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Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

How Will the Oilers Improve: Part Two

Yesterday in part one we focused on goaltending and team defence. Today let’s look at the offence and where this team can improve. Remember my assessment is focused on the Oilers simply being average (16th) in offence. This past year they finished 20th in goals with 229. If they score 14 more then they would have been 16th.

The is one obvious glaring weakness and I’d argue it is virtually impossible for the depth scoring to be as shallow and unproductive as it was last year.

OFFENCE…

The good news is Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are all back and McDavid and Draisaitl are entering their prime years. Those three combined for 290 points. Barring injury you should expect similar production from them.

The most glaring weakness from the Oilers last year was their depth scoring. The Oilers top-five goal scorers: Draisaitl, McDavid, RNH, @Alex Chiasson and Zack Kassian produced 156 goals, the rest of their forwards produced a measly 43. It was pathetic, to put it politely.

Let’s see how the Oilers scoring compared to the rest of the NHL.

TEAM         Top-5 FWD Goals            REST OF FWDS          TOTAL GOALS
Tampa                178                                98                                 319  (1st)
SJ                       160                                101                               289  (2nd)
CHIC                  160                                 67                                267  (8th)
EDM                  156                                43                                229  (20th)
BOS                   155                                 73                                257   (11th)
FLO                    153                                73                                264   (9th)
CGY                   152                                 92                                289  (2rd)
TOR                   151                                 90                                286  (4th)
CBJ                    146                                 73                                256  (12th)
COL                   145                                 74                                258  (10th)
WSH                  144                                 95                                274  (5th)
WPG                  143                                 93                                270  (7th)
PITT                   141                                 98                                271  (6th)
PHI                    126                                 80                                241  (18th)
DET                   124                                 67                                224  (21st)
MTL                   123                                81                                246   (13th)
BUFF                  120                                66                                221  (23rd)
STL                     115                               83                                244  (15th)
NSH                   115                                78                                236  (19th)
NYR                   114                                75                                221  (23rd)
OTT                    114                                87                                242  (17th)
VEGAS               113                                95                                246   (13th)
DALL                  113                                55                                209  (29th)
CAR                   111                                 84                               243  (16th)
NYI                    110                                 83                               223  (22nd)
VAN                   108                                84                                219  (25th)
MINN                 98                                 68                                210  (27th)
NJ                      98                                  90                                219  (25th)
LA                      88                                  83                                199  (30th)
ANA                   88                                  85                                196  (31st)
ARI                     83                                  95                                209  (28th)

The Oilers depth scoring forwards were the worst in the NHL, and well below the league average of 81. Every team, except Dallas, had 23 more goals from their depth forwards. The Oilers ineptitude of depth scoring was really an outlier. It will be very difficult to duplicate, almost impossible in fact, when you look at recent history.

TEAM         Top-5 FWD Goals            REST OF FWDS         TOTAL GOALS
2010                   92                                  82                                     206
2011                  94                                   74                                     191
2012                  116                                 68                                     207
2014                  113                                 56                                     199
2015                   95                                  74                                     193
2016                  100                                 75                                     199
2017                  129                                 79                                     243
2018                  117                                 80                                     229

In the Oilers previous eight seasons (82 game seasons) their depth forwards averaged 74 goals/year. Keep in mind seven of those teams finished with fewer points in the standings than last year’s Oilers. They were not good teams, yet their depth scorers were close to the league average during that time which varied between 71-77 goals.

Now look at teams with the lowest scoring depth forwards since the 2014 season.

TEAM                   Top-5 FWD Goals          REST OF FWDS         TOTAL GOALS
2014 Sabres                77                                   45                             150
2015 Sabres                72                                   55                             153
2015 Coyotes              69                                   56                             165
2017 Avs                     84                                   60                             165
2015 Devils                 83                                   67                             176
2017 Canucks             89                                   67                              178
2017 Devils                 93                                   57                              180
2016 Devils                104                                  58                              182

The Buffalo Sabres scored a measly 150 and 153 goals in 2014 and 2015 and their depth scorers still produced more goals than the Oilers this year. Incredible. And going back to 1990, when the league started to expand the lowest goal total from any team’s depth forwards was the 2002 Blue Jackets with 57 while the 1998 Lightning, 2001 Wild and 2012 Wild each scored 59. Expansion teams had more productive depth. The 1998 Lightning scored 151 goals, but still managed more depth scoring.

