Three Oilers questions heading into the 2017-18 season

With training camp just around the corner, I had a few questions on my mind that the Oilers that will need answers as we get closer to puck drop.


Mar 23, 2017; Denver, CO, USA;
Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) shoots and scores an empty-net goal in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Leon has a fresh eight-year contract in his pocket, Oilers fans are curious about where he’ll end up spending his time on the ice. Will McLellan slot him in next to McDavid again? Will he centre his own line? Based on the amount of money Peter Chiarelli just stuffed in his jeans, I think most Oilers fans would agree that Leon Draisaitl has to find a way to drive his own line.

To this point in his career, Leon has had the luxury of playing with some pretty good players either on his wing or as a winger himself. Last season, Draisaitl played next Connor McDavid for the majority of the time he spent on the ice (TOI: 660.50 with, 500.40 without) and that split leaves a situation where doubts arise. Personally, I believe that Draisaitl can take another step and drive his own line, and I wouldn’t bet against him, but the point is that we still don’t know for sure.

If the playoffs are any indication, Draisaitl has the ability to carry a line but there is still a question mark for a young guy that just signed a big deal.

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Last summer, Drake Caggiula was a big free agent pickup for the Oilers. The Drake was a highly sought-after college UFA and Oilers were lucky to get him, but, as has been the case many times before, Caggiula was rushed to a spot where he couldn’t be expected to succeed. Remember when Caggiula started out the year (after coming back from injury) playing at centre? The guy had barely gotten his feet wet but the coaches thought it was a good idea to throw him into a role that he had no business playing in, and he struggled as a result.

My question for this season is whether or not Caggiula can take a step forward while playing in a role that’s much more suitable than what he was given when he started. Whether he’s playing on the first, second, or third line, Drake should have a skilled centre playing next to him which should open up some space and allow him to set up shop in the shooting areas. With a shot like he has and his willingness to drive to the net, Caggiula definitely has a chance to improve on the seven goals and 11 assists he put up last year (60 GP).


Jan 21, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Matt Benning (83) skates against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a story that seems played out at this point, but one that will be hugely important for the Oilers. Which defenceman is going to step up their game in the absence of Andrej Sekera? With the veteran d-man out for a couple months to start the year, the Oilers are going to need one of their internal options to take on more responsibility while also keeping their heads above water.

As I post this, Kris Russell is the only certainty on the second pairing and that means that the Oilers are going to need one of Benning, Nurse, Gryba, or Auvitu to take on more responsibility and make it count. At this stage, the Oilers are still building depth on the back end and one of the four aforementioned guys are going to get thrown into the deep end whether they’re ready or not. Someone is going to have to navigate those waters and learn on the job, a task that is very difficult for a young/depth player.

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The stats breakdown courtesy of PuckIQ.com (2016-17 regular season):

  • Matt Benning – (62GP) – 3G, 12A – 15 points – 52.4 CF%
  • Darnell Nurse – (44GP) – 5G, 6A – 11 points – 51.10 CF%
  • Eric Gryba – (40GP) – 2G, 4A – 6 points – 52.20 CF%
  • Yohann Auvitu – (25GP) – 2G, 2A – 4 points – 50.50 CF%

Of the players listed, who do you think has the biggest chance to make a step up to fill the void left by Andrej Sekera’s injury? What say you, Nation?

  • Rebuild3.0

    i think banning will step up this year. he was very good last season and has the range of skills to do it. i also think russell and gryba could work as a temporary pair that gets the d-zone starts until sekera gets back

  • ScottV

    Give LD a decent right winger and it will be no problem.
    Slep is not the answer. I’d rather see Lucic, LD, Kassian than Slep any day.
    But – Kassian is not the top 6 answer either. He should be in the 3rw spot.

    • OriginalPouzar

      Jokinen is a winger – ya, he’s played some center but he’s a winger.

      With McDavid, Drai, Nuge, Strome, Letestu, Kharia as centers, why would we move Jokinen to the middle?

  • ed from edmonton

    Agree that some dman will need to step up during the skera absence for the oil to improve on 103 points. PC did say this at his year end presser when he said they would give young players room to grow.

    Another key will be on RW . I believe the want LD to be a center more than a winger but they need a least 1 RW to be able to establish themselves as a true top 6. Opportunity is there for Strome, Sleepy and JP.

  • Spydyr

    They will try to get Draisaitl to drive a line but if you don’t think he will be with Connor if the team is down a goal or two in the third you just don’t understand hockey.

    Caggiula won’t improve much.

    Isn’t it about time Nurse took a big step forward?

    • OriginalPouzar

      Nurse has taken steps forward every year since he was draft including last year.

      He’s still on his ELC, a young developing d-man.

      He should take another step this year – the step needs to be better decisions – better transition passes

  • Oiler Al

    Here;s a possible line up:
    Marron Mcdavid Strome
    Lucy Drial Callig
    Jokinen Nuge Jesse
    Slepy Letest Kassian

    Larsson Klefbom
    Russell Benning
    Nurse Gryba

    pressbox: Khair and Simpson/Fayne

  • btrain

    For Draisaitl, unless one of the other guys can grab a hold of the RW spot, which is somewhat questionable, I see him moving around over the year. Hopefully by the last few months of the season, he will be able to exclusively center his own line.
    I hope Caggiula is the guy to grab that top RW spot and based on how comfortable he looked there in the playoffs I think he has a good shot at it.

    As for the D, I think there is too much emphasis on determining 2nd/3rd pairing while Sekera recovers. I think the Oil would be best to give Klef and Larsson big minutes while using the other pairs somewhat interchangeably depending on opposition to cover the remaining minutes. If you go up against a bigger top 6 then lean more on Gryba/Nurse, a smaller quicker top 6, lean more on Russell/Benning. I don’t think either combination needs to be overly protected from top competition if Larsson and Klefbom get the bulk of it anyway.

  • OilCan2

    Leon and the Drake will both step it up this year. It’s going to be defence by committee to eat up the lost Sekera minutes. The interesting point will be who emerges on the 1PP position he held.