A new rink. A new season. New faces. And, of course, a new sense of optimism for long-suffering fans who’ve been counting the days since last season ended. Absolutely no surprise there, and as the Edmonton Oilers take to the ice at Rogers Place for their second day of their 2016 training camp today, that’s the way it should be.

Whether it’s building the kind of new attitude newcomer Milan Lucic talked about with Jason Gregor Friday, figuring out the line combinations and defensive pairings coach Todd McLellan will throw over the boards when the season opens or anticipation about when the official announcement will come that Connor McDavid is the next captain of the Oilers, there’s plenty to contemplate.

That said, I’ll throw my two cents in with three questions, three predictions and three players I’ll be watching through camp and pre-season as the Oilers get ready for their 37th NHL season.



Will Connor McDavid stay healthy? 

If McDavid isn’t already one of the top five forwards in the NHL, he’s damn close. No matter what tweaks GM Peter Chiarelli has made to the roster, and will make, the 2016-17 edition of the Oilers hinges on the health of McDavid. Keeping McDavid in the line-up for all, or at least the majority, of the season will be the biggest single factor in whether the Oilers make a push for the playoffs after 10 years out or struggle as also-rans yet again.

Has the defence improved enough?

There’s been deficiencies all over the place during the decade the Oilers have spent out of the playoffs, but the one constant for most of that time has been the team’s inability to defend and keep pucks out of the net. If that doesn’t change drastically, if the Oilers can’t shave 30-35 goals-against off the bottom line, McDavid and the rest of the forwards won’t be able to score enough to make up for it. Is the addition of Adam Larsson, who will play first-pairing minutes, enough? It’s a good start. So is a healthy Oscar Klefbom, who played just 30 games last season.

Is the forward mix right?

The lament here for years was that the Oilers had too much of the same thing up front – small, skilled forwards who could be pushed out of games, who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, stand up for each other. Chiarelli addressed that with the addition of Lucic, Patrick Maroon and Zack Kassian to complement the likes of McDavid, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. What’s most important is these additions represent grit and toughness who can play top-nine minutes. Still, we’ve yet to see how everybody fits together.



Jesse Puljujarvi.

Duh! The big Finnish winger has done nothing but blow the doors off everybody who has watched him through the rookie tournament in Penticton and the annual showdown with the Alberta Golden Bears (he should shine in games like that) and he’ll have all eyes on him in pre-season. I can’t wait to see him against better competition. Is Puljujarvi as ready as he’s looked? We’ll see soon enough.

Adam Larsson

Outside of Puljujarvi, I don’t see anybody among the news kids in town, outside Drake Caggiula, grabbing a roster spot. What I want to see is Larsson do what he does in settling down a blueline group that’s been decidedly unsettled. It likely won’t be spectacular stuff in terms of flash and dash, but it’s absolutely critical to the hopes of this team that Larsson get settled in quickly alongside Klefbom and get ready for all the minutes that’ll be thrown at him. 

Milan Lucic

The hulking and skilled Lucic is bigger and badder than anybody the Oilers have had slotted into a top-six spot at forward in forever and I want to see how he performs as the team’s first-line left winger in place of Taylor Hall alongside McDavid. We know Lucic will scare the crap out of anybody who even looks at McDavid the wrong way, but what else? Can Lucic keep up? Is he a match style-wise for McDavid?



  • If Puljujarvi makes the roster out of camp – I think he will – then I expect that, along with the addition of Kris Versteeg by way of a PTO, will spell the end of Nail Yakupov here. If Eberle, Versteeg and Puljujarvi occupy the first three spots on right wing, that leaves either Yakupov or Kassian for duty on the fourth line. That’s not a fit for Yakupov or the Oilers. He’s outta here.

  • Those who have insisted Yakupov should be on right wing alongside McDavid when the pre-season starts will howl yet again that he’s been screwed over for the umpteenth time when that doesn’t happen. While the charter members of The Yak City Club have thinned, he’ll be serenaded out of town by those insisting right until the bitter end that it just ain’t fair.

  • Nugent-Hopkins looked like he’s ready for a bounce-back season during the World Cup of Hockey after missing 27 games to injury last season. If Nugent-Hopkins stays healthy, I expect him to surpass his career high of 56 points this season.


