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Photo Credit: © Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Who needs to rebound for the Oilers to make the playoffs?

It’s the middle of July, so the Edmonton Oilers roster is pretty much set. Barring an unlikely trade or signing, this is the roster the Oilers are going into the 2018-19 season with. It’s a risky plan. They’ll need many players to return to previous levels and hope an extremely green right wing produces. A lot has to go right for the Oilers to return to the playoffs. Let’s look at the most important players in need of a bounce-back campaign for Edmonton.

G Cam Talbot – 67GP 31-31-4 0.908 SV% – If Cam Talbot doesn’t save more than .910 of his shots, the Oilers aren’t making the playoffs. Talbot’s the most important player Edmonton needs to rebound. Last season was Talbot’s worst in the NHL. He never dipped below a .917 save percentage in the NHL before last season and his career save percentage still remains .918. Talbot’s résumé suggests last year was an outlier and he should be a far better goalie in 2018-19. But the Oilers played Talbot a lot in the 2016-17 season and questions about fatigue and durability were legitimized last season.

If Talbot doesn’t rebound, the Oilers put a lot of faith in Mikko Koskinen to be their backup, despite Todd McLellan never playing his back-up goalies much. The Oilers bet on the KHL goalie on a one-year contract at $2.5 million, even with a year left on Al Montoya’s contract. Koskinen has played well overseas, but he’s unproven at the NHL level. He’s still a question mark, but he’ll be counted on if Talbot falters early again.

LD Andrej Sekera – 36GP 0G 8A 8P 16:20 ATOI – Sekera has been a reliable NHL defenceman for years. He’s regularly logged over 20 minutes a game for Buffalo, Carolina, and Edmonton, but a torn ACL in the 2017 playoffs hindered him last year. Sekera wasn’t anything close to the player he’s been. The Oilers have plenty capable left-handed defenceman, but a healthy Sekera is a top-four defenceman that the Oilers could use and helps in case either Darnell Nurse or Oscar Klefbom are off their game.

In 2017-18, opponents outscored the Oilers three to one with Sekera on the ice 5-on-5. Sekera only averaged third-pairing minutes in his return from injury, but Edmonton still got shelled while he was out there.

A full summer of recover should help Sekera perform like the player he was, but a major injury at 31 isn’t always kind to players.

LD Oscar Klefbom – 66GP 5G 16A 21P 22:51 ATOI – KIefbom was part of a solid pairing with Adam Larsson in 2016-17. They couldn’t replicate that in 2017-18 and Klefbom played hurt until he was shut down for shoulder surgery.

Last season was a tale of two players.

Klefbom from Oct-Jan. 1st – 35GP 52.23 CF% -1.81 CF% rel, 40 GF% -15.56 GF% rel

Klefbom from Jan. 1st-Apr – 31GP 50.73 CF% 2.81 CF% rel, 47 GF% 2.19 GF% rel

Klefbom was a disaster to start the season, but recovered a bit towards the end of the season. Edmonton was outscored badly with Klebom on the ice from October to Jan. 1st.  Sustaining his post-January 1st play will help the Oilers immensely next season, but that involves a swift return from surgery.

A solid season from Klefbom makes Sekera’s play and Nurse’s role matter less and gives Edmonton a reliable top-pairing option.

LW Milan Lucic – 82GP 10G 24A 34P 15:58 ATOI – The Oilers need the Milan Lucic before he came to Edmonton, not the one from 2016-17. Fun fact: Lucic had more 5-on-5 points last season than he did in his first season in Edmonton. Less fun fact: Benoit Pouliot outscored Lucic 5-on-5 in his first two seasons as an Oiler compared to Lucic’s last two years. Lucic has been a disaster 5-on-5 for the Oilers. He used to be a reliable 5-on-5 scorer, meshing with talented centers in Boston and Los Angeles. That hasn’t happened in Edmonton, which is a concern when he’s been handed a boatload of minutes with Connor McDavid. A huge year on the power play hid this in 2016-17, but that didn’t continue last season and his points cratered.

The Oilers need Lucic to start producing 5-on-5 and it’s going to be even harder for the big winger in 2018-19. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins looks like a lock to start the season with McDavid, which leaves either Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Strome for Lucic. Those aren’t players Lucic has had a lot of success with, but he’ll have to as he’s unlikely to repeat his 2016-17 run on the power play.

A lot is riding on these players to bounce back. The Oilers need players like Talbot, Sekera, Klefbom, and Lucic to perform because there’s not many players on the roster who will significantly outplay their 2017-18 season. Edmonton’s right-wing features many players with little or no established ability at the NHL level. They’re already relying on a lot of youth and internal development, and newcomers Tobias Rieder and Kyle Brodziak can only move the needle so much.

