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Photo Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Three Reasons the Oilers Will Be Better in 2019/20

The Edmonton Oilers have reached the playoffs just once since drafting Connor McDavid first overall in 2015. Expectations aren’t particularly high around Edmonton, but there is still lots of pressure on this team to have a successful 2019/20 season so that fans can head into next summer with a little bit of optimism.

Could they make the playoffs? I’m not willing to give a definite prediction on either side of that but I do believe that there are legitimate reasons to be excited about this team and believe that they will be much better than they were last season.

Here are the three reasons why I believe 2019/20 Oilers will outperform the 2018/19 Oilers.

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DEPTH SCORING

Last year, the Oilers ‘depth scorers’ consisted of Alex Chiasson (22 goals), Zack Kassian (15 goals), and a handful of other players who couldn’t crack the ten-goal mark. It was bad. As Jason Gregor pointed out in an article a few months ago it was historically bad.

I just don’t see a scenario where it’s that brutal again. They went out and got Riley Sheahan to give them a decent third-line centre option. They added Josh Archibald, Markus Granlund, Joakim Nygard, and Tomas Jurco, who has been dynamite in the preseason (granted that doesn’t always lead to regular-season success).

On top of that, if Jujhar Khaira can stay healthy and Sam Gagner can produce at the same level he did last season, it will go a long way in creating a productive bottom-six.

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While you do need to account for guys like Draisaitl and Chiasson having a dip in their shooting percentage, as far as the bottom-six goes, I think it is very reasonable to expect a bump in scoring.

HEALTHY D-CORE

Last season, Oscar Klefbom missed 21 games, Kris Russell missed ten games, Matt Benning missed 12 games, and Andrej Sekera missed 58 games. 

It wasn’t just the fact that the injuries happen, because at some point every team will see a key player go down with an injury, but at one point the Oilers were without all three of Klefbom, Russell, and Sekera. During the ten games when the Oilers were without half of their d-core, they went 2-7-1. Out of those seven losses, one of them was a one-goal loss and another was a two-goal loss with an empty netter.

In those ten games, Mikko Koskinen appeared eight times (seven starts, one relief appearance), got pulled twice, allowed 24 goals, and posted a save percentage of just 0.882. Before the injuries (games before December 12) he had a save percentage of 0.927 and a GAA of 2.20. After December 12, Koskinen had an 0.897 save percentage and a 3.23 GAA. The contrast between those two stretches is ridiculous.

Now, you could say that other teams simply figured out Koskinen and realized they could just attack his glove hand but I also don’t think that you can deny that not having a fully healthy d-core in front of him really set him back.

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Obviously, health is never guaranteed in pro sports but looking back on last season, I would say it’s unlikely that the Oilers have to go without three of their regular defensemen for a ten-game stretch like they did last season.

On top of that, I think they’re better prepared to deal with an injury blow to their backend then they were last season with guys like Caleb Jones and Evan Bouchard waiting in the AHL. While the talent might be the same, the group of defensemen the Oilers currently have, compared to the banged-up group they had last season, is a reason to be optimistic about the upcoming year and about the potential for a good season from Mikko Koskinen.

A PARTNER FOR RNH

Sep 16, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward James Neal (18) celebrates after a first period goal against the Winnipeg Jets at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was used as a centre, his most common linemates were Alex Chiasson (315 ES mins) and Jesse Puljujarvi (245 ES mins). He also spent around 200 even-strength minutes with Milan Lucic, Zack Kassian, and Jujhar Khaira. He never had a legitimate goal scorer on his wing. That’s different this season.

You can say what you want about James Neal but the bottom line is that he’s scored at least 20 goals every single year he’s been in the NHL with the exception of last season, which was also the only season where he shot under 10% (his shooting percentage was 5%). I believe JAMES NEAL will bounceback this season and that will give Nugent-Hopkins a legitimate, goal scorer on his wing. 

Combine that with the fact that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will get the most difficult matchups on the road, the Oilers could really benefit from Neal and Nugent-Hopkins being a productive duo.

More goals from the three lines that don’t include Connor McDavid and a healthy d-core that will make life easier for the goaltenders. Those are the biggest reasons why I believe the Oilers are primed to top the 79 points they had last season.

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