With another season now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to take a look back at the good, the bad and the ugly from the Oilers 17-18 campaign.
McDavid Does it Again
Connor McDavid was absolutely brilliant in leading the Oilers to the post-season last year. He was even better this season despite the fact the team didn’t have the horses to get the job done.
McDavid finished the season with 41 goals and 67 assists surpassing last year’s totals and setting the stage for even a bigger jump next year. The captain managed to lead the league in scoring despite being very sick for close to a month. He’s going to be better than we all expected, which is scary.
Keep Nuge Forever
If Peter Chiarelli was having thoughts about trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins they have to be gone now. If the reason to consider trading Nugent-Hopkins was to find a scoring winger for McDavid then the problem has been solved. After seeing what this duo can bring to the table it’s not crazy to think that Nuge could finish with 35 goals and 75-80 points next season. You no longer have to worry about him being traded…I think.
The continued development of Jujhar Khaira is important for the Oilers on a number of different levels. For starters, he’s a rarity in the fact he’s a player drafted outside of the first round that has actually turned out to be an NHL player. Second of all, he’s versatile. I’d bet he starts next season as the fourth line centre but he has the ability to play on the wing higher up in the lineup. Thirdly, could he be what you were hoping to see out of Lucic? We watched Khaira get a brief look with Draisaitl at the end of the season it left me wondering if he could be a 20-goal winger that stands up for his teammates.
The Quick Hook
Cam Talbot started this season with a shutout, so where did it all go wrong? In the next game, McLellan pulled Talbot less than a minute into the second period with his team trailing the Canucks 3-1. I hated the decision at the time and months later nothing has changed. You have a goaltender who was brilliant for you last season, had a shutout in the season opener and you yank him because you are down 3-1 early in the second period of the second game of the season. I wonder how much Talbot’s early season mindset was rattled by that one decision from his Head Coach?
Andrej Sekera wasn’t available for the first half of the season, Oscar Klefbom was playing with 22 bone fragments floating around in his shoulder and Adam Larsson struggled prior to dealing with the tragic loss of his father. When three of your top four defencemen aren’t available or are failing to meet expectations you are doomed from the start. Also, Kris Russell scored on his own team for a game-winner against Toronto.
What’s the Deal with Puljujarvi?
You know I had to work a Puljujarvi mention into this piece. Two years into his pro career there are too many question marks around Jesse Puljujarvi. The player looked like he was playing on pins and needles over the final couple of months of the season and part of that is on the player, part of that is on the organization and the coaching staff. Why did it take more than a year to get this kid an English teacher
With the season essentially over, why was he still not put into the shooter spot on the second PP unit in an effort to build his confidence? Does Connor McDavid dislike playing with him? For Gregor, does he need to shorten his stick? Prior to the draft, his hockey IQ was graded at 5 out 5 — has he lost that? It just seems like we have a lot of questions about Puljujarvi and I’m starting to wonder if we’ll ever know the answers.
Quick side story on Puljujarvi. My co-host on the Nielson Show is Lt. Eric, one of his friends posted a video on Facebook with Jesse Puljujarvi in his truck. Apparently, the guy was in his vehicle outside of Rogers Place this weekend and saw Puljujarvi walking across the street carrying his Oilers bag and a bunch of sticks. He waved to Puljujarvi and the big Finn walked over to the vehicle, opened the passenger door and asked for a ride home. Classic.
Lucic’s season was about as ugly as it comes for any NHL player let alone one making $6,000,000. Lucic’s production in the second half of the season not only dropped off, it completely disappeared.
To make matters worse, he was continually put in positions to succeed but wasn’t able to capitalize. I do expect a bounce back season in 18-19 but that doesn’t mean this year wasn’t as ugly as they come.
Cap Space Under Performs
The Oilers wrapped up free agency last summer with some cap space. The Oilers started this season with some cap space. The Oilers struggled early in a season they were projected by some to be Cup contenders with cap space. The Oilers season completely went down the toilet with cap space. The Oilers just wrapped up the final year of Connor McDavid’s entry-level deal with cap space. $8,149,018 of cap space to be exact. (Should note that cap space is prior to bonuses being calculated in)
There was a point in the season where I remember saying nothing can be as bad as the Oilers penalty kill, turns out I was wrong. The power-play ended up being an even bigger disappointment.
When your specials struggle as mightily as the Oilers did this season it’s impossible to place blame on one area of the team. The coaching will need to be better and more willing to adjust, Cam Talbot will need to more consistent between the pipes on the PK and the players on the PP will likely need to play with some urgency.
It looks to be an easy fix heading into next season.
Spend to the cap. Lucic bounces back. Puljujarvi develops into a much-needed winger for Draisaitl. Special teams don’t suck. Keep the blue line healthy. Don’t pull your number one goaltender in the second game of the season. Like I said, it looks easy.
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