  • 2centz

    I pray that just because Brodziak has filled test tubes spot on the 4th line,that it doesn’t mean he’ll be 1st unit power play, but that would be the Oilers thing to do, wouldn’t it. I can see MacTavish, never mind that JP kid, this guy Brodziak has first unit power play all over him.

  • TKB2677

    Talbot. He ended up with a .908% but in reality that was boosted by a really good last 1/3 of the season. He was near .900 for almost half the season.

    Sekera. He was coming off an injury. Missed an entire offseason, all of camp and more than half the season. So he was way behind. When he came back, he looked like maybe a #6 dman at best. He should be able to at least bounce back to average #4 dman. If he did, that is like adding an whole new dman to your top 4 that you didn’t have last year.

    Klefbom. Pretty obvious. He looked like a top pairing guy the season before. He was a 3rd pairing guy at times last year. No reason with surgery that was a success, recovery time before last season ended and a complete offseason he can’t be at least a decent top 4 guy. Like Sekera, that is like adding a top 4 guy to your defense that you didn’t have.

    Larsson. Sputtered out of the gate. Had the family tragedy. NO reason to think he can’t be better than last year and more like he was his first year as an Oiler.

    Benning. He looked like a 2nd year player. Decent stretches but also bad stretches where he looked like a guy that might not be a full time NHLer. If he can just put up consistent top 6 minutes, that is an upgrade. For a dman to become more consistent, it usually just comes down to experience. No reason to think just through gaining more experience, he can’t be more consistent.

    If they get even average starting goaltending from the start of the year plus if 3/4 of your top 4 dmen can be top 4 dmen for the whole year. I am not talking amazing minutes, I am talking just solid minutes, relatively consistent minutes, the Oilers will be dramatically better.

    Lucic. He needs to bounce back. Lucic getting back to putting up usual numbers shouldn’t be a stretch or at least better numbers.

    Those are the 6 main guys I see needing to bounce back. What I think is considered a bounce back is not having career years, it’s just having consistent years.

  • El Oilero

    Talbot doesn’t worry me since most of the D core in front of him was injured last year.
    Sekera may not recover. ACL is a bad injury and Sekera is getting old. If he can return to form then that is a huge plus since he eats a ton of minutes and moves the puck well.
    Klefbom seems to always be injured. He is great when healthy but maybe waiting for him to be healthy, perform well, so that we can trade him for a less injury prone player.
    Lucic is done. We bought high on an aging forward when the league was changing to youth and speed. The only bright side is he can’t get much worse. His 5v5 stats show the decline is continual and not an aberration.

  • Daryl Katz

    Who needs to rebound? Who doesn’t! Talbot, Sekera, Klefbom, Jesse, Drake, and we need more from Kassian and Khaira and Strome too! Other than that we are fine .

    • Oilman99

      Tabot was okay by the end of the season. The problem is they are hoping half the defence can turn it around. Only having three top six forwards is a real problem.

  • Redbird62

    In order of importance for having a bounce back, I agree that Talbot is number one, Sekera and Klefbom are 2a/2b, Lucic is 4 and Larsson is 5. My list is based on both the impact their play has on the team, and the gap between what they have been capable of bringing compared to what they brought consistently last season. Lucic is the only one on that list who had no injury excuse, though Talbot’s play was poor well before his injury. Another one not mentioned so far for a bounce back, at least since I started typing this post is Zach Kassian. He was not the same player year over year and I think Zach Kassian playing to his potential would make him a much more valuable depth player than he was last season. And last, but maybe not least, anybody’s and everybody’s performance on special teams!

  • Make Another Bad Trade or Signing!!

    3 of the 4 you highlighted as needing bounce back years were brought in by PC. That is where the Oilers need to improve – getting more wins vs losses in the trade and signing departments.

    • crabman

      In fairness only 5 of the current 23 man roster were even in the organization before Chiarelli. Once Nurse is signed the only player left that hasn’t recieved a contract from Chiarelli will be Nuge. So any player needing a bounce back season is going to be a Chiarelli guy.

  • Oilman99

    Playoffs are pie in the sky, this is another season of too many “ifs” to expect this team can be a contender. Until they can get of Chia created cap hell they are doomed.

  • IPeeOil

    I really hate this time of year when sports writers just BEAT THE DEAD HORSE. Why even write an article that’s been written and rewritten all summer so far?
    OILNATION can’t write about how our favorite team and players have been spending their summer? Insiders my butt…

  • Bond

    Gonna take a different tack here, I think all of the players mentioned need to have better years BUT at least as importantly TM needs to be better. I think his coaching decisions cost the Oilers at least 5 wins directly. His player management, development and utilization is substandard at best. he better than Eakins……who isn’t? But that isn’t saying much. With our brutal schedule to start the year, TM is in serious jeopardy. He more than anyone needs a career year!!!!

