This past off-season wasn’t exactly a positive one around Oilersnation. They didn’t make any big additions, instead opting for a series of small bets and hoping that some of their young players can take big strides forward and a group of key veterans can have bounce-back seasons.
Lots will need to go right this season for the team to make the playoffs, but today, I want to stay optimistic. I will be throwing on the Oilers coloured glasses and listing ten reasons why this team will make the playoffs.
It’s the start of the season and fans should be filled with optimism when it comes to their favourite teams. So let’s get going Oilersnation.
1 – CONNOR McDAVID
He is by far the biggest reason Oilers fans should be optimistic about the upcoming season. Every night Connor McDavid gives this team a chance to win and that is a massive luxury.
The list of players who can almost single-handedly drag a team to the playoffs is very short, but McDavid probably tops it.
Last year, he posted 108 points. 84 of them came at even strength, 4 came shorthanded, and just 20 came on the powerplay. I expect McDavid to take another step forward, which means he could score even more at even strength, but he could really run away with the scoring title if the Oilers powerplay takes a stride forward.
Last year, the Oilers PP was 14.8% and dead last in the league. If they were to improve to an average PP (let’s say it’s 20%) it would boost their total production from 31 goals to 42 goals. That could give McDavid another boost in offensive production.
He’s the best player in the world, and the #1 reason fans should be optimistic about this season.
2 – CAM TALBOT
Last year, Talbot played in 67 games. In his first 34, he posted a 3.09 GAA with a 0.902 SV%. It was a horrible start and I won’t even make excuses for him. He was a big reason the Oilers season got off to a bad start.
If his final 33 starts of the year, his numbers got better. He went up to a 0.913 SV% with a 2.96 GAA. Although it was a slight improvement, it’s still not quite where the Oilers need Talbot to be.
The Oilers need Talbot to be a Vezina calibre goalie or at least close to it like he was in 2016-17. We all know he’s capable of doing it.
The issues that plagued Talbot last year were slow starts to games and horrendous play on the penalty kill. So far this preseason, Talbot has looked much more comfortable in net, which leads me to believe that mentally, he is in a better state then he was last year
That combined with a better penalty kill means the Oilers should be more than confident with Cam Talbot between the pipes this season.
3 – CENTRE DEPTH
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will start the year as the number one and two centres, and that is one of the best duos in the league. Very few teams have two centremen who can both push a point a game.
If Leon falters, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could move back to the middle of the ice where he’s both very comfortable and very effective.
In the bottom six, Ryan Strome will centre the teams’ third line. While he doesn’t create a lot of offence, he’s a more than capable 3C. We’ve also seen Jujhar Khaira play centre at times and while I’m not sure how much he’ll be used there, he gives them more depth down the middle of the ice.
The team also signed Kyle Brodziak to be their fourth line centre and I believe he is an upgrade over Mark Letestu. While he won’t contribute on the powerplay, I think he’s a more reliable option at even-strength, which strengthens this teams centre core.
A good mix of high-end skill and reliable bottom six players is what I see with the Oilers, and with a couple centres playing the wing right now, there should never be a shortage of quality centremen in the Oilers lineup.
4 – AN IMPROVED PK
The Oilers penalty kill was historically awful in the first half of the 2017-18 season, but in the second half of the year (the last 41 games to be specific) they had the third-best percentage in the league.
They started to figure it out and now that proven PKers Kyle Brodziak and Alex Chiasson have been added, along with a brand new coaching staff, I’m very confident the Oilers could have a top ten penalty kill this season.
In total the team allowed 57 goals while shorthanded. If they can drop that by ten goals, it will go a long way in improving their chances of making the playoffs.
5 – A LOADED PP
Last year, the powerplay was really bad. This preseason, they haven’t been much better. But when I look at players like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Kailer Yamamoto, I have a hard time believing they won’t find a system that makes them a very efficient powerplay.
They need a defenseman to emerge, and that could easily be Oscar Klefbom, who was an elite powerplay defenseman in 2016-17.
They also need a big body to wreak havoc in front of the opposing goalie, and I think they have two capable pieces in Milan Lucic and Jujhar Khaira.
The pieces are all there and it’s not unreasonable to expect this team to have a top ten powerplay this season.
6 – AN EMERGING RIGHT SIDE
The Oilers group of right-wingers was their biggest question mark heading into training camp. Was Ty Rattie really going to be the answer? Could Kailer Yamamoto make the team out of camp? Would this be the year Jesse Puljujarvi jumps forward?
Well, each of those players came in and had outstanding preseasons, combining for 17 goals in 15 games. The right side doesn’t look as weak as it did a month ago.
I know, it’s only preseason (remember when Anton Lander led the NHL is preseason goals a few years ago?) but it’s been a very encouraging start for the Oilers right side and there’s much more hope that they can score lots of goals for the Oilers this season.
7 – GOALS FROM THE BOTTOM SIX
The top two lines seem pretty set right now, and there’s no doubt they have a group that can score goals. But what about the bottom six?
The third line will likely feature Jesse Puljujarvi and Ryan Strome, two players who have pretty good offensive instincts. Strome isn’t necessarily a drive, but so far this preseason Puljujarvi is looking like one. Throw an emerging Jujhar Khaira on the other wing and I could that third line being very effective in the offensive zone.
The fourth line seems pretty strong as well. Zack Kassian and Kyle Brodziak are both proven fourth line options who know how to be effective on the forecheck. Add in either Drake Caggiula or Alex Chiasson, and I think you create a fourth line that can really force the opposition into making mistakes with their strong forechecking.
8 – A JAM PACKED WESTERN CONFERENCE
On the surface, a highly competitive western conference seems like it would be a bad thing, but remember, I’m trying to only be optimistic about the upcoming season.
Last season, the final playoff spot in the west needed 95 points. The Blues finished 9th with 94 points, the Stars were 10th with 92 points, and then it dropped off to the Calgary Flames who were at 84 points. That’s a pretty big drop off.
This season, every team in the west except Vancouver seems poised to compete and I believe that could actually knock down the number of points needed to get into the playoffs.
Instead of that big drop off between 8th and 11th, we could see a whole slew of teams sitting around 88-92 points when the season ends.
That works in the Oilers favour in my opinion because it puts an emphasis on divisional games, which they’ve been good at winning over the past two years.
In 2016-17, they went 20-6-3 against the Pacific and in 2017-18 they went 16-11-2 within their own division. Both of those records give me hope they can beat their own division more often than not this season.
9 – RELAXED SCHEDULE
It sounds weird to say their schedule is an advantage considering the fact the team is starting their season in Germany, but once they return to North America, they actually have one of the better schedules in the league.
This graph from InnefectiveMath on Twitter illustrates my point:
There are 18 games this season where the Oilers will play a “tired” team, which means they’ll likely face a lot of backup goalies throughout the season.
A tired team with a backup goalie against a rested Oilers team with Connor McDavid? I like their odds.
10 – ROOM TO ADD
With Andrej Sekera likely heading to LTIR, the team will have a little bit of cap space to play with this season. If they’re in the hunt around the trade deadline, they could be in a great spot to add an impact player to their lineup.
It seems small, but it’s another reason to be optimistic about the team this season and they look to crack the playoffs for just the second time in the last decade.