Here’s my best guess at the 23-man roster to start the season.















Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.


      • Beaumatters

        Hey…. I agree he has to get A LOT more competitive, but….. maybe a little over the top on this one…..lacing them up proves that is not the case.

        • Dwayne Roloson 35

          Eberle gets too much hate. Over the past 5 seasons his points per game is better than Sharp, Voracek, Tarasenko, steen, Krejci, Couture and duchene. He’s good at what he does. Just because he doesnt destroy people with open ice hits, doesnt mean he’s not one of the better forwards in the game.

          • Beaumatters

            Didn’t say he wasn’t and never talked once about destroying anyone. Who is their right mind would expect a 5’10” skilled forward to be throwing open ice hits? Some do it, but not many. Anyway, that is not what being more competitive is about at all. Digging in the corners, fighting to get to open ice for a scoring opportunity, back checking with a purpose (basically watch McDavid) is what competitive means to me and those are areas where I think he can improve. If you don’t see it that way, we disagree.

            If he adds that to his game, he leaves the guys you mentioned in the dust.

            I was responding to the “scared of his own shadow” comment because I thought that was harsh.

          • Powdered milk

            He also gets all the top line minutes and all of the first unit power play time. You should compare the players you mentioned playoff points per game to Eberles. Majority of his points come when the team is losing or the season is already over. He’s over paid just like Nuge

          • Randaman

            That is a completely unfair comparison you speak of. You could say that about a lot of the team. Try throwing previous management under the bus because of their ineptitude.

            Lighten up a little. Jealous much?

          • Powdered milk

            I could say that about pretty much all of the team. The players get paid to play the games and win, if they don’t it’s no ones fault but there’s. Blaming management is a loser excuse, it’s not like the oilers weren’t close to the cap limit for all the years of losing.

          • Powdered milk

            So is it managements fault that the players they paid to play weren’t good enough? Or the players fault that management didn’t get better players?

            Pot meet kettle
            Chicken meet egg

          • Dwayne Roloson 35

            That wouldn’t be a good comparison no matter how salty you are about no playoffs. I can tell you that tarasenko, krejci, voracek and steen play more minutes per game and get more powerplay time than eberle based on last years stats.

            I can also tell you that In the 13-14 season, Eberle put up 25 points in his first 30 games.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    First season I can remember where it’s universally agreed the oilers have a legit shot at making the playoffs. No more “they need two more defense and a top line center” bull crap… How could we as fans accept an incomplete roster every year fur ten years?!?!

    Finally they have top defense pairing and center is a strength. Not to mention Talbot. Everyone else is complimentary and should be able to tweak accordingly.

    • Muddy

      Good thoughts and I would tend to agree, it is an improved roster and size has been addressed. The only glaring need is depth, if one defence or center goes down that could spell the end very quickly. Glad we kept RNH as we have never gone a full seaon in the last ten years with stability down the middle. Depth will come with time and if this team can stay healthy for 2/3 of the season – WATCH OUT

  • HardBoiledOil 1.0

    i hope that Puljujarvi and Caggiula both make the team and actually play and not be just cheerleading while the likes of Hendricks and Letestu play.

  • Oil drop

    I think. The chiarelli is committed to yakapov at the start of the season. I think he wants to see if there is a player there

    I anticipate the oilers give him every opertunities to show what kind of player he is before they plan a future with or with out him

  • Serious Gord

    The lack of depth in net and on defense is a recipe for disaster. Career years for many players could be wasted with just one lengthy injury if chia doesn’t make a couple more moves early in the season to address both.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      although finally getting to the playoffs would be nice and i’d take it for sure, i just don’t want to end up like the Avs were 3 years ago with 52 wins and 112 points and then regress in the standings and miss the playoffs the last 2 seasons.

      • Serious Gord

        Ten years of wearing rose-colours glasses have distorted your and many other oiler fan perspectives.

        Chia failed to address the key weakness of this team – by far and away his top priority in the off-season – and to shore up the goaltending.

        Whether or not he could have been successful in addressing that priority is up for debate.

        What is not debatable is that the void remains on defense. And unless some very fortunate things happen: klefbom gets to the next level and remains healthy, Davidson continues to make great strides; nurse matures dramatically, laarson builds on what he was in NJ et al, this will be another lost season For the team and its fans.

