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Photo Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Five Things to Ponder

Things are about to get real. The next time the Edmonton Oilers take the ice for game action it will be for live fire, no more messing around. While I would describe this training camp and pre-season as a positive one there are still a number of question marks heading into the season.

I WONDER… IF THERE IS ANOTHER TOP SIX FORWARD ON THIS ROSTER

The Oilers have two thirds of a top six with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and James Neal. Even if Zack Kassian starts the season on the top line it’s not a lock that he will remain there for a significant amount of time. If Kassian doesn’t hang onto a spot on the top line is it because he struggles or because someone else truly proves that they deserve a shot?

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Tippett has talked about wanting to run with duos but that doesn’t simply mean he’ll just rotate guys through the other spots every second game. Can Tomas Jurco lock down a spot on either of the top two lines? Will Nygard’s speed make a difference in the top end of an NHL line up?

I WONDER… IF SPECIAL TEAMS WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE

The Oilers finished 9th in the league in power-play efficiency last season. Even though the PP had a top ten finish I still felt like it came up empty in big moments last season. Dave Tippett will likely be happy if his power-play cruises along at the 21.2 percent it finished with last season.

The penalty kill was an absolute backbreaker for the Oilers in 2018-19. Only Chicago was easier to score on while short handed last season. How bad was it? The Oilers 74.8% penalty kill rate was the 7th worst in the last ten years, that’s 296th out of 302 team seasons since 2009-10.

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Edmonton will definitely need better goaltending to help improve things but new penalty killing forwards like Riley Sheahan and Josh Archibald will also need to step up.

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I WONDER… IF CONNOR MCDAVID’S ICE-TIME WILL BE CUT BACK

There are a few reasons I’ve been wondering if McDavid will play less this year than he did last year. The first one is obvious, will Tippett try to dial back McDavid’s ice-time early in the season as his knee gets up to full speed at a regular season level. A couple of pre-season games is a great step in the right direction but how will the knee hold up in the early stages of the daily grind of the regular season.

Even if McDavid’s knee appears to be fine will Tippett still run him out there as much as McLellan and Hitchcock did last year? He led all NHL forwards in ice-time last season playing 22:50 per night which is the highest total for any forward not named Ilya Kowalchuk over the past ten seasons.

If you don’t count the final game of the season, in which he was injured, McDavid played less than 20 minutes just eight times last year. The leagues leading scoring, Nikita Kucherov, played less than 20 minutes on 41 occasions. Hopefully, the Oilers can find themselves will the lead more often this year and find some rest for McDavid along the way.

I WONDER… IF EITHER GOALTENDER CAN GO ON A RUN

I’ve said it multiple times on the “smash hit” Nielson Show and Inside the Nation that if the Oilers are going to make a push towards the post-season they’ll need a goalie to go on a heater.

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I’m not saying that Mike Smith or Mikko Koskinen needs to be in Vezina contention but I do believe that one of them will need to heat up for at least a month. If Smith can go on a stretch where he wins 14 of 20 starts, I’d be surprised if they aren’t playing meaningful games in late March.

After watching him late last season and in the playoffs I tend to think Smith may be the more capable of the two goalies to catch fire.

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I WONDER… WHEN EVAN BOUCHARD WILL ARRIVE

I was completely on board with Evan Bouchard starting the year in Bakersfield but that doesn’t mean I can’t be curious as to when he’ll be ready for prime time in Edmonton.

The combination of Joel Persson and Ethan Bear will be tasked with holding down a top four spot on the backend until Bouchard arrives. I wouldn’t expect to see the blue chip prospect back in Edmonton in October or November but what if he’s lighting it up in the American Hockey League by Christmas? Can he spend the second half of the year playing top four minutes and getting significant power-play time with the Oilers? There is no rush but we need to remember that Bouchard is one of the top blue line prospects in the entire league and there is job just waiting for him on Tippett’s team.

As the Oilers get set to drop the puck on another season what intrigues you the most?

Previously by Dustin Nielson: