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.