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Photo Credit: © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Rebound performances are fuelling the Oilers’ strong start

The Oilers are 6-3-1 through 10 games this season, which, given their difficult schedule, is very impressive. After playing 10 games, you have a large enough sample size to see who’s doing what, what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and where the team is likely headed.

Over the off-season, I did a player-by-player look at how the 2017-18 season went and what to expect heading into the 2018-19 season. Let’s dive back in and see where everyone stands through 10 games.

Banking on an Oscar Klefbom rebound season is a good decision 

Early on in the summer, there were rumours swirling that the Oilers were shopping defenceman Oscar Klefbom after a down season. Klefbom had a bum shoulder and, as a result, had a very disappointing performance last year. Sometimes, the best trade is the one you don’t make. First of all, dealing Klefbom after a down season when his value was low just didn’t make any sense, but beyond that, Klefbom is a damn good player and betting on him having a comeback season was the right decision.

After having season-ending surgery, Klefbom is looking much more like the top pairing defenceman that helped the team to a playoff spot in 2017. Klefbom is logging roughly 26 minutes per game, which is far and away the most among any Oilers defender. He’s also contributed four assists, has a positive shot attempt differential, and has helped revitalize the team’s power play.

Everyone knew the Oilers needed to add a top defenceman this summer, but rather than rushing out to acquire a new one, they banked on a bounceback from their old one. It’s worked out so far.

The Oilers badly missed a healthy Andrej Sekera

It was like groundhog day with Andrej Sekera this summer. After missing the majority of the 2017-18 season with an injury suffered in the playoffs, Sekera tore his Achilles during the off-season and will again miss most of, if not all of the season this year. The Oilers badly missed Sekera’s presence last year. Everybody was tasked to take a step forward in his absence, but the blueliners weren’t able to fill his shoes.

It’s clear the Oilers miss Sekera again this season because they’re largely operating with two pairs, but it isn’t quite so glaring as it is last season. As previously mentioned, Klefbom’s back to full health and him and Adam Larsson have been excellent, and Kris Russell and Darnell Nurse have found chemistry as a more defensive pair.

Chiarelli again didn’t find an adequate replacement for Sekera, which was an issue last year, but, to be fair, the defender got hurt in mid-August and there weren’t really any options out there to compensate. This is an unfortunate break for the Oilers, but their internal options have mitigated us thus far.

Apr 7, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a first period goal by forward Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Leon Draisaitl still needs to prove he can carry his own line

It’s hard to look at 70 points in 75 games and think “wow that isn’t very good.” But despite the very good production, Leon Draisaitl didn’t live up to his $8.5 million contract last year. He was signed to be the team’s top centre behind Connor McDavid who could wreak havoc without the MVP on the ice. Draisaitl scored a lot but played his best hockey with McDavid rather than when he was centring his own line.

So far this year, Draisaitl has a 44.4 Goals For percentage without McDavid on the ice with him. He has 11 points in 10 games, but McDavid has been involved in all but one of those goals. There’s no reason to complain about having a point-per-game player, but life would be a lot easier for the Oilers if Draisaitl could consistently generate offence without McDavid on the ice.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might have found a new niche

After Patrick Maroon was dealt, Todd McLellan slid Ryan Nugent-Hopkins up to the top line to play on McDavid’s left wing. The pair clicked immediately and McNuge became a thing. The duo has continued to thrive this season as they’re scoring 83.3 percent of the goals at even strength and Nugent-Hopkins is on pace to shatter his career-high in points. As nice as this duo is, though, I wonder if it would be beneficial to have RNH and Draisaitl play together away from McDavid to spread the offence around.

Ty Rattie has the chance of a lifetime

Along with Nugent-Hopkins, Ty Rattie earned a spot on Edmonton’s top line down the stretch last season. There was some chemistry there, so the McNuttie line became a thing to start the 2018-19 campaign.

Rattie has two points in five games and will miss a few weeks of action due to an upper-body injury. He didn’t capitalize much before his injury, but Rattie’s underlying numbers were solid. Also, his replacement, Kailer Yamamoto, has played well but hasn’t capitalized much offensively, so there’s a good chance Rattie will continue to get a shot on the McDavid line when he returns.

There’s nowhere to go but up for Milan Lucic

This is a funny one because I got ostracized in the comments for being both positive and negative. Milan Lucic had a really rough 2017-18 season. He went on a massive 29-game streak without scoring a goal and he ultimately only potted 10 on the year.

Rumours came out prior to the draft that suggested the Oilers and Lucic’s relationship was toxic and both parties wanted to move on. That didn’t happen. Lucic said over the off-season that he enjoyed playing with a “prove everyone wrong” attitude, and, for the most part, that’s how he’s looked this year.

It isn’t really showing in the stats as Lucic has just one goal and four points in 10 games, but he’s playing a much more physically engaged game than we saw last year. He’s thriving on a line with Ryan Strome in which there isn’t quite so much pressure to contribute. Instead, he can he can help the team by being a physical presence. Contract aside, I think Lucic has been a positive contributor for the team through 10 games.

