Earlier last week, I took to social media and asked you, Oilersnation, what your biggest question/concern was regarding the Oilers upcoming season?
The responses came flying in and after finding all the serious answers, I tallied them up and ranked them.
These are the top ten questions regarding the Oilers as voted by you, the fans.
10 – WHAT IS THE JERSEY SITUATION?
I couldn’t decide if I should include this in the actual ten questions, but after sorting through all of your answers, it was clear there is a large group of you very passionate about the teams’ jerseys.
I like the orange jerseys more than a lot of other fans, but I also miss seeing the team in their blues.
Hearing the royal blues might be back next season.
— Tom Gazzola (@TomGazzola) May 15, 2018
Both Tom Gazzola and Chris Creamer mentioned the possibility of a blue jersey returning, and the fact that the team has an open slot in the Adidas catalogue leads me to believe that it will happen. At this point, it’s just a matter of them unveiling the new threads.
9 – HOW WILL THE TEAM RESPOND TO A TOUGH SCHEDULE?
The first month of the schedule is not very kind to the Oilers. They begin their European tour with an exhibition game on October 3rd and finish it off with their regular season opener on October 6th.
Their return to North America is hardly a homecoming with their first three games back all being on the road. They finally return to home ice on October 18th.
There’s a lot of travel and out of their first 11 games, nine of them are against teams that made the playoffs last year. A bad start could sink this team, just like it did last year, and could result in jobs being lost. The first month of the season is a legitimate concern.
8 – WHAT KIND OF IMPACT WILL THE NEW COACHING STAFF HAVE?
Ian Herbers, Jim Johnson, and Jay Woodcroft are out as Assistant Coaches this season and have been replaced with Glen Gulutzan, Manny Viveiros, and Trent Yawney. All three come with very solid reputations.
I would say that the new voices in the room will have a positive impact on both the players and Todd McLellan. It would be hard for the special teams to be any worse next season, same goes for the defence and that’s what these new coaches were really brought in to help.
7 – CAN THE TEAM STAY HEALTHY?
Well, the answer to this is already no as the team has lost Andrej Sekera for what I suspect will be the entire season.
In 2016/17, the only significant injuries that the team sustained were to Tyler Pitlick (47 games), Drake Caggiula (18 games), and Darnell Nurse (35 games).
In 2017/18, the list was much longer and includes Andrej Sekera (34 games), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (14 games), Oscar Klefbom (16 games), and Cam Talbot (8 games). On top of that, you have to consider the fact that Oscar Klefbom played multiple games with a banged up shoulder and the team dealt with a nasty flu virus for a good chunk of the season.
Health was a big reason why the team failed in 2017/18 and if they want to succeed in 2018/19, they’ll have to keep their best players on the ice.
6 – HOW MANY PLAYERS WILL SCORE 20 GOALS?
This is a great question and relates to the teams’ overall depth (which I’ll get into right away). Ill start by saying that I believe there are three players who are locks to score 20 goals and they are Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
After that, I would say there’s a middle layer of players that could realistically pot 20 this year. I have Tobias Rieder, Ryan Strome, Milan Lucic, and Jesse Puljujarvi.
Then you could look at guys like Ty Rattie, Kailer Yamamoto, and Drake Caggiula who could very well hit the 20 goal plateau, but will need the right opportunities and probably a little luck to do it.
There are ten players who COULD do it in my opinion and if five of them can find a way to do it, then there should be no concerns about the teams forward depth.
5 – WILL THE SPECIAL TEAMS FIND THEIR GROOVE?
The Oilers powerplay dropped from 22.9% in 2016/17 to 14.8% this past season. It was absolutely awful. There a multiple reasons for this drop. They never had a reliable, healthy powerplay quarterback. That should change this year with the return of Oscar Klefbom. They also shot just 9.14%, that number should be better this year.
Their penalty kill cost them multiple games this season. In their first 41 games, their PK was dead last in the league at 70.5% and was historically awful on home ice. The reason I think it will get better is because, in the last half of the season, it was third best in the NHL.
They appeared to have figured it out and with a better supporting cast (Kyle Brodziak, Tobias Rieder, and Scott Upshall) and a brand new coaching staff, I can’t see the penalty kill costing them that many games this season.
4 – WHO’S GOING TO PLAY WITH CONNOR McDAVID?
I think it’s safe to assume Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will get a nice long look on McDavid’s left side. It’s the right side that isn’t set in stone. I would say there are two realistic candidates for the spot.
The first is Ty Rattie. He got a nine game run with McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins at the end of the last season and looked really good in that spot. Still, he’s never played more than 14 games in an NHL season. There’s no guarantee he sticks in the top six this year.
The other option is Kailer Yamamoto. He played with McDavid at the start of last season before being sent back to junior. He’s now had another full year of development in the WHL and a full summer of training so I wouldn’t be shocked in Yamamoto takes a massive step forward this year.
3 – ARE THE REST OF THE WINGERS GOOD ENOUGH?
I kind of answered this during question six, but it’s a major concern. Let me start with the top six, where I see some potential but really only one sure thing, and that’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The way I see it, the team needs three players to take major steps forward and establish themselves in the top six. They are Milan Lucic, Jujhar Khaira, Jesse Puljujarvi, Tobias Rieder, Kailer Yamamoto, and Ty Rattie.
The bottom six has the opposite problem, it’s overflowing with options. Add on the fact that three of the names I just mentioned will most likely find spots, there will be Zack Kassian, Scottie Upshall, Pontus Aberg, Brad Malone, Cooper Marody, and Drake Caggiula fighting for whatever spots remain.
A barren top six, and a crammed bottom six is how I see it. There’s a chance that we get some breakout performances like we did in 16/17 and the group the Oilers have is actually competent, but it’s far from a sure thing.
2 – WILL THE DEFENCE BOUNCEBACK?
Darnell Nurse was the lone bright spot on last years blueline. Kris Russell and Adam Larsson held their own but there’s still room for them to improve. Matt Benning sputtered in his second pro season while Oscar Klefbom never looked comfortable.
With Andrej Sekera on the shelf for what I suspect will be the entire season, the team will need a healthy Klefbom and a big step forward from Benning just to survive.
I’m not going to say this group is good enough, and I believe they need to add a player via trade before the start of the season, but in 2016/17 we saw what can happen when a bunch of players have career years. That’s what the Oilers will need from their defence this year.
1 – WHAT WILL THEY GET FROM THE GOALIES?
I’m not going to dissect Cam Talbot’s struggles, because that’s been done enough. For the Oilers to make the playoffs, I believe they need Talbot to have his GAA in the 2.50 range and his save percentage somewhere around 0.915. If he does that, I believe the Oilers will be a playoff team this season.
They also need to do a better job of keeping Talbot fresh, which brings me to Mikko Koskinen.
I’ve never seen Koskinen play so I don’t know what to expect and when it comes to goalies, it’s very tough to translate KHL numbers to NHL numbers. For Mikko Koskinen to be worth his $2.5 million price tag, I’d like to see him get between 20-25 starts and win between 12-15 games
I don’t care what his individual stats are at the end of the year, as long as he can help them get somewhere between 12-15 wins, I’ll be thrilled. The team doesn’t need him to be their next starting goalie, they just need an adequate backup who won’t lose them games.
Those are the best case scenarios, and as we saw last year, anything less than that could sink this team.