairing of Ferrance and say Yandle look?

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#21 Smokey
October 01 2013, 10:50AM
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tileguy wrote:

I was able to draft Belov 385th in my draft, they might as well pay me first prize now.

The way he shoots the puck way more then any defenseman I've seen that we have had in the last 5 years not named Souray, I think he's good for 8-10 goals and 25 points. You should be happy. I am stoked at his willingness to shoot the puck, his ability to get it off, and the accuracy so far. After watching reluctant defenseman like Tom Gilbert never shoot, and when he did he missed the net, Belov I feel could be a revelation with his willingness to get the puck on net.

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#22 oilerjed
October 01 2013, 12:21PM
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Lochenzo wrote:

October, my favourite month! Hockey, football, baseball playoffs and scary movies. I need somebody to invent non-fat chicken wings or I'm gonna get big.

Hot sauce kills fat. It is known

Oilers win 5-1 this is also known

Edit: Sorry but Ive been reading alot of game of thrones lately

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#23 pkam
October 01 2013, 12:30PM
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DaveChamp wrote:

If you're not unreasonably optimistic with unattainable expectations, you're not a true Oilers fan. 82-0 baby! GOILERS!

Why don't we go crazily optimistic with totally impossible expectation?

Let's go for it Oilers, 98-0 and bring the cup home.

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#24 DonDon
October 01 2013, 12:38PM
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Finally, a full season of 82 games will begin tonight!

We'll soon find out if MacT's stand is correct that the present personnel is NHL-competitive, or not.

I'm worried about the first line: the Oilers' top scorer (Hall) is now playing out of position; one winger (Smyth) may already be beyond NHL speed; and the other winger (Hemsky) was considered by MacT to not fit with this year's roster, but is still here because a trade couldn't be made to move him.

The results will soon speak for themselves. I hope it works out.

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#25 jr_christ
October 01 2013, 01:08PM
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I can't wait to see us dress a nasty nasty team on Saturday night. It would be awesome to punch the sedin's in the junk... smash

Plus, I live in Calgary and I get so EXCITED everytime I hear Calgarians say they are excited to see how good their young team is going to be. We suffered through 4 years of really young players - Calgary is in for a nice little surprise.

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#26 Big slick
October 01 2013, 02:36PM
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I don't think the first month of the schedule is that bad. Lots of eastern teams is a good thing. In recent years that is who the Oilers have done well against. It is the bigger western teams I am worried about.

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#27 manny
October 01 2013, 06:39PM
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we need a proven goltender.to make it.

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#28 madjam
October 01 2013, 10:06AM
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TSN rates us 24th , which is same as last years finish , I believe . Winnipeg one above us and Flames one below us . Despite some changes our supporting caste shows little improvement . It'll be up to our young stars to all have banner seasons if we hope to be competitive . Eakins, of course , is the variable in this mix . supporting caste unfortuneately does not look strong in comparison to most other teams . Tonite is important for our team to get off on a winning note . Oilers 3-2 with Perron notching winner .

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#29 D
October 01 2013, 10:25AM
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It's party time. Let the games begin.

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#30 916oiler
October 01 2013, 10:36AM
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Defense first - if we can keep the puck out of the net we have a chance until The Nuuuuge and Gags get back! Go Oilers!!!

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#31 tileguy
October 01 2013, 11:13AM
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Smokey wrote:

The way he shoots the puck way more then any defenseman I've seen that we have had in the last 5 years not named Souray, I think he's good for 8-10 goals and 25 points. You should be happy. I am stoked at his willingness to shoot the puck, his ability to get it off, and the accuracy so far. After watching reluctant defenseman like Tom Gilbert never shoot, and when he did he missed the net, Belov I feel could be a revelation with his willingness to get the puck on net.

I took Gilbert 407th (last pick) lol.

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#32 Freewheeling Freddie
October 01 2013, 11:38AM
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Ya hoo its puckdrop time.Should be very interesting to see what Eakins can do with this team.Oilers please don't be out of the playoff race by Christmas.This city desparately wants Nhl hockey in late April May and hopefully June. Oakland A'S world series champions 2013.

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#33 Smokey
October 01 2013, 10:36AM
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Quicksilver ballet wrote:

I had a dream last night. Sean Couturier was an Oiler and scored a hat trick in the second round of the playoffs. Sean was doing his rented mule, meet Jonathan Quick thing. Couturier set up all of Yakupovs 55 reg season goals.

....and then I unfortunately woke up.

How were we suppose to get the 9th overall pick from Columbus? I hope you haven't hit your head on the way outta bed and are suggesting we took him instead of Nuge?

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#34 Will
October 01 2013, 10:46AM
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I am just hoping this isn't another season full of optimism, completely derailed by injuries. For years I thought we were just un lucky, then I realized our team was terrible and without key players the best we can do is ice an ahl squad.

Tending is good enough (could always just be better though, I don't think any team is happy with their goal tender, including Van, New York, LA, and Boston).

Our defence looks much, much better, and Belov could just be the diamond Mac T managed to pluck. Here's hoping he gets in a groove quickly and gets better as the season progresses. I could see him moving up the depth chart if either Petry or Schultz start to struggle.

Looking at our schedule, I still think even our injury laden forwards are going to be good enough to beat some of the eastern teams. Looking forward to getting Nuge and Gags back but I am also enjoying Hall make a go of it at centre.

Hypothetical optimism time: What if Hall turns out to be better at centre than Gagner by the time he returns? What do you do then? I mean, technically his no trade no movement doesn't kick in till next year. Is he the piece that finally nets us back say our big bruising top six winger? Our even better a legit top two defenceman? Our depth chart on defence looks impressive, especially with Nurse and Klefbomb on the way. But how much better does a top pairing of Ferrance and say Yandle look?

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#35 Smokey
October 01 2013, 12:43PM
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tileguy wrote:

I took Gilbert 407th (last pick) lol.

Gilbert is good for 20 points and a suspension.

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