        (I find it notable that no one has rebutted my points in my first post above but rather slag the messenger. That is a strong indicator that there is a lot of agreement with my points).

        • Oilerchild77

          Actually, there isn’t a lot of agreement with your points. That’s because most of us think you’re wrong. PC has addressed the void on the right side defence, and he had to pay a heavy price to get it too. Do you really think he can get what you apparently want without gutting the core!? Get realistic man! He did what he could.

          And yes, the continued improvement of the young defence will be needed in order for the team to step forward. That’s the only way any team can ever turn it around in a salary cap world.

          Stop your complaining and get on board or move on to something else that doesn’t feed your pessimistic personality.

    • Boom or Bust

      Meh. Lack of depth is still to be seen. Talbot looked pretty legit. Now he has a better D in front of him then last year. Gustason is a back up goalie…and that’s all…only purpose is to relieve at times. Broissot is looking pretty decent if need be. I think if Talbot gets hurt bad enough we will have some guys that we can trade off this year to help out. I still feel Talbot is our guy

      • Serious Gord

        Talbot even if healthy is good for 60 games tops.

        Gustafson is a very poor goalie even as a backup (.902 sv% in NHL) Brossoit is entirely untested.

        Talbot pulls a groin and the season is sewered.

        • Beaumatters

          Valid point Gord, but, it’s a team game and these are different teams, but Pittsburgh was not sewered when they lost their starter. In fact they played a rookie. Montreal was though. Both good teams, Pittsburgh carried on with a rookie and Montreal dived with veterans & rookies. Any reasoning in that, not really

          The Oil must feel comfortable with the guys they have and good on them in believing in these players. Don’t be pulling a MacT and throwing guys under the bus before seeing if they have developed/improved their game over the summer. If this is a problem in pre-season, they will have to deal with it, if they don’t and things go off the rails, you are a prophet…

    • fisherprice

      I hardly ever agree with Serious Gord, but he’s right. Talbot may have proven his bonafides as a legit starter, but Gustavsson is the kind of backup you have when your starting goalie is a superstar, not just a decent starter. He’s the kind of backup you have for a Braden Holtby or a Carey Price. If we’re asking him to play any more than 10-15 games, I think we’ll all be pretty scared of The Monster by season’s end.

    • Beaumatters

      Hey Gord. I don’t disagree, but in a salary cap world can you afford proven NHL depth outside of your top 23/24 guys? Another experienced D-Man would be great (RHD even better) and that can probably fit under the cap, but not sure about goal. And with goal, if all are healthy, it is hard to get everyone the minutes they need to develop / stay sharp.

      I think, the guys filling in need to step up when they get the chance. Those 21 / 22 / 23 year old seasoned AHL guys who are ready to bust into the NHL provide your depth, but they are few and far between here, so this will take time. The good news is some guys got into some NHL games last year, most did fine, so that experience should be a benefit when they get the call this year. My thoughts anyway.

      • Serious Gord

        Never said it was easy to do. But the difference between what is the starting roster for defense – and that it will, even if healthy likely be ranked in the bottom third of the league – and what the team has to fill in in case of injury is huge. I don’t think it was impossible for chia to have moved some of the prospects for a bit more reliable defensive back-up.

        • Beaumatters

          You know Gord, there are so many factors in making trades I couldn’t tell you what is possible or not. Plus, Chia holds his cards very close to his chest, so who knows what he is thinking.

          Another move may still be coming (and maybe on the cheap too) as teams settle on their roster / salary cap. I guess it all depends on what kind of player coming here you have in mind, because our prospect pool is swallow, but who knows.

          I look at it like this, they have 4 or 5 draft pure-breds with a lot of growth potential. When/if they get there, don’t know, but if 3 jump a level or two, the D will be fine. Injuries will always be a concern, but that goes back to my previous note.

          I know, not money in the bank, but on a team that lacks bankable (if that is a word) players, thats how I get through the night….Good chat…

        • Natejax30

          Hey gord, just wondering what your thoughts would be on Russel. Good dman, moves puck good, left handed but would add another layer or depth…if the contract was short. I agree 100 percent the inevitability of injuries may well cause this corps to struggle…unless nurse and reinhardt take huge steps forward.

