Can you believe that after months of waiting and working through what was basically two offseasons in a single calendar year, we’re only a few shorts days away from the start of the 2021 NHL season? It’s magical, isn’t it? With some much happening on a daily basis as we draw nearer to puck drop, I wanted to empty my brain out about everything that’s happened over the past week.
— Jay Downton (@thesquireyeg) January 9, 2021
On Friday’s episode of Oilersnation Radio, we did a segment on Bold Predictions for the season and it’s always good fun to participate in a pie-in-the-sky conversation about what could happen this season. My bold prediction was that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would finish the year at a point-per-game rate for the first time in his career, but the boys didn’t seem to think I was shooting high enough. I thought that was a pretty bold take, but I regrouped and took another swing. On my second attempt, I predicted that Connor McDavid would get 90+ points, a lofty goal for a 56-game season and one I’m not even sure is possible but rather a product of me getting caught up in the moment and also that I wouldn’t bet against him. Either way, throwing out random points predictions before a new season starts is about as sacred to me as the ground Nuge walks on, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a once in a century pandemic get in the way our fun. Hit me up with your boldest prediction ahead of the upcoming season.
Want a hot take? Here’s one for you. I think Mike Smith is going to be the game one starter. What do you think about that? Last year, Dave Tippett gave the veteran the opening night start and I’ve got a hunch that history will repeat itself. The coach leaned heavily on Smith in 2019-20, giving him 37 starts in 71 games and 39 appearances overall, and I’d be willing to bet Gregor’s money that this year won’t be much different, especially when you consider the compressed schedule and number of back-to-back games the Oilers will play. For Ken Holland, bringing back the same goaltending tandem is easily the biggest gamble he’s made as far as I can see, and the duo will either provide the team with a foundation to make a playoff run or set them up with the kind of hole they never seem to climb out of. Either way, my gut is telling me that Mike Smith will get the start in game one. I’m not saying that’s what I’d do or that I know anything other at all, but that’s the vibe I’m getting from the universe. Feel free to argue if you please.
EXPECTATIONS FOR JESSE PULJUJARVI
I spent some time cruising around Twitter this week, reading tweets from all kinds of Oilers fans about what they expect from Jesse Puljujarvi, and the range was as wide as “he’s not an NHL player” to “he can score 25 if he gets a chance to play in the top six.” Some people are buying into the sequel, others aren’t yet ready to love again. Honestly, I understand both sides. For me, I’m excited to see what the kid can do with reduced pressure and an extra year’s worth of development under his belt, and whether or not his time in Finland has honestly been of benefit beyond the speculation and guesswork. From what I’ve heard, Puljujarvi has put on some serious mass and that man strength could help him all over the ice, which would surely help him in all three zones on the ice, including his ability to protect the puck. Now, just because he got bigger and started to grow into his body doesn’t mean that he’s magically become a dominant force in the league, but even so, I do think the added size will help with his ability to create space for himself. How will that translate to goals exactly? I don’t know, I’m not going to pretend to know anything you don’t, but my way-too-early guess is that he’ll finish the year somewhere around 12 goals, which, to me, would be a strong total in my mind considering the circumstances of his first season back.
I’m not going to get into actual line combinations here so much as I want to say how happy I am to be arguing about them again. Whether we’re talking about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins not starting with Draisaitl and Yamamoto or Tyler Ennis currently sitting on what will likely be the fourth line, it just feels right to be arguing about where guys are going to slot in before even a minute of hockey has been played. At this point, I don’t even care if we’re disagreeing, I’m just happy to see that there are real things to talk about again, ya know? I can’t wait to start arguing about these things once the season has actually started.
THERE ARE THREE GAMES NEXT WEEK!
I don’t know if it’s really and truly sunk in yet, but I keep having to remind myself that there are actual NHL hockey games happening next week — unless this Canucks news about them cancelling their practice today pushes things back — and that we’ll all be able to watch Connor McDavid do Connor McDavid things in only a matter of days. It’s super exciting to have games coming back after spending months wondering whether or not the NHL would be able to pull it together and get a season going, making this weirdo Frankenseason one that’s got me about as fired up as I have been for a long time. I’m excited to write wrap ups again, I’m excited to get torched in the comments again, and I’m excited to argue on behalf of our boys against every other fanbase in the NHL. It’s been a long time coming, my friends. A long time indeed and I’m so excited… maybe. I hope. I guess we’ll see.