  • Bills Bills

    Risky???? Risky would be blowing up a team that was over 100 points and a Kesler pad pull away from the conference finals just a calendar year ago.
    People keep criticizing the wing depth as if that is what caused the problems last year. Like if we just had TH and JE on the roster, we would be in great shape and a perennial contender. Short memories are great aren’t they?
    The real truth is that wing depth is absolutely the least of this teams concerns. The goal-tending, defense and special teams killed this team last year. 5X5 scoring the Oilers were top half of the league. If the defensive play wasn’t ridiculously porous last season, this team spend less time in it’s own end and ends up top ten in 5X5 goals.
    If the power play was not completely inept, this team has a couple more wins. If the penalty kill was not historically bad, this team avoids a few more losses. If the team save percentage was up to .919, this team is not drafting top 10.

    Fix those issues and this team is meeting expectations of last year. Our wing depth is not going to make or break this team as its strength is down the middle, having a mobile defense and solid goaltending that this team was built around. Teams win and lose together.

  • Ted

    Too many players have to bounce back. Which puts to much weight on the shoulders of these players to be the athletic free wheeling creatives players that they will need to be. If there is no fun to go without having to think about every step they take these players will not change. Confidence doesn’t just fall off the tree. It will take time to find. Unfortunately there is little time because to make the playoffs they will need to hit the ground running. Too much pressure on these players to perform while still trying to find it while leave them at the bottom of the pack again sadly. Lightning must strick to turn this thing around. BOOM.

  • Devolution

    The strange thing about Talbot is the fact that he was bad at the beginning of the season and good at the end. That doesn’t really sound like a fatigue issue.

        • Kneedroptalbot

          3 goals given up in 5 mins in a playoff game is not acceptable. Then another in OT to lose the game.
          That was Goaltender Interference right? What about the other 4????

          • 3 of the other four would not have counted with legitimate officiating. By that I mean call the rules in the rule book, offside, hooking , interference etc. The league got exactly what they wanted from that series, another Canadian team removed reducing the threat of the CUP coming north, which will never happen with Bettman in charge. I get the grow the game mantra, does not mean we should be happy that the rulebook is ignored at the expense of Canadian teams. Applies to all Canadian franchises, not just the Oilers.

          • Redbird62

            Anaheim gets 64 shots on net including 20 in overtime and scores on 4 of them, and you think its Talbot’s fault. The first 2 were deflections, we all know what happened on the tying goal, and the winner was scored by Cory Perry on a uncontested play skating alone through the slot. The Oilers panicking combined with anything goes rules in the last 5 minutes of a playoff game cost them that game and probably the series – not Talbot. He played great in several of those games and had a .923 save percentage. And the question was about his season, not one game that your still agonizing over. You and Lakid constantly complain about Talbot and that’s fine, but you look like a trolls when you spew garbage like this.

          • Redbird62

            So to support yours and Kneedroptalbot’s argument for Talbot having a bad season in 2016-17, you offer up one game you believe he played badly in in a season where Talbot play 86 games. I will concede that game 5 of a playoff series carries more weight than almost any regular season game, but you picked a game that you can’t even demonstrate he played poorly in. It is not my intention to persuade you to like Talbot, you can do what you want. But you clearly have no interest in having a reasonable discussion about Talbot’s positive and negatives, so any further back and forth with you is a complete waste of time and effort.

  • Kaplan

    Say what you will about Talbot, Sekera and Russell, but if McDavid doesn’t start showing up every night and generating some offensive playmaking, this team is done.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    At the end of last season Edmonton had 3 glaring needs to compete with the top teams:
    1. More team speed. (+Tobias Rieder)(- Kyle Brodziak 34 yrs old)
    2. Consistent Goaltending (Mikko Koskinen?, not sure)
    3. More secondary scoring (no significant signings).
    At this point I don’t see much improvement

    • MrBung

      Agreed. This team is not going to have a much different result next season and they will lose more points to the Flames which have improved. Rest of the division is still solid and will continue to give the Oil issues. I have my doubts with the Oil’s ability to even compete against the Canucks and Coyotes.

  • Ted

    Few players left off your list CP. I would start with Mr. Kassian. This guy was a threat most nights and accountable most night in younger days. He’s still young. Last year he took the year off. As a junior he scored and scared the crap out of players. Probably on his own team and others. But Mr. Kassian needs to find that form again to even play some top line minutes on the occasion. He’s too bored with his role it needs some sprucing up. BOOM