          I will say that in 2 years we will have a great d corps. Just getting us to there and allowing our young guys to develop properly will be the challenge.

  • TruthHurts98

    Bottom line: I just want to see the Oilers win. And I think with competition for spots outside of the 3 centre positions will make some players really elevate their games like we’ve never seen in the last decade. It’ll be fun to watch, I don’t care who does or doesn’t make it if the Oilers start winning!! I’m going to continue to hope that PC can still make a good trade and bring in a RHD that can QB the PP. Then I think the playoffs are attainable. And with the size, toughness and grit added the injuries should lessen.

  • Mitch92

    I think the lines will look more like this barring any trades:

    • Alberta Bound Edmonton

      You don’t see Versteeg on opening day. I do. Lines: Lucic-McDavid-Eberle, Pouliot-Nuge-Versteeg, Maroon-Drai-Yak, Hendricks-Letestu-Kassian. Why? Todd will go with veterans. Make the rooks earn they way via the AHL.

      • Mitch92

        After listening to Chiarelli and McLellan talk, it really sounds to me like Draisaitl is going to play wing in the top six. With that in mind I prefer putting the younger, stronger, bigger, more well rounded Puljujavi on the top line with Lucic and CMD and keeping Eberle with RNH while adding the dynamic Draisaitl to that line. Maroon can sub in for Drai if some more toughness is required. My take on Versteeg is that he was brought in as Puljujarvi insurance. It makes no sense to sign him to play third line unless he is willing to do so for well below Yak’s $2.5 million which would be quite a cut from what Steeger is accustomed to surviving off of. He would do better in Europe with far less pressure.

    • Alberta Bound Edmonton

      You don’t see Versteeg on opening day. I do. Lines: Lucic-McDavid-Eberle, Pouliot-Nuge-Versteeg, Maroon-Drai-Yak, Hendricks-Letestu-Kassian. Why? Todd will go with veterans. Make the rooks earn they way via the AHL.

  • RogueJedi

    There are a rare few exceptions, but most 18/19 year old kids have a really difficult time transitioning to the NHL. They might look great out of training camp after a full summer of training and also the first 10 games (i.e. I am looking at you Darnell), but struggle with mistakes and consistency after that. It could be the demands of the NHL, the quality of competition improving as the season progresses, the travel, etc. Its not an easy league to play in.

    To me, the best approach is to sign Versteeg to a contract and let Puljujarvi start in the AHL, regardless of how he looks in training camp and preseason. It will help, not hinder his development to play at least 40 games in the AHL.
    If he blows the doors off, then we have lots of options -move the asset we acquired for free in Versteeg, finally trade Yak, etc.

    • TruthHurts98

      Only problem with that is no can one time the puck like JP on the PP. And he’s already better than Versteeg, Yak and company. Ideally if they had a little more depth he could start in the A, but it seems like he’s really competitive and will fight his way on the roster. By the end of the year or early next year he’ll probably be pushing for Eberle’s top line spot.

  • The9th

    Why burn another year of puljujarvi’s entry level contract when we can delay it and have him cheaper for a little while longer before he’s able to put up some points in the nhl. I see no harm with having him starting in the AHL and lighting it up down there. Plus when all these deals need to be re signed for bigger money it might help us having a high scoring winger on the team with an entry level contract because we patient enough not to bring him up too soon.

      • OriginalPouzar

        This is not correct.

        If he doesn’t play 10 NHL games this year, his contract slides.

        The rule has nothing to do with CHL and junior, it has to do with NHL games played before the age of 20. It simply doesn’t usually apply to recently drafted players in the AHL because most are not eligible for the AHL due to being drafted out of junior).

        The Oilers are in a relatively unique position of playing a material prospect in the AHL as a teenager – helping both development and potentially having his contract slide for a year (if he plays essentially the entire year in the AHL).

        JPs contract is 100% eligible to slide this year.

  • dangilitis

    I cannot speak to Jesse’s abilities as I have not seen him play other than from highlight videos, etc. While I will admit I would like to see Yak get one last chance (certainly over Lander, who the organization continues to support even though he’s been offensively inept), more importantly, I would like to see the team’s best lineup. If that means losing Yakupov for nothing as a result, so be it.

