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Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

5 Things to Watch

The trade deadline is in the rearview mirror and their playoff chances are essentially non-existent. We’re used to it around Oilersnation. Still, if you’re reading this article I would imagine that you plan on watching the final 17 games of the Oilers schedule, just like I will.

Now that we’re at the point of the season where the results really don’t matter, what are some things to keep an eye on? Here are five things I’ll be paying close attention to as the season draws to a close:

5) Leons Race For 50

Oct 23, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates a second period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Three or four weeks ago this would have seemed unlikely, but over the last ten games he’s scored seven goals and it’s brought his season total up to 40. There are still 17 games left in the season and based on how well he’s playing, it’s looking like a realistic milestone for Draisaitl.

At times, he gets ripped by some fans and media for looking lazy or for having bad body language but he has a chance to join a club that is filled with Oilers legends this season if he can get to 50 goals.

The franchise has seen a player score 50 goals 15 different times. Wayne Gretzky did it eight times, Jari Kurri did it four times, Glenn Anderson accomplished the feat twice, and Mark Messier did it once.

In what has been a very dark season, Leon has been a shining light on most nights and his chase for 50 goals will give us all something to cheer for down the stretch.

4) Mikko Koskinen, Is He a Number One?

Nov 3, 2018; Detroit, MI, USA; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) makes a save during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been an up and down season for the big Finnish goaltender. He made a poor first impression on Oilers fans with a pair of horrendous showings in the preseason. He then went on to basically not play for the first month of the season. After that, he took over the crease and posted a few shutouts. We all remember how good he was for that stretch in late November/ early December.

Then the team around him began to crumble and Koskinen hit a rough patch. It also went hand in hand with Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell being injured.

Now, he’s on top of his game once again and it’s no coincidence that his numbers started improving once Klefbom, Russell, and Andrej Sekera all returned to the lineup. If everyone can stay healthy for the final seventeen games, it should allow us to get a real read on how good Koskinen can be with a complete group of NHL defensemen in front of him, which he hasn’t had very often this season.

Some will say “oh it doesn’t matter how he plays in garbage time” but 11 of their final 17 opponents are either in a playoff spot or currently in the thick of the playoff race. The teams trying to score goals on him won’t be viewing these games as “garbage time”. This last stretch will actually go a long way in determining how Oilers fans and management feel about their goaltending situation heading into the offseason.

3) A Look at a Healthy Blueline

Mar 29, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Andrej Sekera (2) skates against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period at Rogers Arena. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Another benefit of having their six regular defensemen all healthy is that it will give management a chance to get a good honest read on the group they have. No more excuses about a player playing over their heads or anything like that. For the most part, these guys are in roles that line up with how much money they make, although that’s a whole different discussion. The only thing I will add to this that in an ideal world, Kris Russell would be on their third pairing and Darnell Nurse would have a better partner who can move the puck efficiently, which is something Nurse really struggles with.

The organization has the likes of Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Joel Persson, and Evan Bouchard who could all realistically push for full-time NHL work next season as well, so these final 17 games will be crucial for probably four of the Oilers current starting six defensemen. If they don’t want to be dangled as trade bait, they’ll need to prove their worth during the final 17 games.

2) Which Bottom Six Players Will Earn Jobs?

Mar 31, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left wing Jujhar Khaira (16) controls the puck against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers have a lot of them, but not a lot of quality. The door is wide open for anyone to step up in the final 20 games and get their name pencilled onto the 2019-20 roster. Josh Currie has been a great story and Colby Cave only has one goal but is looking like a solid player considering he’s only making league minimum. Jujhar Khaira, Kyle Brodziak, Milan Lucic (sadly), Sam Gagner, Ty Rattie, and Alex Chiasson are all realistic candidates as well.

A lot of those players will also be getting some extended looks in the top six and that will go a long in determining how they’re viewed by the organization.

What I’ll be looking for is versatility with these guys. Which players can be quality, impactful, bottom six forwards while also being able to step up into the top six when needed. Can they play on the second powerplay unit and kill penalties? That would help as well.

1) Just Watch The Condors!

Bakersfield Condors forward Cooper Marody

Kind of a cheap one but really, if you want to see meaningful hockey within the organization, just buy an AHL TV Pass! You can watch a high level of hockey and see a group of players that should be pushing for jobs on the Oilers next season.

Tyler Benson, Cooper Marody, and Kailer Yamamoto are the three that intrigue me the most up front. On the back end, not only will you see Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear, but you might even get a look at Evan Bouchard if the London Knights get eliminated early enough.

They’re a good team and if you want a hockey team to root for this spring, why not start tuning into the Condors broadcasts.

  • toprightcorner

    I find it funny that you say that Nurse would look better if his partner was a good puck mover because Nurse cannot move the puck.

