It’s a time of the year that we’re all too familiar with as Oilers fans: the final twenty-some odd games with any hopes of playoffs gone and the team seemingly having nothing to play for. The wins and losses over this final stretch are meaningless.
There won’t be much to cheer for, but these games shouldn’t just be throwaways either. This final stretch can go a long way to determining the future of some players with the team, or their value on the trade market.
Here’s what I’ll be looking for as the season concludes:
The Oilers are thin on the wings, but Jesse Puljujarvi has shown flashes this year of being a legitimate top-six forward. Over these final 24 games, I’d love to see the young forward get a chance at a regular shift in the top half of the Oilers lineup.
We’ve seen him play with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at times this year, but it rarely lasted more than a couple games, and that puzzles me. When Puljujarvi has been on a line with McDavid, they’ve been well over 50% in terms of possession and they’ve generated 60% of the high-danger chances. The numbers look good when #98 is with Draisaitl as well with 66% of the high-danger corsi events, although their GF% is under 50%.
It would be nice to see him become a permanent fixture in the top six for the remainder of the season so he can develop some chemistry and hopefully cement his spot alongside Draisaitl or McDavid heading into next season.
It’s been a rough year for the Oilers starter and it’s led to some fans saying that he isn’t a #1 goalie.
Last year, Talbot played 73 games and put up near Vezina worthy numbers with a 2.39 GAA and 0.919 sv%. This year, it’s been a real fall from grace as he’s struggled to stop easy shots early in games and the teams’ lacklustre penalty kill has really hurt his numbers. Last year, he allowed 38 goals in 324 minutes on the PK, this year he’s already allowed 37 in just 209 minutes. His shorthanded SV% last year was 0.872, this year is barely over 0.800. Your goalie needs to your best penalty killer, and Talbot has been far from it, something I want to see him improve on.
I don’t believe that Cam Talbot has been the biggest problem this year, but he hasn’t made the timely saves that this team needs. Over the last stretch of hockey, I’d love to see Talbot return to the form we saw last year so that there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that he will be this team’s starter next season.
STROME AT CENTER
If the Oilers end up trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or using either him or Leon Draisaitl as a winger next year, they’ll need a third line centre and that centre will have to be relatively cost-effective.
Ryan Strome hasn’t looked very comfortable in an Oilers jersey (despite scoring yesterday), but I do believe that he’s a good option as the team’s third line centre. I dug up his numbers when he’s on the ice without McDavid, Draisaitl or Nugent-Hopkins (trying to best find his numbers as a centre only) and they’re pretty solid.
When Strome is on the ice as a centre the Oilers have scored 10 goals and given up 11, while getting the majority of the scoring chances. That’s not too shabby and I don’t think he looks out of place as an NHL centerman. It might just be me, but he doesn’t seem to make a lot of mistakes and that’s something I value in a bottom six player.
He plays well on both sides of the puck, he’s decent on the powerplay and I think he has more offensive ability at even strength then he’s shown this year. I’ll be watching to see if Strome can develop a little bit more as we finish off this season, and maybe show that he can be a reliable third line centre option heading into next season.
McDAVID FOR THE ART ROSS
This one will just kind of be fun to watch. Whether they’re winning or losing, it’ll be fun to see if McDavid can defy the odds and sprint his way to another Art Ross. He has a lot of catching up to do, as he sits eight points back of Lightning star Nikita Kucherov, but I wouldn’t doubt McDavid’s ability to heat up even as the team’s season spirals further into the dumpster.
It’s highly unlikely, but it’ll be fun to watch nonetheless.
Just because the playoffs are out of reach doesn’t mean this last bit of hockey in completely meaningless. If players like Strome, Puljujarvi, Slepyshev, and Cagiulla can have strong finishes and continue to develop it only helps this team heading into next year. You can also look at guys like Talbot, Klefbom and maybe even Lucic to have bounce-back finishes which could help shorten Peter Chiarelli’s’ shopping list heading into the offseason.