    However, in all honestly, how come the rhetoric keeps being repeated that 18 year old player X drafted in the first round has a strong chance of making the team because he blows the doors off competition that is vastly inferior to that in the NHL? You yourself had a much more even-handed view of Leon despite his great play pre-season, so how are these 2 any different?

    If the pre-season and U of A/Penticton games actually predicted success in the NHL, I would be more optimistic about this guy stepping in on RNH’s wing as an 18 year old. But that 2nd line is just as important as McDavid’s for this team’s success, they need to be able to feast on the lesser competition. RNH can’t be teaching him on the fly, this is a very important season for him as well. If Jesse earns a look, then great. Heck, I’m hopeful Versteeg is going to give them both a run for their money. But no matter how well Jesse does in training camp, I think it would be extremely premature to send Yak away until Jesse proves that he currently is better than Nail when the games matter. And that also means, unfortunately, that this proof needs to be substantial, because even the first 10-20 games are not reflective of how Jesse will hold for the entire season. Otherwise, you will have given Yakupov away for nothing and have repeated the same mistake that was made with Leon.

  • OilBlood

    Yikes you have Yak not being on the team to start the season?

    Bold, bold prediction. Wrong, but bold which is nice to see from you Brownlee.

    No way Yak doesn’t start with the team, not everyone thinks getting ripped off with a third or 4th rounder is ok just for the sake of getting the guy off the team.

    These are the same people who were crying about not getting enough value for hall.

    Yak will start the year on a scoring line, get the chance to put some points up and try to get some value out of him. He’s paid 2.5M. He’s not underperforming in relation to his pay.

    At least he’s not a cancer on the team like hall was. That’s why he’s still here while hall got traded for peanuts on the dollar.

    • Muddy

      Wrong. This team is coming out of the gate to WIN games, no way they sacrifice wins to pad Yak’s stats. I love the kid but if he can’t score on our third line he’ll be watching someone else do in from the press box. Good players make others look good not the opposite. Hell I could throw on my speed skates and score 30 goals playing next to McDavid….

      • OilBlood

        I do agree this team isn’t going to sacrifice winning but Yakupovs most common line mate was Letestu last year, who on his own admitted that he is nothing more than a good 4th line center in this league. Yet yak was supposed to make him look more than what he has been his entire career?

        From a ppg perspective he outscored any other oiler including Eberle playing with Letestu.

        What I don’t understand is this belief that Jesse will be able to crack the team because he played good against some kids and uofa. Yeah well so did Draisaitl. People like Brownlee are just fanboys wanting to see more kids as if they haven’t learned their lesson that development is needed. I don’t care that he played in Finland against men. He needs to play the North American game in the AHL, learn it score the roof off and then once he’s missed out on most of his bonuses, bring him up when he’s ready.

        In the last six years I have never seen Eberle Nuge or Hall being relegated to the 3rd and 4th lines and expected to make those third and fourth liners look good.

        You could put your speed skates on? So why couldn’t hall get anything done with Mcdavid, are you that much better with your speed skates on than Hall?

    • Muddy

      Wrong. This team is coming out of the gate to WIN games, no way they sacrifice wins to pad Yak’s stats. I love the kid but if he can’t score on our third line he’ll be watching someone else do in from the press box. Good players make others look good not the opposite. Hell I could throw on my speed skates and score 30 goals playing next to McDavid….

  • O.C.

    I think it would be a mistake, assuming Versteeg earns a spot, not to have him alongside Draisaitl. Good veteran presence to further Leon’s development.

    I also think it’s an equal mistake to put JP,if he starts in the show, to be on RW with Leon. JP with a veteran centre who knows both ends and can teach, (i.e. Nuge) seems a better fit.

    I see Yak having to prove and earn that he deserves a spot on the starting lineup. Like everyone, I’m pulling for him as there is too much raw talent there to ignore. Hopefully he pushes through the competition ahead of him; he’s his own worst enemy when he mopes.

  • tileguy

    Couldn’t agree more with you Brownlee regarding Yak. I will just repost my comment from JW’s article.