    You could also say that Russel would look a lot better if his partner was a good puck mover because he is not good at moving the puck.

    That argument can be made for most top 4 dmen that can’t move the puck and yes, I think Russell is a top 4 dman with the right partner

  • toprightcorner

    McDavid can will Draisaitl to score 50 goals. He knows he is in tough against Kucherov for the scoring race so he will be feeding Leon all over the place. McDavid was pushing for him to get 40, hence his own shots are way down and he is trying to set up Drai as much as possible.

  • toprightcorner

    – Draisaitl scores 51 goals

    – Koskinen has a .919 save % over the rest of his starts, which finally makes the fans feel better for the goalie position next year.

    – Sekera will continue to improve an the Oilers record will be well over .500 after he returned. Larsson will continue to struggle until the end of the year. Klefbom will play good defensively, but his offense will not return much with his finger giving him issues. Benning plays solid and his value will look decent if the Oiler consider moving him in the off season (I don’t think that will happen unless they can somehow find a top 4 right shot dman. Nurse ends up scoring over 40 pts and the new GM will trade him when his value is at his highest because he will be wanting over $6 mill after next season, which is a huge overpay for a guy who can’t move the puck out of his own zone. Russell continues to block shots cause thats what he does.

    – Bottom 6 potentials to impress would be Gagner if Hitch ever plays him more than 10 min a game. Khaira continues to struggle and confirms he is no more than a 4th line winger. Currie plays hard, scores decent and will have consideration for next years lineup. Chaisson will end up with 21 goals and the Oilers resign him for $1.3 mill for 2 years for a quality 3rd line winger. Rattie won’t have a chance to show much because Hitch still hates him and will only play him 8 min a game, even though he has more he can show. Reider goes goaless for the entire season.

    – Condors have a long playoff run and lose in the finals.

  • TKB2677

    For next season and I think the Oilers need to do this for the rest of the season, the Oilers need to have McDavid and Leon as their #1 & #2 centers. Putting Leon on McDavid’s wing and further watering down the lines has to stop. I love Nuge but Leon is a better center than Nuge offensively and Leon is able to create more offense with lesser players than Nuge. For the forwards they need to upgrade on.

    – Rieder has no goals in 52 games. I get his confidence must be zero but my god, where is his fight? Do something different, go to the hard areas, start shooting more. He’s useless. They need an upgrade on his big time and the 2 mill he makes could be used elsewhere. If he wants to resign for 1 mill on a 1 year, I could take that as he can’t be any worse.
    – They need to rid themselves of Brodziak. Either find a trade or bury him in the minors as he makes just over 1 mill so they would literally get his whole salary as relief. He can’t be on the team next year. With the way Cave has played, I would slot him in as the 4th line center.
    – They need an upgrade on Rattie. People can say he needs more of a chance but I am sorry, he’s a fringe NHLer, he’s got to earn that. If you only get 10 mins, make that 10 mins count. That doesn’t mean just scoring. Battle hard, make plays, don’t do stupid things. It’s not like the Oilers are blessed with tons of good wingers.
    – If the can find away to get rid of Lucic, I think you have too. Even if you have to retain half his salary, so be it. I like Lucic but not at 6 mill.
    – I don’t know if Currie is a long term player but they need guys like him who have spent years in the minors and make it. Other teams have them. Look at Goude in Tampa. He took the same path.
    – I think Khaira is a player but nothing more than a 4th liner. I’d keep him and slot him accordingly.
    – Kassian has played himself back on this team in my books. He’s got 11 goals. You can’t keep trading those guys for magic beans.
    – I’d resign Chiasson as long as it’s for a decent number. He’s making 650. Double his salary on a 2 yr, that should be fair.
    – I like Gagner in a bottom 6 role that can be on your PP but move up if needed. I don’t like him at 3 mill. I heard an interesting suggestion I think last week. Could you trade a Gagner with an mediocre asset to a bottom cap team. Have them buy Gagner out because his cap hit wouldn’t be that long or that much then sign him back? Exactly what the Caps did with Orpik? If Gagner is making half of what he’s making, I’d have him back.

      • TKB2677

        My suggestion for Gagner is based on them hiring a smart GM and Hockey ops guy. Whether that actually happens, remains to be seen but anything is possible.

        If Gagner ends up staying next year for his 3mill. I won’t be thrilled but don’t hate that just because I think Gagner will give the Oilers at least something. Maybe not 3 mills worth but something. The sin was trading for Spooner in the first place which I think was a 100% Chia decision. I say that because as soon as Chia was fired Spooner was waived and sent to the minors and then traded not long after. So if say the Spooner trade was a big group thing, I don’t think they move on Spooner. Regardless, the money was spent whether it’s Gagner or Spooner. So they needed to get something out of that money production wise. Who knows, maybe they get lucky.