Despite the cost of acquisition, Ryan Strome played to expectations 

Ryan Strome, like Adam Larsson, is a controversial player because of what it took to get him. Strome was a little underwhelming, scoring 13 goals and 34, but if you take away where he was drafted and who he was traded for, he largely played in Edmonton as he did with the Islanders.

This year, Strome doesn’t have a point through 10 games. He is what he is at this point, which is a middle-six centre who can chip in with a little bit of offence. Offensively, he hasn’t done a thing this year, but, on the plus side, he’s been solid defensively. Strome has been on the ice for just one goal against at even strength through 10 games, but he still needs to find something on the offensive side of the ice.

Mar 29, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot (33) awaits the start of play against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers have leaned heavily on Cam Talbot and he finally cracked

Cam Talbot was a key reason why the Oilers made the playoffs in 2016-17 and he was a key reason why they didn’t in 2018-19. Still, given his track record in the league prior to last season, it was reasonable to assume Talbot would bounce back. While his .909 save percentage thus far matches what he did last year, Talbot has looked a lot better. He’s had a couple ugly games, but he’s also come up big with back-to-back 32-save performances.

Another point I made, though, is that the team has leaned too heavily on him in the past in that they haven’t had an effective goaltender who can give him some room for error. Talbot has played in nine of Edmonton’s 10 games thus far and Mikko Koskinen finally made his first start over the weekend. The team obviously can’t have Talbot starting 90 percent of the games the whole way through the season.

Are the Oilers going to miss Patrick Maroon more than they anticipate? 

I made the case that Maroon wasn’t simply the byproduct of McDavid over his tenure with the Oilers. He was, in his own right, an effective player who made the team better regardless of who he played with.

So, do they miss him? Meh. I mean, I’d love to slot Maroon on the second line right now with Draisaitl, but you can’t complain about the play the team has received from depth additions Alex Chiasson or Tobias Rieder thus far.

The Oilers haven’t made life easy for Jesse Puljujarvi 

Another thing I mentioned in that Maroon article is that the Oilers need to get some kind of breakout from Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto to help compensate for the offence lost in Maroon’s departure. Yamamoto and Puljujarvi have combined for just three points, but, as I said, Chiasson and Rieder have picked up the slack.

Puljujarvi is a story all in his own, though. I said last summer that the Oilers haven’t made life easy for him. Their development of the young Finn hasn’t been admirable, and that’s an issue again this season. Puljujarvi has been up and down the lineup, seldom sees more than 10 minutes of ice time in a game, and has spent the past three games in the press box. The team simply isn’t doing him any favours right now.

Connor McDavid was the league’s Most Valuable Player last season

McDavid has 17 points in 10 games. He’s been insanely good. Without him, there’s no way the team has six wins. He’s somehow been even better than he was last season, and, so long as he stays healthy, he should end up with the Hart Trophy. I feel very confident saying that in October.

  • JudgeDredd

    it’s nice to see the team rebounding from last year, definitely a lot more fun to watch and the comment section is tolerable for now

    I’m hoping JP is only here to practice with the team and is going down once the Condors schedule normalizes.

    If not they need to trade him and maybe a draft pick for a more established right winger that can play top 6.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    Yeah I’d say the Oilers are leaning on Cam a lot. Since joining the Oilers, Cam has played 200+ games for Edmonton, not counting preseason or the IIHF tournament. And, yes, I know that other starters play that much too, but he’s play 57, 86 (including 13 playoff games) 67 games in the 3 seasons he’s been here. If the Oilers can play Mikko for 20-25 games (like they did with Nilsson), that will benefit Talbot immensely.

    • Kepler62c

      I’m still bummed they traded Nilsson, he’s found consistent employment in the NHL since they brought him over and I think he would’ve a fine backup to keep in the system for a few seasons.

  • TartanArmy

    Strome concerns me, 0 points in 10 games. If either he or Lucic contributed any kind of 5×5 offence, it would go a long way to improving the optics of both players. Defensively, they seem to be doing fairly well, but they need to put some points up on the board.

    • jcapss

      I do agree with this in that it would be amazing to get some 5×5 production but they have generated great opportunities. Strome set up caggiula alone in front vs Chicago, against the caps a deflection just went by an open net, caggiula got the empty net goal while luc was pressuring in the neutral zone that caused the turnover. They’ve just had bad bounces and bad luck but I think it’ll start going their way!

  • toprightcorner

    For anyone saying they should slide Nuge down with Draisaitl to kick up the offense of the second line………have you ever thought that MacLellan is in constant communication with McDavid and McDavid likes playing with Nuge and prefers to play with Nuge? McDavid has said he wants consistent linemates, if Nuge is someone he feels comfortable with, then you don’t make that change.