    Lets face it, he has the skill but not the smarts to play in the nhl. Just let your mind wander to all the times you have seen him out of position. At 22 years of age he should have the hockey smarts to know where to be and what to do on the ice. I see Ebs, Puli, Steeg and Kassy as our right wingers. It will be up to Chia to get more than a bag of pucks for him.

  • bwar

    I think it’s stupid for the oilers to not put yak in a position to succeed. Even if you intend to trade him, strap him to mcdavid’s side and watch his stock rise before shipping him out of town.

    • OilBlood

      Thank you.

      All this nonsense about him not deserving to be on McDavids wing and not having earned it.

      Hello to all the geniuses out there. If Eberle with Nuge gets you 65-70 points and Eberle with Mcdavid gets you 75-80. While Yak with letestus gets 25-30 points but Yak with Mcdvid could get 60.

      What’s better for the team? All this talk about deserving and making others around him look good and be better. Why? Because he was picked first overall?

      Get over it, if he can be a complimentary scoring winner that’s not a terrible thing.

      If a trash can is able to score with Mcdavid like everyone says, than why do people think it’s better to have Eberle’s point totals increase by 10% when he’ll be good with whoever he plays and making the most out of a guy who can’t play good with anyone

    • Beaumatters

      I agree, but I think other GM’s would still base his stock value on what he does not playing with McDavid until he sheds his current reputation. I think it would take a year or so of success before that is done. But, if teams get desperate, anything is possible.

      In saying that, they would at least establish if he could succeed playing with skill or not. Interested to see how this one plays out.

  • OilFarmer

    All this talk about the forwards and I’m just sitting here hoping we can send Nurse down to play top line AHL minutes instead of pressbox or 3rd pair minutes.

    Last year Gryba and Davidson played very well together and I’d hope that they would be our 3rd pair until Nurse or more unlikely Griff blow the doors off the AHL and force their way onto the big club.

  • The Rookie

    Man, a Pou-drai- JP line would physically dominate in a 3rd line vs 3rd line role. Might see tougher competition on away games, but I think they could handle themselves, aside from a few errors due to inexperience of drai and JP. If they can get some chemistry on the cycle, that would be something Edm has lacked for quite some time. In recent years, guys excelled at scoring on the rush, any other kind of zone play (ie poor power plays) they all seemed so lost.

  • Rusty Patenaude

    I don’t think the arrival of Puljujarvi and Versteeg needs to be the end of Yakupov. Injuries are going to happen and Versteeg, Yakupov and Puljujarvi could all fill in at left wing in a pinch as well as playing rw. How many games do you expect to have all six wingers on the top three lines healthy?

  • GK1980

    Your point about shaving 30-40 goals against made me think about how the oilers dealt with teams pushing for a goal when the oilers where in the lead. As we all know when a team takes the lead the game strategy typically changes dramatically. This usually went bad for the oilers last year because when a team started to “press the attack” the oilers D simply wasn’t good enough and they had a hard time keeping the lead.

    With Larson and Klefbom hopefully shutting things down and the other team taking more chances opening themselves up, hopefully mcdavid and crew can use this to an advantage. This is what good teams do.

    • Heavy Stick

      Actually the D is only 2/5 of the team defence. The Centre low, wing in slot or point are ALL equally important so blaming it on the defense reflects tunnel vision and misunderstanding.

        • Heavy Stick

          Not at all. What % of shots/goals are from the area/player patrolled by the D in the D zone. About 40%? Weak defensive forwards are easily exploited by teams.those who blame it on the D are probably the same guys who use game stats to make individual judgements on players. It’s not a large part but an equal part.The why do power plays generate more shots and scoring chances? One less forward? Missed coverage is basically being a man down.

  • RJ

    I think Puljujarvi is probably going to be awesome before the end of his ELC.

    But to expect him to handle the NHL schedule (number of games played), the travel (the NHL travel is ridiculous), new language, culture, systems, teammates, etc. and contribute at a top level isn’t practical.

    Don’t misunderstand this as a plea for YakCity. I expect him gone this season. But it does make sense to let Puljujarvi to spend one year in development before you expect the world from him.

    Adding Versteeg makes sense to give Puljujarvi the chance to start in the minors (provided he has something left to give).

  • Randaman

    Great read Robin. I think you’ve nailed the lineup coming out of camp. The only question is whether Yak is traded before the season starts or after but he will be traded.