It is unbelievable when you crunch the numbers to see how badly Peter Chiarelli and company destroyed the depth of the Oilers forwards. But I digress.

The Oilers depth scorers were the least productive since the NHL expanded to an 80-game season in 1975. So essentially the worst in the past 44 years.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised considering Tobias Rieder set the NHL record for most shots by a forward without a goal last season. He was a major cog in the wheel for a historically bad season for depth scorers. It wasn’t just Rieder, however, because had he scored ten goals the Oilers would have still had the second lowest total over the past 44 seasons.

It was ugly. It was horrific, but I’d argue it is virtually impossible Oilers fans will witness the same listless production this season.

IMPROVEMENT…

The depth scorers fired 700 shots on goals, but only produced 43 goals for a combined shooting percentage of 6.1 Take out Drake Caggiula’s seven goals on 49 shots and the remaining group had a 5.5 SH%. It was amazingly bad.

Rieder’s new NHL record of ineptitude, 92 shots, no goals, will not be repeated. No chance. None. And the 7th-12th forward positions will not have a combined 5.5 SH%.

Who will produce more?

Markus Granlund has averaged 13 goals over the past three seasons with 19, 8 and 12. He should score ten goals.
Jujhar Khaira only had three goals in 60 games after scoring eleven the year early. Previous two year average is seven. Let’s go with that.
Milan Lucic is actually working with a skills coach this summer. He will be on the ice more. Can he jump from six to ten goals?
Sam Gagner produced five goals in 25 games with the Oilers last year. He has averaged 13 goals/season over his 12-year career. Is ten goals reasonable?
Colby Cave and Kyle Brodziak combined for eight goals. How about seven goals from the players who fill the 4C role.

That is 44 goals from five positions, and I don’t believe any of those projections are overly optimistic.

If you look at NHLe (NHL equivalency) for @Gaetan Haas and Joakim Nygard. Nygard’s numbers project to be 19-13-32, while Haas comes in at 10-13-23. I highly doubt both players reach that, mainly because I’m cautious. How about Nygard produces 13 goals. I think Nygard has a really good chance of playing regularly. Haas I’m not as bullish on.

The other player to consider is Tyler Benson. In Bakersfield, Benson scored 66 points, the 2nd most points by an AHL rookie in the past eight seasons, and I believe he makes the team. I base that on how the roster looks today. If Ken Holland acquires a few veterans before training camp, that might change, but Benson is a really smart player. He is reliable and very good from the boards to the dot. He is 21 years old and being a rookie at 21 is very different than at 18 or 19. I wouldn’t consider it rushing him if he makes the team.

Benson is my wildcard and I have him penciled in for 14 goals.

What you witnessed last season from the depth forwards was something we hadn’t seen in 44 years of NHL hockey, so expecting them not to improve is the ultimate Eeyore-like outlook. I will be surprised if they produce the league average of 81 goals, but 60 should be the low mark. Only two teams were below 66 that last season. If they only hit the low mark they improve by 17 goals.

OFFENCE FROM THE BLUELINE…

The Oilers defenders scored 30 goals. The league average was 36. Only Anaheim (23), Vancouver (27), Los Angeles and San Jose (28) had fewer goals from the backend. Carolina led the NHL with 48 goals from defencemen.

Darnell Nurse scored ten, while Matt Benning and Oscar Klefbom had five each for Edmonton. I don’t see a major uptick in goals from the backend. They produced four PP goals, and while that could rise by a few I don’t see it going up much because the Oilers powerplay runs through McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins.

A quick look at the top-ten powerplays in the NHL reveals a different philosophy.

Tampa Bay had the best PP, but only three PP goals from the blueline. Colorado was 7th and had two PP goals, Toronto’s PP was 8th and had four PP goals along with Edmonton who was 9th.

Florida had the 2nd best PP and had 12 PP goals from defencemen. San Jose’s PP was 6th and the St.Louis was 10th and they had ten PP goals from the blueline, while Boston (3rd)and Pittsburgh (5th) each had eight goals and Winnipeg (4th) had seven goals from the backend.

I expect Edmonton’s powerplay to remain in the top-ten, but maybe only two or three more PP goals from defencemen.

Where Edmonton’s blueline can improve is at 5×5. Jim Playfair outlined how he wants his defenceman to get more involved in the rush, and if the Oilers forwards can be harder to play against in the offensive zone like Alex Chiasson said they need to be, then that should lead to more offensive zone time, and potentially a slight uptick in goals.

Realistically though, unless someone has a major breakout season the Oilers blueline is likely to produce 30-34 goals.

TOP DOGS…

Can you expect more goals from McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins? Nine teams had three players with 28+ goals.

Tampa and Florida had four, and Tampa’s stop three produced 127 goals, followed by Chicago (120), Edmonton (119), Boston and Colorado (106), Calgary (104), Winnipeg (102), Florida’s top-three had 101 and San Jose’s trio produced 95 goals.

Expecting 50 from Draisaitl is unrealistic, because since 2000 the only players to score 50 goals in consecutive seasons are Pavel Bure (2000, 2001), Dany Heatley (2006,2007) and Alex Ovechking (2008-2010 and 2014-2016).  I’d expect Draisaitl to reach 40 and I could envision he and McDavid swapping totals and still combine for 90 goals. We could see a slight dip, but I don’t expect a massive drop off from this trio, unless one of them misses significant time.

You probably won’t see 156 goals from the Oilers top-five goal scorers next season, but they will come in well above last year’s average of 127.

I also expect the Oilers powerplay to remain in the top-ten. They have the same coach, Glen Gulutzan, overseeing it and their main contributors remain on the team.

WRAP UP…

After dissecting last season’s numbers from goal, to defence and forward I don’t think it is unrealistic to think this team can improve in their glaring areas of weakness. And if they just shoot for the league average on the PK, depth scoring and sv% among starting goalies then the Oilers should be in the playoff hunt all season.

Will it be enough to make the playoffs? Honestly, I’m still skeptical, but a few bounces and a healthy lineup are often the reason a team grabs a wildcard spot while others miss by a few points.

Even though general manager Ken Holland hasn’t made any major moves, which I didn’t expect, I still think this team improves, based solely on it being impossible for the depth scoring to be that lethargic and for the PK to be that bad again.

What areas do you think they improved or regressed?

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Fireball

    Gusev could be worth the Risk. Rumors of four mill per have me worried. I’ve read scouting reports that say he’s likely the best playmaker in the KHL. He’d be a fine gamble to play with RNH. But anyone from the KHL is a gamble. At this point the Oilers don’t have the cap space to sign anyone who wouldn’t be a gamble. People talking about Connolly like he’s a stud.. one 20 goal season. I know he’s got pedigree but he’s late 20s with one 20 goal season. A lot of people were high on Donskoi which I think he’s a solid hockey player.. but he’s got two 14 goal seasons. Either of them would be a gamble to sign and think they can put up 20. Guys wanted Burakovsky.. he was another gamble. A guy like Gusev is high risk but he’s also high reward. He could be the next Panarin ?? He could be a flop ?? Another Russian who can’t play in the NHL. Rookie of the year.

    • McDynasty97

      Thank you fireball! I really think he could be the top RFA available right now and not a lot of people are talking about him. Just need someone in the organization who is able to take him under their wing and help adjust to the NHL.

  • nicolas10

    Get Gusev already. Pay him 5 mil to get extra years and make the contract so he can bolt to the KHL if need be. It might turn out to be the best oilers contract a few years down the road. Russel + a 3rd for a 5th, or same with benning since I doubt either would go without a sweetener. Holland bought out one of the best D the oilers had without a fuss, so you can get rid of the bad defensemen on the team to make room for a top 6 forward.

    • Serious Gord

      Gusev is far too risky a move for this org at this point in time.

      If the contract goes sour it could sewer the touch and go rebuild.

      A team with loads of cap space and with years to go on a rebuild journey would be a better fit.

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    “50 from Draisaitl is unrealistic, because since 2000 the only players to score 50 goals in consecutive seasons are Pavel Bure (2000, 2001), Dany Heatley (2006,2007) and Alex Ovechking ”

    Not sure why this is unrealistic. It’s been done. More importantly Drai’s got McDavid on the PP. Who did Heatley and Bure have? And Ovechking? Never heard of the guy.